Historian: At $35M, original printer's manuscript of Book of Mormon a bargain

The original printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon now belongs to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and at $35 million, acquiring it was a bargain.

At least, that’s what historian John Hajicek, of the mormonism.com website contends, saying the church’s purchase of the manuscript from the Community of Christ fellowship finally gives the Utah-based faith its “founding document.”

The Independence, Mo.-based Community of Christ, formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, bought a collection including the document for $2,500 in 1903 — ironically, after the LDS Church declined to make a bid.

Still, even at the $35 million price tag revealed Wednesday, Hajicek believes the LDS Church made a good deal. In fact, he compares the acquisition as the church’s equivalent of the U.S. government buying the first draft of the Constitution.

“[The manuscript] is priceless,” Hajicek said, adding the purchase is the “biggest game-changer in Mormon history, since the year 1999, when President [Gordon B.] Hinckley made the announcement to rebuild the Nauvoo temple.”

And the historian believes the manuscript could have fetched nearly three times as much as the church paid.

“I thought the value of the manuscript exceeded $100 million,” he said. “The LDS Church got a good value.”

While church officials declined Thursday to confirm the purchase price, Steven E. Snow, LDS Church historian and recorder, called the document both a spiritual and historic treasure.

“We hold the Book of Mormon to be a sacred text like the Bible,” Snow said. “The printer’s manuscript is the earliest surviving copy of about 72 percent of the Book of Mormon text, as only about 28 percent of the earlier dictation copy survived decades of storage in a cornerstone in Nauvoo, Ill.”

LDS Church officials praised the Community of Christ for its care of the document and in a statement expressed thanks to “generous donors who provided the means to acquire this treasure.”

The entire printer’s manuscript was published by the LDS Church in 2015 as part of the faith’s Joseph Smith Papers Project. Specifically, the document is re-created in Volume Three of the “Revelations and Translations” series.

As for the recently acquired original of the manuscript, Snow said plans were in the works to make it an exhibit at the Church History Library in downtown Salt Lake City “in the coming months.”

One page of the manuscript was put on display Thursday. While most of the page is written in the hand of an unknown scribe, the last quarter was written by Hyrum Smith, the brother of LDS Church founder Joseph Smith. The page also features marks from original compositor John Gilbert and those that were made later by Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith.

Mormons believe the Book of Mormon, first published in 1830 and the faith’s signature scripture, was translated by Joseph Smith from “reformed Egyptian” engravings on a set of golden plates unearthed from a hill in upstate New York, with the guidance of an angel.

The work includes what Latter-day Saints believe to be the writings of prophets who lived in ancient America, as well as an account of a post-resurrection appearance on the continent by Jesus Christ.

Tribune Director of Photography Jeremy Harmon contributed to this article.