$35 Million

In a stunning turn of events, the LDS Church has purchased the Printer’s Manuscript (designated P) of the Book of Mormon from the Community of Christ for $35 million (with donated funds). A few years ago at the JWHA conference there was an entire plenary devoted to P, so I thought it might be a public service to post here my notes from that session:


The opening plenary is on the Printer’s Manuscript, with Robin Jensen chairing (he’s introducing it right now, talking about the JSP publication). Talking about their joint press conference. (Unusual to have a plenary start at 7:30 a.m., but that’s the only slot they had available, and it’s fine by me as I’m an early riser anyway.) Three speakers: Ron Romig, Dick Howard and Royal Skousen.

Ron Romig

Ron up first. Getting JSP volume into print; process started over 20 years ago. Seer stone publicized. CoC has two seer stones, associated with the Whitmers (probably acquired in 1930s to 1950s), also a rectangular one. CoC archives has an 1834 Anthon letter about Martin Harris. LDS Church received Caractors doc from Whitmer family in 1903. CoC has a nice collection of Book of Mormons; Royal came and examined every one of them minutely. One in poor condition believed to have belonged to Lucy Mack Smith. 2d ed. in 1837 Kirtland. 1840 ed. printed in Nauvoo. Original ms. ended up in Nauvoo House cornerstone; P stayed with Oliver and passed through David Whitmer. Cornerstone opened in 1882 by Lewis Bidamon. At that time a lot of LDS travelling through Nauvoo, and he would hand out pages as gifts, so most of it ended up in LDS hands. P from Oliver to David Whitmer, then to George Schweich. He approached Joseph F. Smith, who wouldn’t buy it; what do we need that for, we have the book in print? So he sold it to JS III at a reduced price (had asked $10,000, sold for a little over $2,000). Over years stayed in a bank vault in Kansas City area, would come out about once a decade at RLDS conference times. Stack of loose pages, often cut apart, had to be reassembled. RLDS began to make available to scholars: microfilm, “copyflow.”

1991 Royal came to see the ms., had devoted ten years of work. Brought his chess clock, gave himself three minutes per page, that’s all he would have time for. Very dedicated, very meticulous. He came back the following year, spent at least two weeks. RLDS then made color photographs. Very high quality. Took film to SLC. Took three days just to process and print. Royal arranged for RLDS to have a set, and he kept a set to work on the ms.

Q. what about paper? Same as O? Same as Caractors? Robert Espinoza of BYU came out; paper not related, all unique. 1997 arrangement made between LDS and CoC to preserve. Ink not water soluble, so could be washed to get dirt out of the paper bond. Old paper made out of rags, so like washing old clothes. Dried, encapsulated in mylar. Held in a display box.

When it was time to take ms. to SLC, Ron had the job. Not good parking, Walked down the street being frequently asked for handouts from panhandlers.

Microfilm exchange. Available from mid-70s. That format not entirely adequate. Royal publishes transcript. Critical text project has been 28 years now. Yale edition. Now JSP publication.

Dick Howard

Now Dick Howard on cooperation between LDS and RLDS on historical sources. Will focus on 1974. Previous RLDS Church Historian was Ray Davies (? Not sure I got the name right). A brilliant man, became a scholar over time. He began to modernize things, got a microfilm camera, hired interns (early 60s). Hired Dick as his assistant historian (had been a public school teacher). Made it open to the public; no longer a private library only. Sought to modernize archives. Had been fighting Australians for 30 years; a seasoned jouster with LDS missionaries; had an antipathy towards anything LDS. New Mormon History; a new interest in sources in archives (read, “chaos”). Back then New Mormon History seemed a threat to traditional RLDS understandings. Davies wanted sound history, but to promote the faith, not to take away from. Dick took over. Allowed Bob Matthews in (previously had been denied). JS Bible ms. microflimed so Bob could pursue his study. Dick visited LDS archives at invitation of Earl Olsen. Dick literally drooled; had document envy. Wondered how could he get some of these rich strangers in the RLDS Archives without anyone else noticing? Told supervisor it would be valuable to pursue cooperation with LDS. Arranged a meeting with 1P Oct. 31, 1968. Came to a general understanding. (RLDS back then called it “the church in Utah”). Was in best interest of both organizations. Nov. 8, Dick and Earl met in Denver airport, formed an agreement. LDS to provide following: photos of O. 35 mm microfilm, Book of Revelations, Far West Record, EAG, DHC, records of members. RLDS to provide to LDS microfilm: BoM ms. JST ms. JS Bible, Book of John Whitmer, Book of Commandments, letters of Joseph Smith. They both signed. Earl took original, Dick left with the carbon. Returned home with high hopes. RLDS 1P chose to wait for action by David O. McKay. Authorized not until SWK on May 28, 1974. Why did 5-1/2 years have to pass? Then he realized Leonard Arrington was now Church Historian, saw the value of this. Earl wrote him a letter with news of the approval. LDS Church generosity had extended to other items. Met with 1P. Agreement reduced to writing. Exchange scheduled for November 20th later that year. Reviewed microfilm, terms of agreement. A sense of goodwill. Signed the agreement. Led to a new period of friendship and mutual respect. RLDS got ten films, only gave five: a coup! The Lord works in mysterious ways. The end.

