Back in the summer Robert Messick contacted me as part of his work on the Book of Mormon Census Project, an effort to document all extant copies of seven early editions and printings of the Book of Mormon. This work is in advance of the 200th anniversary of the 1830 publication of the Book of Mormon.
The Book of Mormon Census Project is an ongoing academic project to catalog and document the surviving copies of various early printings of the Book of Mormon. Understanding the value of this project often starts when the question is asked, “How many 1830 first copies of the Book of Mormon exist today?” The answer is currently unknown and the Census Project makes a plan to answer this as well as document the various characteristics of each copy.
The seven early editions under purview of the census are: the 1830 Palmyra true first edition, the 1837 Kirtland edition, the 1840 Nauvoo edition, the 1841 Great Britain edition, the 1842 Nauvoo edition, the 1869 Deseret Alphabet edition, and the 1899 Nephite Records edition. All are scarce and notable editions and printings.
ACU holds three of the seven:
–Our copy of the 1830 Palmyra true first edition was in the library of O. C. Lambert, minister and writer among Churches of Christ. Though it was rebound and lacks some pages, it bears the points necessary to identify it as a first printing of the first edition. Its Census identifier is A0042.
–Our copy of the 1841 Great Britain edition is likely bound in the publisher’s original black calf leather (or at least a contemporary leather binding). It lacks a spine label and a few pages, including the title page. It was from the library of Maurice Meredith, evangelist among Churches of Christ, whose library was one of the major donations to Abilene Christian College that really established our collection as a significant collection of Restoration literature. Its Census identifier is D0023.
–Our copy of the 1899 Nephite Records edition retains its original publisher’s cloth binding, with spine lettering intact and original endpapers. The text is complete and original. It was from the library of C. R. Nichol, evangelist, writer, and debater among Churches of Christ and bears his signature. Its Census Identifier is G0013.
The Census Project is an ambitious one, but it is off to a solid start gathering data about and images of several remarkable examples of one of the most significant books in American religious history. The project will establish a degree of relative certainty about the surviving copies of these early printings, and inform our understanding of print culture and the formation of religious identity. Several very fine editions are already posted in the database, some with fabulous association ties to Joseph Smith and are beautiful examples of the printers’ and bookbinders’ craft. I was pleased to learn our three volumes are among the choicest editions of the Book of Mormon, and was eager to contribute details and images about them. They are not only significant in their own right, but given the connection between Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon and the early Campbell reform movement in Ohio and Illinois, they are jewels in our Restoration collection. I was also delighted to learn that Pepperdine University holds three copies, including two copies of the 1830 first printing. And to top it all off, we can now see Alexander Campbell’s own copy of the 1830 Palmyra edition!