Books you wish you had bought

The world of Mormon books is a bizarre landscaped marked by all sorts of characters. There are different subsets of the market to be sure – everything from consumer schlock to handcrafted scholarly masterworks. The Joseph Smith Papers Project offering of limited leather-bound volumes in addition to their regular cloth-bound editions (which were recently raised to $50 from $40 a volume) is one manifestation of that. Get one signed by Esplin and certified to have been in the possession of Dean Jessee and you might have yourself a little nest egg. While it is true that digitization has thankfully changed things, there is still a tremendous desire to have the book in our hands (perhaps a lingering nostalgia for our golden plates).

I think Mormons love books because they have information. Internalized information is knowledge, and knowledge of the Church, the Gospel and history not only translates into power throughout the eternities, but also connects us to the people, events and places of our heritage – a measure of intimacy. What’s more, a Joseph Smith handkerchief or coffin cane is a bit hard to come by; so we can relicize information as found in books and approach them with reverence. Unfortunately, one of the results of this environment is that some books, when they do go out of print, become very expensive on the used market. Here are some examples very useful books you should have purchased when you had the chance (I am just looking at standard printings, not collectors or limited printings):

Andrew Ehat and Lyndon Cook, Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph (Provo: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1980).
This volume collects all the contemporary accounts of Joseph Smith’s Nauvoo sermons and presents them faithfully to the manuscript and with scholarly annotations. This book is a classic. The authors reprinted the volume in 1991 with Grandin Books. The authors updated the book for a revised digital edition (1996) which is currently available on Gospelink. Ehat has worked to further revise, correct, and expand the volume and is expected to produce a third edition this year (rumored to go for ~$30!). Current going price for either bound editions: $220-550.

Thomas Alexander, Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day Saints, 1890-1930 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986 [1996 in paper]).
This is a classic volume that treats an integral portion of Mormon history and only a couple of years ago you could still pay regular price. It is available on the Signature Books, New Mormon Studies CD-ROM, but both the hardcover and paperback are out of print. Alexander is apparently revising the text for a second edition to be published with Kofford; however, there is no ETA for this second volume. Oddly the paperback is going for a higher price than the hardback on the used market: $62-95 (though one vendor on amazon is trying to sell a copy for close to $600!).

Leonard Arrington, Adventures of a Church Historian (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998).
Arrington is the great hero of modern Mormon historiography. This is a wonderful read and has many details about the critical period of his tenure as Church Historian that you can’t find anywhere else. Like Alexander’s, a couple of years ago, you could have picked this up at regular price. Now: $79-194.

Comments

  1. John Mansfield says:

    I wonder how common this kind of collectors’ market is, high prices for out of print books. I would suppose that the demand that generates high prices would usually lead to second printings and that there wouldn’t be much demand for books that couldn’t generate a second printing.

  2. Funny, I bought the paperback version of Thomas Alexander’s, Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day Saints, 1890-1930 at MHA a couple of years ago from the University of Illinois Press table. They were selling their “display copies” on the last day of the confernece for $10 a piece. Almost didn’t buy it, even at that great price, because I prefer hardback, but I wanted to read it so purchased it anyway.

  3. I just ran into Andy Ehat in the library a couple weeks ago. He told me that he doesn’t have a firm date for when to expect the new edition of Words, but that he is working feverishly on them. It is all printing processes that remain. He also said that he has a couple of related volumes that should come out soon as well.

    My grandparents gave me their copy of Words as a surprise gift last year. It still has its originaly price tag on the dustjacket: 9.95.

  4. Henry Eyring’s book, “Reflections of a Scientist,” is going for $35 or more–and the $35 price is for books that are listed as being in “good” condition (just barely above “acceptable.” Books in better condition are going for significantly more. And this for a small hardcover. I think the price would go down quickly if Deseret Book did a second edition.

  5. Here’s one to add to your list.

  6. Researcher says:

    Grrr. I was looking for a copy of Mormonism in Transition the other day and was feeling ticked off that I hadn’t bought it as an undergraduate. I don’t know why I didn’t pick up a copy; perhaps because it was never required reading for any of my classes and I was already pouring so much money into mediocre books that I would end up selling back to the bookstore for a pittance.

    Time for a new printing!

    …there wouldn’t be much demand for books that couldn’t generate a second printing… (1)

    Many books that are out of print are still protected under copyright laws and cannot be republished without getting permission from the estate of the author and/or illustrator. In many cases it takes years for a publishing house to realize that there is a demand for a certain item and then to make all the convuluted arrangements to reprint it.

