By Kent Larsen
Rare and Storied LDS Book to be Auctioned at Christies in New York
NEW YORK, NEW YORK -- The prestigious Christies auction house will
sell a copy of what may be the most valuable published LDS book at
auction October 29th in its Rockefeller Center auction house. The
book, a copy of the 1833 Book of Commandments is one of perhaps 18
remaining copies, also carries one of the more dramatic and
interesting histories of any published book.
Christies estimates that the book will sell for $400,000 to $500,000
-- far more than the more common, but equally sought after first
edition of the Book of Mormon, which generally sells for $50,000 to
$70,000, according to Salt Lake City book dealer Curt Bench. The Book
of Commandments is also a little more unique -- its the first edition
of what is now known as the Doctrine and Covenants, and doesn't
include some later revelations and additions. It also was the victim
of an 1833 mob attack that left just 25 copies available out of about
3,000 that were printed and never bound.
The book's story itself makes it more valuable. As Joseph Smith
sought to move the church he founded from Kirtland, Ohio to what is
now Independence, Missouri, church leaders saw the need for the
revelations received by Joseph Smith to be printed and made available
to members of the Church. While the Church leaders had originally
decided to print 10,000 copies of the book, in May 1832, they decided
to print just 3,000 copies and assigned the job to W. W. Phelps,
Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer.
Phelps, publisher of the Church's Evening and Morning Star in Jackson
County, Missouri, started printing the book, and by July, 1833 had
finished five printer's sheets, each to be folded into 32 page
signatures and bound together, containing 65 revelations.
But they were never bound. On July 20th, a mob frustrated with the
Mormon presence in the county and demanding their immediate removal
from the county, attacked the printing office and home of Phelps.
Within minutes they had thrown the press and type from an upper-story
window and scattered the printed pages.
But the mobsters didn't realize that two young girls were watching.
Mary Elizabeth Rollins later described what happened, "When the mob
was tearing down the printing office...they (the mob) brought out
some large sheets of paper saying 'Here are the Mormon commandments.'
My sister, 12 years old (I was then 14) and myself were in a corner
of a fence watching them. When they spoke about them being the
commandments, I was determined to have some of them. So while their
backs were turned...we ran and gathered up all we could carry in our
arms. As we turned away, two of the mob...called for us to stop, but
we ran as fast as we could, through a gap in the fence into a large
corn field, and the two men after us. We ran a long way in the field,
laid the papers on the ground, then laid down on top of them. The
corn was very high and thick. They hunted all around us, but did not
see us. After we were satisfied they had given up the search, we
tried to find our way out of the field...We...came to an old log
stable...Sister Phelps [wife of the printer] and family were
there...She asked us what we had. We told her and also how we came by
them. She took them and placed them between the beds. Subsequently
Oliver Cowdery bound them in small books..."
Other reports indicate that John Taylor, later LDS Church president
and prophet, may have saved other copies. But the attacks also left
the Church without a press or the materials to bind the books.
Instead members managed to make or find their own bindings, often
using incomplete or damaged pages. Christies reports that the copy it
is selling has a binding that has been taken from another, larger
book, but that it is otherwise complete (except it is missing a title
About two years later, in August 1835, the Church managed to produce
a new edition, titled the Doctrine and Covenants. But the handful of
copies, about 25 according to contemporary reports, were kept and
passed on. One of those copies ended up in Afton, New York, where
collector Marshall Graham Hill, an amateur historian from upstate New
York, purchased it at auction on June 16, 1930. He died in 1945,
leaving his copy to his heirs, who are now selling the book through
Meanwhile, the book has become very valuable. Of the 18 copies that
are estimated to still exist, nine are held by institutions,
including copies held by the LDS Church, the Community of Christ
(formerly RLDS Church), the New York Public Library and the Library
of Congress. The last time a full copy was sold at auction was in the
1960s, when it brought just $6,500. Since then several incomplete
copies have sold for increasing amounts, including one last year for
$350,000, according to Salt Lake dealer Bench.
But, While Christies often puts the items for sale at an auction on
display in its galleries in the days before the sale, unfortunately,
it has chosen not to display the 233 items in this auction of rare
books and manuscripts.
Book of Commandments
Christies 10Oct01 A6
Rare Mormon Volume May Bring $500,000 at Auction in New York
Salt Lake Tribune 11Oct01 A6
By Peggy Fletcher Stack: Salt Lake Tribune
Christie's To Sell Mormon Document
New York Times (AP) 11Oct01 A6