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I have been selling rare Mormon books for almost 30 years. During that time, I’ve seen the price of a first edition Book of Mormon  increase from around $5,000 in the late 1980s to an astonishing $100,000 in 2016. With a six-figure price tag, I think that most people would be surprised to learn that on a list of the “Ten Most Expensive Mormon Books“, a first edition Book of Mormon does not rank at the top–in fact, it comes in at #9!
I have compiled this list with the help of several notable book dealers who also specialize in rare Mormon books. This list will rank the ten most expensive Mormon books and give a price that could be expected to be paid for a copy that is in very good to near fine condition. As with all collectibles, prices can vary dramatically based on condition.
Here is the list of the “Ten Most Expensive Mormon Books“:
1) Book of Commandments . $1,250,000
Many of you know the story of Mary Elizabeth Rollins. She was the young woman who, with the aid of her younger sister Caroline, rescued some of the sheets of the Book of Commandments that had been scattered in the streets after a mob destroyed the press in Independence, Missouri on July 20, 1833. Very few copies have survived. In fact, there are only about 30 known copies–and only eight are in private hands.
At an acquisition price of over a million dollars, the Book of Commandments is the most expensive book on this list. In fact, it could be on almost any list of the “most expensive books“.
2) The Evening and Morning Star [1832-33] $500,000
This was the first Mormon newspaper. A prospectus, written by W. W. Phelps, indicated that this paper would be devoted to “the revelations of God as made known to his servants by the Holy Ghost, at sundry times since the creation of man, but more especially in these last days.” The Evening and Morning Star contained some the first printed revelations of Joseph Smith. The circulation was very small, perhaps no more than a few hundred copies were printed, and when publication ceased (due to the destruction of the press at Independence) very few complete runs existed. The entire twenty-four issues were reprinted in Kirtland between January 1835 and October 1836. (Peter Crawley, A Descriptive Bibliography of the Mormon Church, 1997, 1:32-33). The Kirtland reprint of The Evening and Morning Star is also quite rare and sells for around $150,000.
3) A Collection of Sacred Hymns, for the Church of the Latter Day Saints. Selected by Emma Smith . $450,000
This was the first LDS (Mormon) hymnal. The publication of this hymnal had its beginnings in a revelation received by Joseph Smith in July 1830 in which the prophet’s wife, Emma Smith, was designated to make a selection of hymns for the use of the Church. This revelation is now recorded in Section 25 of the Doctrine and Covenants.
This small, pocket-sized hymnal contains the text of ninety hymns. Of the ninety hymns, most were borrowed from contemporary Christian hymn books–including seventeen written by Isaac Watts. Thirty-five of the ninety were written by members of the Church–including 26 by W. W. Phelps, three by Parley P. Pratt, one by Thomas B. Marsh and Parley P. Pratt, and one each by Eliza R. Snow, Edward Partridge, and Philo Dibble. (Crawley, 1:57-59).”The Spirit of God” by W. W. Phelps was hymn #90–the last in the hymnal–and it had six, not four verses. There are fewer than ten copies of this Emma Smith hymnal in private hands.
4) Messenger and Advocate [1834-37]. $200,000
The Messenger and Advocate was a monthly periodical published in Kirtland, Ohio. It was the successor to The Evening and Morning Star. It was the voice of the Church from 1834-1837. “The tone of the magazine reflected the theological ferment that characterized the Kirtland Church. Its pages included doctrinal essays, official statements of the Church leaders, announcements and minutes of conferences, news of the progress of the Church in Kirtland and elsewhere, responses to anti-Mormon attacks, and letters from the outlying branches“. (Crawley, 1:49)
5) Doctrine and Covenants . First edition. $175,000
On September 24, 1834, a little over a year after the press in Independence was destroyed, another effort to print Joseph Smith’s revelations in book form was made. The Kirtland high council appointed Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, and Frederick G. Williams to select the contents and publish the book. (Crawley, 1:54). This book of revelations would no longer be called A Book of Commandments. Rather, this new volume of scripture, with the addition of the Lectures on Faith, would be called Doctrine and Covenants. A year later, in September 1835, the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants came off the press. There are as few as seventy-five surviving copies.
6) A Collection of Sacred Hymns For the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Selected by Emma Smith. [Nauvoo – 1841] $150,000
By the summer of 1839 the first hymnbook (Kirtland) was out of print, and in July, just before the apostles left for their missions to England, Joseph Smith and the Twelve met to select hymns for a new book. Three months later the general conference in Nauvoo voted to publish a new edition of the hymns immediately. This decision was reaffirmed October 27 by the Nauvoo high council which directed Emma Smith to “select and publish a hymn-book for the use of the Church,” and the next day designated Oliver Granger to raise funds for the publication. (Crawley, 1:154).
Significant changes were made to this edition of the hymnbook. This new Nauvoo edition had 303 hymns–a substantial increase over the 90 hymns in the first Kirtland edition. Twenty four of the new hymns were by Isaac Watts, seven by Charles Wesley, and ten more by Mormon authorship: three each by Eliza R. Snow and Mary Judd Page, and one each by Hosea Stout, Robert B. Thompson, W. W. Phelps, and Austin Cowles. (Crawley, 1:55).
7) Ka Buke a Moramona – Hawaiian – Book of Mormon . First edition . $145,000
In 1850 Elder George Q. Cannon was called as a missionary to the Hawaiian Islands. With the help of Jonatana Napela, an early convert and first native Hawaiian to receive his temple endowment, they were able to translate the Book of Mormon into the Hawaiian language. The translation took several years.