    A couple of cases of this in recent decades involves the children’s books Andrew Henry’s Meadow (Burn) and Who Needs Donuts (Stamaty).

    Before they were reprinted, copies of Burn’s books or Who Needs Donuts could run into the hundreds of dollars. Now the market has dried up for old copies.

    If no publisher wants to take on the project of doing a reprint that might not sell enough to cover the overhead associated with such a project, it doesn’t necessarily mean the demand isn’t significant.

    *
    Every time I’ve looked at the LDS book market, it’s seemed to be rather slow and with low demand for most items.

  7. I picked up a used copy of Mormonism in Transition (paperback) two years ago at Sam Wellers for $17. I wonder why the paperback is more expensive. Maybe the introduction by Stephen Stein? I also purchased a near-mint copy of Adventures of a Church Historian (autographed by Arrington with a personalized note to Devery Anderson, who I assume was the previous owner of the book) at BYU Bookstore (the used LDS books shelf) for $25 last year. I’m holding out for the newest edition of Words.

  8. Fortunes can be fickle.

    Last fall, Signature’s Early Patriarchal Blessings of The Church Of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints retailed for something like $70. It sold out in just a few months. Copies are now $150 and up.

    Earlier this year, the Church’s 2008 employee edition of the Bible was running for about $200 on the Deseret News auction site. Now copies go for about a third of that.

    After the limited edition of Bushman’s On the Road With Joseph Smith sold out, I saw copies going as high as $500. Once the paperback version from Kofford came out, limited edition copies were back selling for the retail price of $150.

    As for the books J. mentions, I got lucky on Alexander’s Mormonism in Transition. Bought an as new hardback copy a couple years ago for $10. Also picked up Arrington’s book for about $20. Had to pay through the nose for Words (nowhere near $550, though), but it is signed by both Ehat and Cook.

    It’s a crazy world sometimes.

  9. No kidding, Brad; but the limited edition volumes are always going to be crazy expensive. Just look at the Patriarchal Blessing book that listed last fall for $75 and now goes for $125-375.

    John, I think Matt’s comment goes some ways to answering your question. Mormon books is still a very small market, and just because at any given moment, there might be a handful of people willing to spend $100 on a book, it doesn’t mean that there is 10,000 willing to spend $25. Most publishers won’t bother if the volume isn’t there.

  10. BenL “My grandparents gave me their copy of Words as a surprise gift last year. It still has its original price tag on the dustjacket: 9.95.”

    Awesome. Did they know what it was worth?

  11. I (kinda) inherited my copy of Words as well. Researcher, I think it depends on what type of Mormon books – there is a significant market in certain segments. Primary sources are where I have seen the most demand in the long run.

  12. Yea, On the Potter’s Wheel is a doozy. Who would have guessed back in 1987?

  13. Randy: I told them, and they didn’t really care :)

  14. If publishers would just issue everything in PDF version, we wouldn’t have this problem of trying to judge demand before printing. They could just place it on their websites and allow for electronic downloads.

  15. Michael, I would love to have a PDF version of every book I own. It would simplify life greatly. Still, books are superior by several criteria. I do think this is why several university presses have moved to print-on-demand after the first printings or so (at least that is what I have heard).

  16. John Hamer says:

    We’re already at a point in the technology where books don’t have to go out of print anymore. After the initial print run, the publisher can upload the files to a print-on-demand service like the one Amazon owns. For example, every time Amazon sells a copy of the Scattering of the Saints, Amazon prints a single copy of the book and sends it to the customer. All of the other books are distributed through JWHA and come from larger print runs, but we distribute that way through Amazon because it’s so convenient and cost effective.

  17. What books out on the shelves today will be the valued rare find in ten or twenty years? Do you think my 1st edition hardbound copy of RSR signed by Bushman will be worth something someday?

  18. Curtis Weber says:

    I’m working to help Ehat prepare the new edition of The Words of Joseph Smith, which was tentatively planned for release earlier this year, and we are close to finishing; but there are a few items left before Andrew sends the text to typesetting. I am still hoping it will be out this year in time for Christmas, though I realy can’t say as there are some variables still at play in the matter.

    But please do get the “Word” out there: You might not want to pay $200 or $300 for the old edition of Words. (The record selling price we’ve heard of was well over $1000–how crazy is that? But if you’ve got the money and the interest, the book’s contents are worth far more!)

  19. “Do you think my 1st edition hardbound copy of RSR signed by Bushman will be worth something someday?”

    My best guess is no. Too many copies, and too many with signatures.

