I enjoy tracking down early Mormon books. I have traveled over a million miles looking for these treasures. Over the past two decades I have tracked down several first edition copies of the Pearl of Great Price. In the accompanying photo, my daughter Emma is holding one of these copies. She often accompanies me on my travels.
As I have studied and looked through these copies–and other early editions–I have learned several interesting facts about the origin and history of this small tome of scripture.
Here are ten little-known facts that I have learned about the Pearl of Great Price:
1) Although most of the items selected for publication in the Pearl of Great Price had previously appeared in Church periodicals such as The Evening and Morning Star and Times and Seasons, the first collection of these materials to carry the title Pearl of Great Price was made in 1851 by Elder Franklin D. Richards, then a member of the Council of the Twelve and president of the British Mission.
2) In 1851 there were 12,000 members of the Church in Utah. Across the Atlantic, in the British Mission, there were over 30,000 members of the Church in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland! As could be expected, the demand for literature was very high.
3) The first edition Pearl of Great Price was printed in Liverpool, England in the summer of 1851. It had the appearance of a large pamphlet (56 pages) and was bound in a salmon-colored paper wrapper. The original cost for the book was one shilling–or about 30 cents in America. Although about 7,000 copies were printed, as few as 500 have survived. And of those 500, only about a dozen still maintain their original salmon-colored paper wrappers.
4) In the Preface of the first edition Pearl of Great Price, Elder Franklin D. Richards lets us know why he compiled the book and how it got its name:
The following compilation has been induced by repeated solicitations of several friends of the publisher [Franklin D. Richards], who are desirous to be put in possession of the very important articles contained therein. Most of the Revelations composing this work were published at early periods of the Church, when the circulation of its journals was so very limited as to render them comparatively unknown at present, except to a few who have treasured up the productions of the Church with great care from the beginning. A smaller portion of this work has never before appeared in print; and altogether is presumed, that true believers in the Divine mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith, will appreciate this little collection of precious truths as a Pearl of Great Price that will increase their ability to maintain and defend the holy faith by becoming possessors of it.
5) The original edition of the Pearl of Great Price contained parts of the Book of Moses, the Book of Abraham, several sections of the Doctrine and Covenants, Joseph Smith / Matthew, the Articles of Faith, and a poem called “Truth“.
6) The poem called “Truth” by John Jacques became the hymn called “O Say What is Truth“. And, although the Articles of Faith were part of the first edition, they were simply referred to as an extract of “Times and Seasons, Vol. III, page 709“.
7) The first American edition of the Pearl of Great Price was printed in Salt Lake City in 1878. A few minor changes were made. The “Preface” was dropped and portions of the book of Moses which were not contained in the first edition were added.
8) In 1902 a few more changes were made to the Pearl of Great Price. The references from the Doctrine and Covenants were removed. The book was divided into chapters and verses and footnotes were added. The first publication in double-column pages, with index, appeared in 1921.
9) No other changes were made in the Pearl of Great Price until April 1976, when two items of revelation were added. In 1979 these two items were removed from the Pearl of Great Price and placed in theDoctrine and Covenants— as sections 137 and 138.
10) The Pearl of Great Price was canonized on Sunday, October 10, 1880, in General Conference.
Bonus: 11) The most quoted scripture in the Pearl of Great Price is Moses 1:39 “For behold, this is my work and my glory to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man“. However, in the first edition Pearl of Great Price , it reads, “Behold, this is my work to my glory, to the immortality and eternal life of man“.
This brief article is not meant to be an exhaustive study of the Pearl of Great Price–rather an overview–just enough to stimulate interest and further discussion of the scriptures. If you would like to find out why the wording in Moses 1:39 was changed, I have added several authoritative sources for you to review.
My previous article was “Ten Little-Known Facts About the Book of Mormon“. My next article will be “Ten Little-Known Facts About the Doctrine and Covenants”.
For additional background on the Pearl of Great Price I recommend the following sources: https://www.lds.org/manual/the-pearl-of-great-price-student-manual/joseph-smith-history?lang=eng, https://www.byutv.org/watch/1cc17087-5adf-4c01-afc0-8a0fe68d03cb/joseph-smith-papers-pearl-of-great-price, https://rsc.byu.edu/archived/study-and-faith-selections-religious-educator/how-we-got-book-moses. https://emp.byui.edu/marrottr/327Folder/PGPFactSheet.htm
Reid N. Moon is the owner of Moon’s Rare Books in Provo, Utah. He and his wife Melanie and their four children are members of the Edgemont 14th Ward.