An early copy of the Book of Mormon is now in the hands of the mainstream Mormon church ― but the church had to part with millions of dollars to acquire it.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints dropped a record-breaking $35 million to purchase a printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon on Monday, according to the church-owned Deseret News. It is reportedly the highest amount ever paid for a manuscript.
The Book of Mormon is a sacred foundational text for Latter-day saints. According to tradition, church founder Joseph Smith translated the text from “reformed Egyptian” engravings on golden plates buried in a hill in upstate New York. The Book of Mormon includes writings of ancient American prophets and tells of how Jesus appeared to people in America after his resurrection 2,000 years ago.
The printer’s manuscript was handwritten by a follower and was used to create the first printed edition of the Book of Mormon in 1830. It is the most complete copy of the original manuscript, Deseret News reports. Smith reportedly placed the original dictation of the Book of Mormon in the cornerstone of a house in Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1841, but that document was damaged by water.
“We hold the Book of Mormon to be a sacred text like the Bible,” church historian Steven E. Snow said in a press release. “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, Illinois.”
Snow also said that donors provided the funds to buy the manuscript.
The church purchased the printer’s manuscript from The Community of Christ, a splinter denomination of Mormonism that also considers the Book of Mormon to be a foundational text. The Community of Christ purchased a collection that included the printer’s manuscript in 1903 for $2,500.
The Community of Christ claimed that the $35 million price tag is the highest ever paid for a manuscript. David McKnight, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library, told HuffPost that this appears to be accurate.
Previously, the most expensive manuscript sold was the Codex Leicester, a 16th century collection of scientific writings by Leonardo da Vinci. Microsoft founder Bill Gates purchased the manuscript for $30.8 million in 1994.
McKnight told HuffPost that in manuscript sales, “it is always a seller’s market.”
“Every manuscript is unique. Thus depending on the author, the text, the era, the market, the seller hopes to capitalize on these factors,” he wrote in an email. “Bill Gates bought [the da Vinci manuscript] with his Microsoft money. He could afford to outbid anyone on the market. In the case of the Book of Mormon, it is an iconic text. There are millions of Mormons, the Church is wealthy, and the Church could afford to bid on this item.”
The LDS church plans to display the printer’s manuscript at its Church History Library in Salt Lake City.
“I’m glad that the item has been purchased by the Mormon Church. They will care for it,” McKnight wrote.
CLARIFICATION: This article has been amended to clarify that the purchase of the printer’s manuscript was funded wholly by donors.