  20. John, what kind of quality do you see from Amazon’s print on demand service? Does it meet the quality of the higher print runs? Does it matter whether it’s hardback or soft cover?

  21. John, is there a binding difference between the Amazon edition and the in-house distributed edition (e.g., case-wrap binding vs. cloth, paper quality, etc.)? Knowing such a difference I would be more inclined to purchase one over the other, because I am a binding snob (can you say MMM?).

    Kraus, that one is more hard to tell because there is so many copies in distribution. I would imagine that it would depend on whether it was the first printing (vs. subsequent printings) and whether you kept it in immaculate condition. As a measure of my dorkery, I cover all my volumes in archival film upon receipt (purchased by the 300′ roll).

  22. Mormonism in Transition and Adventures of a Church Historian are good books, and I checked out both from the local divinity school library. I have thought it would be nice to own a copy of each, but I guess that’s not too easy to do anymore . . .

  23. As a measure of my dorkery, I cover all my volumes in archival film upon receipt (purchased by the 300′ roll).

    J, your “dorkery” is shared by many :)

  24. J: “(can you say MMM?)”

    I don’t get it. Are you talking about Walker et al.’s new book? Was the binding messed up?

  25. And yes, J., your dorkery is shared by many.

  26. Was the binding messed up?

    They opted for a full paper hardback binding instead of cloth or partial cloth.

  27. I wish I’d picked up a used copy of Words back when it was $10. Ugh. Of course I also wish I’d had the money to buy that 12 acre plot of land in an ideal spot in Hobble Creek when it was going for $100,000 also in the mid 90’s.

  28. …and it is good to know that I am not alone!

  29. “They opted for a full paper hardback binding instead of cloth or partial cloth.”

    Bummer. I hadn’t noticed that. Isn’t Blood of the Prophets the same way? Why the cheap books on a topic that is bound to sell copies?

  30. Why the cheap books on a topic that is bound to sell copies?

    In regards to Massacre at Mountain Meadows, it appears Oxford didn’t think it would sell that much. That is why they ran a somewhat-small first printing (which quickly sold out, so fortunately they were wrong).

  31. I wish I’d purchased Arrington’s book ten years ago (anyone know why there are two different covers?). I also wish I’d purchased John Peterson’s Utah’s Black Hawk War in hardback.

  32. Carlos U. says:

    I wish I had boutght the Neal A. Maxwell collected Works Multi-volume bound on leather collection. When they published it, I was a lowly BYU student, and $250 or so was a LOT of money for me. Now I see it avaliable used at Amazon for over $1,000. I’m hoping that with his passing, they will consider re-issuing it.

  33. I also regret that I didn’t purchase volume 3 of the Papers of Joseph Smith when it was published back in 1994 (see footnote 12 in the linked article).

  34. John Hamer says:

    Re #21: So far John Whitmer Books has only produced paperback editions. The Amazon version of Scattering of the Saints is different from the non-Amazon version. The Amazon version is on thicker paper and the book itself is therefore thicker and heavier.

    The printing process also allows for hard cover editions and as soon as we have the time to devote to experimentation, we’ll make hard cover editions for all the books — both for people who prefer hardcovers (I do too) and for libraries. I haven’t seen any samples yet, so I don’t have an example of the quality.

    Right now we’re doing our first full-color book, which is also an exciting new ability.

  35. I picked up a first edition of B.H. Roberts’ New Witness for God II at the DI for 5 bucks. That was pretty sweet. My wife found an Adventures by Arrington last Christmas for about 20 clams.

  36. PS- I was too young to have worried about stuff I would have bought, btw.

  37. #33, way to rub it in, Justin ;)

  38. Carlos #32: I think I’ve seen this on eBay lately for around $600 or so. Still not cheap . . .

  39. Aaron Brown says:

    FOR SALE: A paperback copy of _Mormonism in Transition_ for $70.00. It’s in almost immaculate condition. Interested parties can email me.

    AB

  40. Aaron Brown says:

    Also, I have to assume my original paperback edition of _Neither White Nor Black_ has got to be worth something, since it’s such a great volume, and has been out of print for a long time. Anybody know for sure?

    AB

  41. Steve Evans says:

    AB, could you please give me back my copy of Mormonism in Transition?

  42. Aaron Brown says:

    No, Steve, but I do still have a copy of your J. Golden Kimball book, which I will happily return to you for $125-$375.

    AB

  43. Neither White Nor Black — there are a few copies around (on Alibris and Abe) for about $25, but I saw it under $20 not too long ago.

  44. I got a new paperback copy of Mormonism in Transition as a Christmas present just a year and a half ago. I was surprised a few months ago when I saw that it was out of print. Whew.