Royal Skousen

Royal up now. Will talk about P and why more than just another copy. Critical text project since 1988. FARMS. In 2001 brought into BYU. Housed under Maxwell Institute; in 2014 moved to BYU Studies. To restore independence of project. Have arranged for ebook versions to be copublished by BYU Studies and Interpreter. JSP publication. Two important things: Color photos of ms. with facsimile transcript (based on his 2001 transcript, converted to JSP system). Other aspect is P is earliest extant text for 72% of BoM. O only 28%. LDS has 25%, Wilford Wood family has 2%. Fragments scattered elsewhere. UoU has half a leaf.

Skousen project: 606 new readings. 216 from O, 187 from P, 88 from both (typesetter errors), 2 from copies of title page. Some differ in meaning; most don’t affect meaning. We don’t have original title page, but five copies of it. P has two errors different from the other four: whether word “of” should be there. Goes with the other four.

O completed end of June 1829. OC starts to copy August 1829. Not one big copying session, produced pages as needed for typesetter. P not the printers ms. for 1/6 of text (Helaman 13 to end of Mormon printer used O, P never went into the print shop). Shows John Gilbert’s punctuation marks about 1/3 of time. 2/3 of time he does punctuation and typesetting on the fly. Quite a feat. P also marked up thoroughly by JS for his editing of the text in 1837 in heavy black ink (which to who, mostly grammatical changes). 1837 set to type from 1830, no P.

1st page of P shown. Bottom 1-1/2 lines. 1923 photos show a little bit more of the missing part. Shows examples of immediate corrections, and JS corrections made for second edition. Shows a printer mark, made in pencil, not ink (this one was to mark a paragraph).

All errors in P preserved; it’s a transcription. There are interpretations, though.

In several cases, typesetter allowed to take pages home. Puts in KJ punctuation in 2 Nephi. Used black ink. Gilbert finds errors, corrects on his own.

Missing at least first chapter, and perhaps first part of second chapter of Mosiah. OC trying to figure out how to make the connection between Words and Mosiah. Makes chapter 3 into 1. Starts in middle of things, no book preface, begins with the wrong guy–Benjamin, not Mosiah. 116 pages not only had Book of Lehi, but first part of Mosiah, too.

Unknown scribe 2 is a good speller. Almost as good as Gilbert. Doesn’t think it was a Smith or Whitmer. (Hyrum a terrible speller.)

Chapter numbers. Word dictated by JS, but no numbers. They got off in numbering, so typesetter corrected.

P being produced bit by bit. Can deduce from an OC letter where they were on November 8. About a month ahead of the typesetter.

Lined the text, punch holes in it, tie with yarn or thread. But Gilbert cut it apart at print shop. They later pinned the paper back together; stains in ms. from iron in the pins.

Why did one section of O never make it into print shop? Probably falling behind with copy work, hasn’t been any problems, we’ll just use O. May have taken P with them when they went to Canada in response to Abner Cole publishing pirated pages. Tried to get copyright in Canada to protect BoM from Cole (Skousen’s theory: wasn’t to sell copyright). Not successful, didn’t get a Canadian copyright.

Corrects chess clock story: was 7 minutes, not 3. Had borrowed from LDS member in area; when he died, wife sent Royal the chess clock.

Robert Espinoza is Catholic; I hadn’t known that. He later said his work on the BoM was the most thrilling work he ever did.

He liked the coming together of LDS and RLDS out of a love of the book. It’s not just “our” book or “their” book, but for whole world.





  1. There’s something about this that really, really bothers me. It has to do with the secret donors. It’s the same sick feeling I got listening to my parents talk about the building of the temple in their area. The proposed temple was supposed to be one of the smaller ones, but the fabulously wealthy members in their area all got together and donated money so that they could have a large temple with all kinds of ‘upgrades’ as the process went along (one example was something to do with the baptismal font gold, I vaguely remember. My parents thought the whole thing was exciting and endlessly name-dropped which wealthy ward member was paying for which impressive upgrade (they are not fabulously wealthy themselves – just the way ward boundaries worked out)).

