A bank of phone bidders drove the price for a first edition Book of Mormon well beyond the pre-sale estimate of $50,000/80,000, as it sold for $103,500 at the PBA Galleries auction of Fine Americana with Autographs & Manuscripts, October 11, 2007.

The cornerstone of the Mormon religion, the 588-page text has soared in value over the last several years, as collectors vie for the increasingly scarce work. Whether actually written by Joseph Smith, Jr., founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or translated by him from the text engraved on the gold “Plates of Nephi” that were presented to Smith by Moroni, son of the prophet Mormon, the Book of Mormon remains the most important of the writings of one of America’s most successful theocracies and most enduring communal movements. The desire by those affiliated with the Mormon religion to preserve, protect, and appreciate all early artifacts of its founding and development has spurred the leap in their values, and most of all in the first edition of its most crucial text.

At first glance, the copy sold at PBA belied its historic significance, in its plain leather binding rebacked some years ago with split calf, but within its unpretentious exterior dwelt words that would launch a religion. Internally, the pages were cleaner and less browned than most copies, though bound in the inexpensive sheepskin bindings then popular among the impecunious, and likely transported along the myriad wanderings of the Mormon acolytes as they fled their many persecutions before landing on the shores of the Great Salt Lake. Indeed, of the 5,000 copies originally printed in 1830, only some 500 are estimated to survive today. The copy on the block included the rare leaf of testimonials at the end, and, additionally, had excellent provenance, having formerly belonged to Paul M. Hanson, who served as a member of the Council of Twelve of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints from 1913 to 1958, with Hanson’s bookplate, and a presentation inscription by him as he passed along the book to John T. Conway.

The bidding started at $55,000, as bids submitted prior the auction drove the opening above the low range of the estimate, and one of the phone participants weighed in against “the book,” represented by the auctioneer, until the price reached $75,000. The absentee now laid to rest, a second phone bidder, after a few seconds hesitation, dove in at $80,000, was again bested, then came back with the winning bid of $90,000 hammer, with the 15% buyer’s premium bringing the total to $103,500. The other phone bidders remained silent, reduced to observing as their personal pre-ordained limits lay in the dust.

While the Book of Mormon was undeniably the high-spot of the auction, the exceptional price achieved for it was bolstered by the strong showing by many of the other rarities in the 423-lot auction, a demonstration of the continued strong market for historically significant collectibles.

The full catalogue, and results of each lot, may be viewed at the PBA website, www.pbagalleries.com. A high-resolution image for each of the lot described in this article, suitable for publication, is attached. Contact [email protected]

For information about consigning material to PBA Galleries’ next auction of Americana, on January 24, 2008, or to other future auctions at PBA, please contact Bruce MacMakin ([email protected]).

About PBA Galleries

PBA Galleries is the only specialist auction house in the West devoted to rare books, manuscripts, and maps. Focused primarily on personal collections and exceptional books, recent offerings have included the sale of maps and atlases from the Ernst W. Gerber collection; the library of Ford Mitchell: Early Americana, Texas & the West; John Dunlap’s collection from the estate of William Randolph Hearst; and many more. PBA Galleries provides clients the benefits of its staff of appraisers, online and printed catalogues, and biweekly gallery auctions where clients can bid in person, email, and in real time from their computer.