    I’m just glad that parts of it are published elsewhere (i.e. Dialogue and Sunstone); it doesn’t do much good to recommend it to people if they can’t get it.

    One day, when I’m dead, my posterity will go through my stuff, and I’m just sure that I will be pulling my spirit hair out as I watch them pitch some of my best books. (“FOOLS! Don’t you know what that is?!”)

  45. Wish I had bought Walker’s Wayward Saints when I had the chance. I read a borrowed copy in college, and never got around to buying my own. It read like a great novel. I was reminded of it after reading the new MMM, and went to find a copy; it has gotten pricey.

  46. NoCoolName_Tom says:

    I’m rather surprised to see so many people talking about MiT. I bought it a few months ago in the Orem Barnes and Noble. Are you sure it’s out of print?

  47. I wish I had had the 300 dollars to by the “pocket book of mormon” In the little bookstore in Nauvoo. It apparantly had belonged to one of the Pratts. It was very cool.

  48. NCNT, there are likely copies still floating around the regular channels, but it is definitely out of print. Check out bn.com – used and expensive.

    Jared, I plan on having more than a few chats with my kids about the books.

  49. Neither White Nor Black is available for free on the Signature website, though. So there’s really little need to pick it up.

    (Says someone who owns a copy . . . )

  50. Kevin Barney says:

    1. Adventures is one of those books I borrowed from a friend and read, so didn’t buy.

    2. This is embarrassing, but I’m not even sure whether I have Transition. I know for a long time I didn’t have it, but then I had the opportunity to get one for like $10, and I just can’t remember whether I pulled the trigger or not. I hope I did. I’ll have to search through my collection to try to figure it out.

    3. On my mission I bought Nibley’s Message of the JS Papyri for half price at the local Seventies Bookstore. That was going for about $250 before FARMS issued the new edition.

    4. Also on my mission I purchased the 1977 edition of the BoM in Hebrew for $5.00, but somewhere along the way I lost it. That one is so rare I’ve never encountered another person who owns one; most people don’t even know one was published that year. The 1981 edition is available, but those run at least $500. The print run was 1000, but when the book was recalled in 1984 most copies were destroyed, making it extremely rare.

    5. When I was in law school, Scott Kenney’s limited edition of Wilford Woodruff’s journals came out. My friend Mike Hicks got a copy, but I was extremely poor and couldn’t justify it. Many has been the day since than that I wish I had taken that plunge.

    6. I have a copy of the journals of Reed Smoot, from the same series as that book Brad linked to. My bishop at the time it was published gave it to me; he’s a big time collector, and the book was edited by Harvard Heath, whose brother was in our ward at the time. I recall it being an expensive book when it was published (over $100), so I wonder what it would be worth today.

    7. I have a whole box full of old Mormon books that belonged to my father. I’ve been meaning to write to Benchmark to get a bid for them. I just don’t have enough room to save everything.

  51. I bought the first primer of the Deseret Alphabet for $20, in Logan, about 1980. I remember the price because it’s still penciled in at the front. I still have it, and know where it is. :) My professor at the time ruined the thrill for me by telling me that he had bought a whole set when the U of U cleaned out their basement for 50 cents a copy.

  52. I do imagine that if ever the second edition of Transition gets published, all the paperback editions will start selling for $5. I wonder if the JS Papyri will retain its value with the new edition.

    If it weren’t for the New Mormon Studies CD-ROM, the Woodruff Journals would be just about as accessible after now as before signature published them – they are impossible to come by.

    The Reed Smoot volume is still in print, so you can still pick it up. Many of the recent volumes in that series are still around.

    Lastly, I need to come by and see what is in that box! Now I need an excuse to go to Chicago.

  53. I inherited a lot of LDS books from my grandma-in-law, but these don’t sound familiar.

    I’ve been told these ones in the lower left corner are worth something, though.

  54. Dang strait, Susan. Looking to sell?

  55. Two books that were hot items in the mid-90s were Quinn’s Early Mormonism and the Magic World View and Backman’s Heavens Resound. Both were reprinted as paperbacks and I think the bottom fell out for both of them. I still see the old hardcovers advertised for $75-100, but they don’t sell.

  56. Researcher says:

    The one time I spent a considerable sum of money in the Mormon used book market was when I was looking for a biography of an ancestor. If I need any other books I’ll usually look for a used copy first (what can I say; it’s my Scottish heritage).

    I’ve used deseretbook auctions, amazon, ebay and alibris. Recently I stopped using ebay because I realized that out of four transactions, two involved fraud and two involved having to return a broken or incorrect item at my cost.

