SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — The original wallet used by Martin Harris (1783 – 1875) was donated to the Church this week by Mr. Harris’ great-great-grandson, Russell Martin Harris, at the Museum of Church History and Art in Salt Lake City. Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles accepted the wallet on behalf of the Church and spoke briefly about Martin Harris and of the wallet’s historical significance.
“One of Martin Harris’ greatest contributions to the Church, for which he should be honored for all time, was his financing the publication of the Book of Mormon,” said Elder Oaks. “He mortgaged his home and farm for $3,000 to secure payment on the printer’s contract.”
Martin Harris was a key figure in early Church history. He served as one of Joseph Smith’s early scribes and was one of the Three Witnesses to the divine origin of the Book of Mormon. He also used his farm in 1829 as collateral to finance printing of the first 5,000 copies of the Book of Mormon and sold 151 acres of his farm in 1831 for $3,000 to pay for its publication.
Oral tradition in the Harris family holds that the wallet was used by Martin Harris to carry the $3,000 to the printer, Egbert B. Grandin, for payment.
Prior to his death in 1875, Martin Harris started a tradition of passing the wallet from generation to generation through the oldest Harris son by giving it to Martin Harris Jr. Martin Jr. then passed it on to Russell King Harris, who gave it to Russell Walker Harris, who gave it to Russell Martin Harris in 1964.
“The wallet has meant a lot to me and my family over the years,” said Russell Martin Harris. “About a year ago my family and I decided it was time to donate the wallet to the Church so more people could see it.”
According to Richard Oman, curator of acquisitions at the Museum of Church History and Art, the wallet is a very significant historical piece. “Martin Harris was a very prosperous farmer and was one of the most socially and politically prominent members of the community,” said Oman. “He made huge sacrifices to finance the printing of the Book of Mormon and join the Church. This wallet makes visually tangible the testimony of Martin Harris.”