Saturday, January 18, 2014

My Story about the Book of Mormon - 1st Edition

If you are looking for pictures on this post, sorry, you aren't going to find any -- unless I can find them on an old computer's hard drive that's currently in a storage locker.  Since my site does have a lot to do with Utah and Utah culture I thought I'd tell the story of how I stumbled upon a copy of the Book of Mormon - 1st Edition.

My mother in law had given me a couple of boxes of books to sell on eBay back in 2008 (or so).  My wife and her mother had cleaned out her basement and me being a pretty big fan of eBay, took the books and started to determine if the books were even worth selling.  Most of the books weren't.  If I was lucky, I could get a buck or two.  Sometimes I got fortuitous and found books worth $15 - $25.  I did find a 2-volume set that covered the United States Civil War that were published a few years after the event had ended that wound up selling in the low $100's.

I was going through the books checking them out on eBay and Abebooks.  Books that had been published in the 1800's looked promising, but rarely turned out to be worth much.  Most of the books were going into another box labeled "Donate to the Library".

After about 45 minutes that Donate to the Library box was overflowing with books.  Only a handful would ever find life in a virtual auction house and it was demotivating work as my time increased and my potential for profits dwindled.

Things changed when I came across an old leather bound book called "The Book of Mormon"   Great, another religious book that while old would be worth next to nothing.

For a book published in the early 1800's it was in good condition.  The pages were crisp, the binding tight, and the leather bound cover was worn, but still in good shape.  No ripped pages and no writing in it. To be honest, though, it looked poorly made but it had never been read, let alone even opened from the look of it. It also had a strange diamond shape imprinted on the cover and on each page (I am told this was a printing mistake) I did my research on the book on my sites and came across a bunch of second editions and third editions that were selling for about $5, if that.

Shucks, another bummer and I tossed it into the Donate to the Library box.

I picked up the next book when I thought, gee, the books I had found didn't look anything like the one I had.  So I looked at it, picked it up and thumbed through the pages.  I look at the printing page to determine what edition it was.  There it was: first edition, first printing on the inside cover.  Wow.  So I went back to eBay and my other book sites and used the advanced search.  No hits.

Worthless, I thought and returned it to the Library box.

I took a deep breath and looked at it again.  It looked semi interesting to and it was filled with "Ye's" and "Though's" and all kinds of old English that was popular in the mid 1800's.  There were all kinds of strange names in it: Lehi, Nephi (incidentally both cities in Utah), stuff totally different from the King James Bible.  It was very hard to read and seemed sort of mystical.

I decided one last shot, used Google and searched for "Book of Mormon First Edition" and here is the site I stumbled upon:  First Edition Pictures

Wow, someone had an entire page filled with pictures and a write-up about it.  I compared the pictures and my book looked EXACTLY like his.  I was on to something.

I took a half dozen pictures and found a bunch of collectors and sent my pictures and an email to them.

Within hours, 2 of them had replied.  One offered me $5000 on the spot for it and offered to drive down from Wisconsin to pick it up that night.  Another one said I should FedEx it to him (site unseen) so he could "examine" it.   I was like NO way but I did discover the book was last auctioned off at $33,000.  Apparently only a few hundred of these books were printed and once the religion took on, a second edition was printed with many spelling / doctrine changes.  This was the original piece of work that started a major world religion.

Hands sweating, I didn't even want to play with it anymore.  I might ruin the value of it if I carelessly tore a page while examining it.  I was tempted to go get some gloves lest I get finger grease on it.  I put it down in a very safe place and walked away like it was a live grenade.  It also made me suspect some of the other books that I had thrown in the giveaway box as potential gold mines (out of luck there - I rechecked them all).

I honestly didn't know what to do.  eBay is not the place to sell this kind of thing and to be honest I didn't know exactly what it was worth and what I could get.  My book was in MINT condition while others looked worn or had tea-stained pages.

I called Shari over and explained the situation and we wound up turning it back over to my mother in law.  She suspected one of her great grandparents were in the publishing business and someone must've given her ancestor the book, where it had been put in attic for years on end and passed on from generation to generation.

To make a long story short, a representative from Antique Roadshow came out, verified its legitimacy and papers were signed giving him possession to sell (he said he would've put us on their show but we had already done the research and knew too much about the book).

It wound up selling a few months later at a Christie's Auction house for the princely sum of $88,000.  As a finder's fee I got a nice cut of the profits from my mother in law and it was my brush with an incredible piece of religious history

-- and a cool story.

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