    I have no problem with buying manuscripts. I hate being so rich that we can do this without a sacrifice though. How much more meaningful it would be if the church leadership came to all the members around the world and ask us to contribute what we could to purchase the manuscripts for all of us. I really, really hate that rich Mormons have and ‘in’ and a ‘say’ and a ‘contribution’ where common Mormons do not. It just doesn’t feel like what Christ was trying to do when he was alive. It feels very divisive. Very much breaking members into wealthy and not.

    (Sorry, total hijack to the op’s post.)

  2. I kind of get what you’re saying, but on the other hand; meh, as a poor Mormon, if rich people want to spend $35 million of their money to buy a manuscript for me, then I’ll let them.

  3. It’s not about who wrote it, they said. Just focus on the message, they said.

  4. Aaron Brown says:

    Stories like this almost convince me it’s time to finally sell the lost 116 pages to the Church. Almost.

  5. I love the message of the book. But I’ve surely misinterpreted it if $35MM was accepted for this purpose. I just finished facilitating a 12-week Personal Finance Sef Reliance course to help fellow members distinguish between wants and needs — so we will have enough left over to help others.

    And there were some who were indignant, and said, Why was this purchase made? $35MM might have been used for the poor (victims of hurricanes and earthquakes). And they murmured against the donors and those who accepted the donation. And purchasers said, Let them alone; why trouble ye them or us? They hath wrought a good work on me. For ye have the poor with you always …

  6. Aussie Mormon says:

    Question 1: If the donors had bought the manuscript directly and then donated it to the church, would everyone still be up in arms about it?
    Question 2: The Community of Christ is now $35million better off, what will THEY be doing with the money? What they do with the money could be exactly the same as what the donors could have done with the money. The only difference is who is spending it on that purpose. Well, I guess another difference is that we now have the manuscript rather then them…

  7. Aussie, it’s going to fund retirement obligations. Read CoC comments here:

    Click to access 20Sept2017-Time-to-Act-EN.pdf

  8. CofC letter is fascinating.

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    Amy T, thanks for sharing that letter. The letter suggests that other historical properties may be sold, and as the Salt Lake Church would presumably be among the most likely potential buyers, other transactions of this type may be coming down the pike.

  10. Yeah, in a whole lot of ways I’m thrilled about this purchase. Not because the LDS church now owns the manuscript—that’s nice, but it’s sad that the CoC no longer does. At the same time, it looks like the CoC was going to sell it anyway, and I love that the church didn’t try to nickle and dime them. It suggests to me a strong relationship, and a willingness of each church to help the other, which represents a change for the better, and a model to members of how to think about other churches (that is, not as enemies, but as fellow-travelers).

  11. Also, if we’re going to complain about the church finding private donors to fund this—after nonstop complaints about the amount of money of its own that the church spent building the mall in Salt Lake—then the church can’t win on spending. Here, it didn’t spend tithing money (not that it did there, either); it managed to acquire a historic manuscript without any indirect or direct cost to the general membership, it managed to help the CoC, and it managed to get an important manuscript that it can continue to protect and preserve. That sounds like a win all around.

  12. I too liked the idea of what this implied about our relationship with the CoC which should be strong and cooperative.

  13. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    The level of transparency in that CoC letter is astonishing – and refreshing – and enviable.

  14. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    However, as Sam notes, the Church can’t win on spending. Even if the LDS Church was to begin being more transparent with their finances, it would be criticized from all sides.

    Still, the CoC letter really puts the “Community” at the forefront of their endeavor. This is money that will have an impact on their community. I can’t imagine what it would take for LDS members to see a tangible impact from the Church’s financial transactions. Even if that $35 million would have come directly from the Church, nothing in our individual church dealings would be altered. Not sure if that’s praise, or condemnation.

  15. I agree with Sam.

  16. Aaron Brown: Already been tried. See: Hofmann, Mark

  17. Owen Witesman says:

    What a great win-win for our two communities.

  18. I would have no problem with the church spending this money on what is the foundational of foundational documents for the whole religion. As someone said, its probably a far better ecumenical use of the church’s money than buying more land to subdivide in Florida.

    The amount of handwringing that seems to be going on about the origin of the money I think is really a consequence of the lack of transparency and simple “self-honesty” within our community. All the church’s money stems ultimately from two places – tithing money/donations (or the ability of the church to borrow against future tithing money) or land-based resources from the blood, sweat and tears of early pioneer settlement (and of the natives who were dispossessed). Since the mid-to-late1970s the church has moved from teetering on bankruptcy to investing many of these resources across a diverse portfolio including their own for-profit enterprises, creating a third, but derivative source of funds – income from these investments. Because they have done this last thing well over the past 40 years, the church is now very rich. How rich? Very few people within the church bureaucracy even know. Regardless, $35 million isn’t stretching any of the church’s assets.