With the translation finished , George Q. Cannon printed 3,000 copies of the Hawaiian Book of Mormon in San Francisco. This was done on a press that was purchased with the help of funds donated by the Hawaiian Saints. Although 3,000 copies were printed, only 200 were bound–including one black leather presentation copy for President Brigham Young. The remainder were left unbound. Unfortunately, in 1868, a fire destroyed most of the remaining copies. Between one and two dozen copies have survived.
8) Das Buch Mormon – German – Book of Mormon . First Edition. $110,000
In 1851, members of the Church in Denmark were the first to read the Book of Mormon in their native language. The following year the Book of Mormon was printed in four additional languages: Welsh, Italian, French and German.
After John Taylor finished supervising the translation of the Book of Mormon into French, he went to Germany to supervise that translation. With the help of a German school teacher George Viett and George P. Dykes, a Scandanavian missionary who knew the German language, the work of translation began. During the translation process, these men also engaged in some missionary work and baptized a man named John Miller, who joined the translation team. “But when threatened with arrest, Elder Taylor left Germany with the translation only half done. But he had planned ahead. Before initially going to Germany, he had asked President Young to send Daniel Carn, a German convert in the United States, to Germany to be a mission president and assist in the translation work. Elder Taylor met Carn in London and sent him on to Hamburg. He arrived in April 1852. President Carn, Dykes, Viett and Miller finished the project in May”. (Deseret News, “Book of Mormon Translation: German”, Trent Toone, Feb. 22, 2012).
Best estimates are that between 12-18 copies have survived.
9) Book of Mormon . First Edition. $100,000
Five thousand copies were printed by E. B. Grandin in Palmyra, New York in 1830. The cost was $3,000 or about 60 cents per copy–to print and bind the book in leather. As security, Martin Harris gave Egbert B. Grandin a mortgage on his farm.
The pricing history of the first edition Book of Mormon is quite interesting. The first missionaries typically sold this book for $1.25. I have seen that price written in several copies. A few years ago, I bought a copy that had the inscription, “Bought on the Mississippi River – 1831 – Price $1.25”. One hundred twenty years later, in the 1950s, you could buy a copy for $50. By the 1960s, copies could be purchased for $100. In the 1970s the priced passed the $1,000 mark for the first time. And, as mentioned earlier, in the late 1980s you could by a copy for $5,000. And now, nicer copies are consistently selling for around $100,000.
There are, however, factors that can dramatically increase the price of a first edition Book of Mormon or any other of the previously mentioned books. And that is the provenance – or prior ownership of a book. A good example is the Joseph Smith, Jr. family Bible. This Bible–from the early 1800s would have typically sold for around $1,000. However, because of the important provenance of that Bible, in 2010 it sold for $1.5 million dollars! And, Hyrum Smith’s first edition Book of Mormon sold several years ago for almost one million dollars.
I own Samuel Smith’s first edition Book of Mormon . It is one of my favorite acquisitions–for me, you can’t get much better than owning the first edition Book of Mormon that belonged to the very first missionary.
Of the 5,000 copies printed, best estimates are that only about 500 or so have survived. And of these 500, there are about 100 that are institutionally owned (libraries, universities, etc.). So, there will only ever be a pool of about 400 copies in private hands.
10) A Collection of Sacred Hymns, for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in Europe. Selected by Brigham Young, Parley P. Pratt, and John Taylor. [Manchester, England – 1840]. $90,000
Although it was intended for the Church in the British Isles, the 1840 Manchester hymnal became the basis of all the official LDS hymnals during the last half of the 19th century. Because of the large number of British converts and the expense of book printing in the Great Basin, thirteen editions were published in England before one was finally printed in Salt Lake City in 1871. (Crawley, 1:121).
And, just in case you were wondering how the prices of these books compare to some of the classics, here are a few: You could buy a beautiful first edition three-volume set of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice  for around $75,000. You could even buy a first edition, first printing of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings [1954-55] for $37,500. Or you could pick up an original ten-volume first edition [French] set of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables  for under $10,000.
Each year, as I see more and more collectors getting into the market, I have a feeling that the prices on this list will continue their upward spiral.
P. S. Do you know why most people buy the books on this list? besides having a nice bank account? Most tell me that they love our history–and the stories of sacrifice and struggle that the books represent–and that they would like to own a piece of that history.
(Special thanks to Peter Crawley for the exhaustive research and wonderful descriptions provided in his three-volume series A Descriptive Bibliography of the Mormon Church).
Reid N. Moon is the owner of Moon’s Rare Books in Provo, Utah.
If you would like a free appraisal on any of your early Mormon books, documents or artifacts, feel free to contact him at 214-707-0896 or firstname.lastname@example.org moonsrarebooks.com
Mark your calendar: On Monday, February 1, 2016 at 7:00 pm Reid Moon will give a presentation called, “Ten Little-Known Facts About the Book of Mormon“. As part of the presentation he will show copies of the Book of Mormon that belonged to Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith and Samuel Smith. This is the first in a series of ten lectures to be presented during 2016 called “FHE Firesides”. Location: Zion’s Mercantile at The Shops at Riverwoods, 4801 N. University Ave., Provo, UT 84604. Please R.S.V.P. to reserve a seat. Free event. (801) 802-6064