The printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon has been sold to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) for $35m (£26m) by the Independence headquarters of Community of Christ. The sale is said to be the most expensive book manuscript sale of all time.
The document is a handwritten copy of the original manuscript dictated by Joseph Smith, according to the LDS-owned newspaper, the Deseret News. It was acquired by the Mormon church from Community of Christ, a faith created by early Mormons that was formerly known as the Reorganised Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and which also considers the text to be sacred.
Community of Christ announced the sale price, saying that it was the highest ever paid for a manuscript, beating Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates’s purchase of Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Leicester for $30.8m in 1994.
“As far as I know that probably is the record for a manuscript,” said Mark James of the antiquarian booksellers Bernard Quaritch. “But obviously $31m in 1994 would be worth much more now.”
Rare book dealer and author Rick Gekoski was also unable to name another manuscript to have fetched more money at auction: “It seems a remarkably high price, but with a willing seller and buyer that can happen. Certainly there are lots of items that would go for more … the Dead Sea Scrolls; one of the four original Magna Cartas – or perhaps the manuscript of Hamlet? It would be a nice party game to think up others.”
According to Mormon belief, in 1827 Smith found gold plates engraved with ancient Egyptian writings. He translated them with the help of God and they are seen by Mormons as a companion to the Bible. According to the Deseret News, the printer’s copy was given by Smith to the printer, EB Grandin, in New York in 1830, and it was used to set the type for the first edition of the Book of Mormon. The manuscript was then given by scribe Oliver Cowdery to early Mormon church member David Whitmer, who passed it on to his grandson, who then sold it in 1903 to Community of Christ, which has held it until now.
“We hold the Book of Mormon to be a sacred text like the Bible. The printer’s manuscript is the earliest surviving copy of about 72% of the Book of Mormon text, since only about 28% of the earlier dictation copy survived decades of storage in a cornerstone in Nauvoo, Illinois,” said Steven Snow, LDS historian and recorder.
The LDS said that “generous donors” enabled it to acquire the document. It plans to display the manuscripts to the public in the coming months.
Community of Christ said in a statement that the sale did not mean it was changing its belief. “Church leaders know that letting go of this document will cause some members sadness and grief. We feel sad, too,” it said. “However, the church’s use of [it] as scripture and our appreciation and respect for our history are not dependent on owning the printer’s manuscript. Letting go of this document does not affect the rights of Community of Christ to publish and protect the copyrights of its editions of the Book of Mormon. When a decision had to be made, we chose the wellbeing of people and preserving the current and future mission of the church over owning this document.”