    Are there any other reliable sources you (J. Stapley) or others would recommend or does that about cover it?

  57. abebooks.com is pretty good. There is also a site called allbookstores.com that maintains a large databse of stores that sell used and new books online.

  58. Campusi is an aggregator, like alibris. So is abebooks. Between those and Amazon, you can find most things.

  59. Aaron Brown says:

    My great aunt Mary Lou Harris, who lives in New England, found over 100 pages of this old hand-written manuscript in an old family trunk in her attic. They look to be from the early 1800s, and they contain weird archaic phrases like “it came to pass,” and other such sayings. References to some guy named “nephi” also. I wonder if its significant. Anybody want to make me an offer?

    AB

  60. Kevin Barney says:

    Aaron, I’ll swap you an original print of the Oath of a Freeman for it.

  61. Aaron Brown says:

    :)

  62. #60 — classic!

  63. Researcher, I’ve used all of those resources and more and in the proces have bought more books than I’d ever care to admit. At the end of the day, I don’t think any one of them is more reliable than another. There are a couple things you can do to limit the chance of a bad experience, regardless of where you’re buying. First, pay a little more to buy from someone with lots of positive feedback. If it’s Amazon, I almost never buy from someone with less than a 95% positive feedback rating. And I never buy from someone without several hundred positive feedbacks. Second, I’m kind of a snob about the books I buy. I want them to be in as perfect condition as is reasonably possible. I’ve learned that unless the seller tells you, that there are no marks or writing, you simply can’t trust that there are no marks, even if the book is classified as “Like New”. If the book really is like new, and really has no marks, most experienced sellers will specifically say so. The only exception here is for certain dealers who in my experience generally underrate their books. A good example is Powell’s Books. If they say a book is in “Very Good” condition, I would trust it to actually be in near new condition. That is the exception rather than the rule, though.

    At the end of the day, if you’re buying on line, I don’t think there is a better place to buy than eBay. Most sellers usually have a photograph or two, and I have a pretty good feel at this point as to who I can trust and who I can’t. That said, even doing all that, you’re still going to get burned on occasion. Comes with the territory.

  64. Kevin,

    If you’re so inclined, I’d be interested to know what you’ve got in the box that you’re looking to get rid of. You can get me at butterfieldrj at gmail dot com.

  65. Trevor Holyoak says:

    I bought a copy of Mormons in Transition earlier this month in the silent auction at the FAIR conference. I think it cost me $4.50. I had no idea it was worth anything; now I’m wondering how I got it for so little (unless no one else knew, either).

  66. Trevor. You totally poached that book from me, you snake! I was bidder 497. BOOOOOO!

    Also, there are always about a bajillion Mark E. Peterson and Paul Dunn books available for a buck a pop at the DI. Let me know if anyone is interested.

  67. Curt Conklin says:

    In reading these comments it is obvious to me that some of you people have huge “Mormon Americana” collections and haven’t gotten around to organizing them in any cognizant way. What a shame. I’ll admit, my modest collection of 50 or 60 or so Mormon books sit on my book selves like “matter unorganized”–and I’m a professional cataloguer!

    Lets see, BX8601 to BX 8666 Mormons, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints . . . I have the LC schedule right here in my lap.

    Curt Conklin

  68. Kevin Barney says:

    You’re right, Curt. I try to use a very general categorization on my shelves: BoM, Church History, GA and doctrinal titles, apologetics, music, general ancient studies, classics, etc. But the system breaks down over time and miscellaneous books get stuck in every available nook and cranny.

  69. Curt Conklin says:

    Kevin,

    One COULD get a library to copy the BX schedule for Mormonism, BX 8601-8666, and then shelve books within each number by author or first main word of the title. Simple enough.

    The real issue would be how to label the spines without damaging or otherwise ruining the value of the book. I guess one could use acid free heavy cardstock cut like a page marker and cut them higher than the book so that the call number is above the top of the book. Lots of work though, and you’d want to make sure that the cardstock is acid free. We do this in my library (BYU Hunter LAW) for Rare Books that we don’t want to afix things to or otherwise mark. We used to use IBM punchcards for this purpose, but they are fairly acidic.

    The Mormon part of the LC BX schedule is only 6 pages long, 7 if you include the “other” Mormons.

  70. I have a hardcover copy of Mormonism in Transition (sans DJ) for sale for a very reasonable price. First to email gets it.

    http://www.ldsbooklovers.com/saleitem.asp?id=158&pid=0

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