    Should there be an open, transparent and robust discussion about what the Church is doing and should do with its wealth? Yes. Please, yes. Will we get it? No.

    Seeing the close collaboration that has developed between LDS and CoC is great. I am glad P isn’t going to some private collector which is where it was going to end up if the LDS church didn’t buy it (though it probably would have gone to a wealthy LDS family that would have probably donated it if the church hadn’t coordinated the donations).

  19. “the church can’t win on spending.”

    Yes, I agree that is true for me. At the end of the day, I want my religion to be about ‘the least of these my brethren’ rather than important purchases and attracting wealth/status. When I have it shoved in my face that having/spending money is important to and celebrated by Mormonism, I feel somewhat sick inside. I think I’d be much happier being part of the religion that had to sacrifice its artifacts instead of the one that buys that sacrifice.

  20. A natural follow-up question to this event for those of you who are more knowledgable about CoC Church history: what other major historical assets does the CoC have that the LDS Church might be eyeing? (Besides their Temple lot property and the Kirtland Temple, which I assume they’ll hold onto until Kingdom comes). The Joseph Smith Bible translation? It seems that this pattern has repeated itself several times (CoC financial crisis, they sell off historic property/items [Haun’s Mill, Joseph Smith’s Kirtland House] to keep them afloat for a few years, financial crisis…), and I always assume that they’re running out of historical assets to keep them afloat, but then there’s something else that comes out of the bag. Don’t mean to thread jack and feel free to ignore, but there seem to be enough CoC folks here that I thought I’d ask. Like the early 20th-century Brighamites, hopefully you’ll be able to resolve your financial issues and settle into a long-term equilibrium.

  21. I predicted several years ago that eventually the CoC would sell the printer’s manuscript because they would need the money. If you read the CoC statement, it’s there between the lines for anyone who has eyes to see. Our poor, poor Missouri cousins.

  22. What a day in Mormondom! But which is the bigger story? The sale of the printer’s manuscript or the sale of caffeinated drinks at BYU?

  23. ReTx:
    I don’t believe that having/spending money is celebrated within the Church. I believe it is celebrated by human society. We must all sacrifice all things. Sacrifice and consecration are celebrated within the Church. And I believe those who purchased the manuscript have no desire to be celebrated as persons, hence their anonymity.

  24. Not quite in the mood to crack the celebratory Coke, which is odd considering my reverence for old documents and church history. Such an extravagance, against the backdrop of so much suffering.

  25. Cathy, do you believe that no significant portion of that $35 million will in any way, ever, alleviate suffering? Is the Community of Christ really that unacceptable of a vehicle to alleviate suffering?

  26. I could see the CoC sell its Nauvoo property to the Church with some guarantees about access etc. They could bring in some cash and get rid of the expense of maintaining them while getting most the benefit for its community. I don’t see them selling the Kirkland Temple though.

  27. Money spent on knowledge and scholarship is usually money well spent, even when it’s a lot of money. This manuscript is a treasure. Its value is not as a relic, but as a source of sacred and secular knowledge. I hear the concerns about extravagance, but I’m happy that in a time when willful ignorance is rampant even among members of the church, some of us value the pursuit of learning enough to secure this document.

  28. at, I think $35 million will go a long way to alleviating suffering for any group. There are things about this which are very good. There are also things about this which make me uncomfortable, and I have spent a good part of the morning trying to understand why. Am I projecting my own financial insecurities on to others? Am I being prideful or judgmental? Am I a hypocrite? Does affluence in the church bother me? Maybe. It is the tension between these conflicting ideas that makes things interesting, and begs for further personal reflection. I appreciate being able to expression that tension honestly here.

  29. Thank you for the thoughtful response.

  30. $35 Million is nothing. Why do we get caught up in this class warfare mentality? For most it seems like a lot, but in the world of finance, business, wealth. . that is very, very little. What can we do for the poor with $35 million, not much more than we’re doing now. More money isn’t the issue..distribution is the issue. Do you guys know the cash reserves of some of the corporations in our country? $35 million.. .come on, that was the bargain of the century for the earliest surviving copy of our founding document.

  31. Aaron, you must mean bargain of the “21st” century. The approximately $2,000 the RLDS paid in 1903 seems like the bargain of the “20th” century. 😉

  32. I had a hard time getting past giving away such a document page by page. Sure, that way everyone gets a historical souvenir, but what gets lots forever?

  33. If this is not the definition of laying up treasures on earth, what is? Loursat, any knowledge or scholarship to be wrung from the manuscript could be (and has been done) without a $35MM outlay. High-def photos have been available for years. Aaron, it may be a drop in the bucket of world wealth, but I doubt the least among us share that justification. As much as any member, I appreciate visiting restored historical sites and looking at artifacts, but there is a point where housing and feeding a family takes precedence over restoring the outhouse next to a sawmill in Kirtland.

  34. Chad,
    Remember that the Church’s historical restorations and other activities often employ actual people, the type that are trying to support their families. And may I point out that those who donated the manuscript shunned the limelight and sough anonymity because they were not interested in laying up treasures (esteem, reputation) on this earth.

  35. I think that’s only true if the anonymity is 100%. Surely there are general authorities who are well aware of the names of those that donated.

  36. ReTx, that strikes me as an unfair standard to hold donors to, if only because there is no way to give $35 million entirely anonymously. Whoever this person (or these people) is(are), they’ve done it anonymously to the extent possible.

    I get that it’s easy (and sometimes fun!) to criticize, but, like I said before, this seems to be a win all the way around. There’s value to historic manuscripts, there’s value to fulfilling pension obligations and a church having an economically-sustainable future, and there’s value in paying what a thing is worth. Could the church have paid less than $35 million? I frankly have no idea, but probably yes. But part of the deal was generosity toward the seller, and I can’t twist that into a bad thing. (Also, part of the deal is generosity to the buyer—the CoC sold us a document that is frankly priceless to our history. Sure, there are high-def scans that exist, but physical, material objects matter, too.)

  37. I think if you take the book seriously, you have to buy the manuscript when it becomes available. It’s a sign that the work is worth serious, ongoing, critical, detailed, examination and study.

  38. nobody, really says:

    There are a lot of CofC properties where they have already sold a 49% ownership stake to the LDS Church. It’s a great deal – the LDS Church is able to have a say in how the property is maintained and used. Then, at a later point, the CofC can decide to sell the 51% stake because a relationship of trust has been established. Haun’s Mill is a great example of this, and ownership has been transferred just in the past few years. At the Office of the Presiding Bishopric, they have a very concrete, three-word strategy regarding purchases of historic land and sites.

    “We can wait.”

    Got a blue cheese plant in Nauvoo that isn’t remotely profitable, and looking to sell it for $8 million bucks? No thanks, we can wait. $6 million? No thanks, we can wait. $2 million? Well, maybe we can discuss this.

  39. I agree it isn’t fair. That doesn’t mean it isn’t real. I view it as being the same thing as what happened with Prop 8. The donations brochures sat in the foyer for months with nobody interested in donating or getting involved. Then the bishop started calling people into his office for 1-on-1s and the money poured in. It was all anonymous to the ward/general pubic, of course.

    I am not arguing that those who donated toward the manuscript were pressured into doing so. Only that we are a church that sees pleasing leadership as ‘righteousness’ (among other things).

  40. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    “any knowledge or scholarship to be wrung from the manuscript could be”

    “High-def photos have been available for years”

    The thing about historical artifacts is that you never know currently what future technologies will become available that make re-examination of the original material–rather than high def pictures, important.

  41. potent potables says:

    So the BoM manuscript is now the most expensive manuscript in the history of the world. Bill Gates bought the Da Vinci codex for 30mil, the Magna Carta sold for 20mil.

    If nothing else, I guess it’s good advertising. I suppose Bill Gates could have done something better with his 30mil than to give it to a museum in exchange for an notable notebook.

  42. Gates bought the Codex in 1994. Inflation adjusted it was worth quite a bit more and if it went back to auction today….

    If a Gutenberg bible became available on the market now…it might go for more. Any number of unique items will probably fetch more, they just don’t come up often.

    I saw where John Hamer said that one of the concerns was selling the book to a private collector who would have incentive to potentially sell of the manuscript page by page instead of as a whole. It would be far more valuable that way on the collector market. So I think responsible action was taken on both sides to come to a reasonable sale.

  43. Donors, especially of large sums, think they have bought something, unless we are to deny human nature. What that something is in this case is a question worth asking, I think.

  44. Donors, especially of large sums, think they have bought something, unless we are to deny human nature.

    I disagree. Donors, especially of large sums, are in a position to negotiate; if they want something (like their name on a building), they get it.

  45. Good= spend 35 million helping poor.
    Better= spend 35 million on public relations.
    Best= spend 35 million on old documents.


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