Missouri church’s book, in vault for decades, sells for record $35 million

The Independence headquarters of Community of Christ has sold what it says is the most expensive book manuscript of all time: a handwritten copy of the original Book of Mormon.

The Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints bought the manuscript for $35 million through the gifts of donors, the Mormon-owned Deseret News reported Wednesday.

Community of Christ — formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or RLDS — plans to use proceeds of the record-setting sale to enhance retirement accounts for employees within the international network of its churches, a spokeswoman said Thursday. Community of Christ boasts 250,000 members across 58 nations.

The Deseret News said the printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon is the most complete copy of the original dictated by church founder Joseph Smith to several scribes. In 1830, it became the guide by which the type was set by a printer in Palmyra, N.Y., to produce the first edition of the Book of Mormon. Smith had brought the Mormons near Independence, where he had plans to build the city of Zion.

The Community of Christ bought the manuscript as part of a collection in 1903 for $2,500 — about $65,000 in today’s dollars. It was kept in an Independence vault until its delivery to Utah earlier this week.

The LDS Church is planning to display the manuscript for the public at the Church History Library in Salt Lake City, an LDS release said.

Before now, according to both churches, the highest amount ever paid for a book was $30.8 million, set in 1994 for a manuscript of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Codex Leicester.” The buyer was Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

Though sharing an early heritage with the Mormon church, Community of Christ is a separate denomination with differing beliefs and practices than LDS.

Community of Christ said in a statement that the manuscript sale did not reflect any change in its beliefs in the Book of Mormon, which remains “an important part of our church’s heritage and ongoing sacred story.” The church’s three books of scripture are the Bible, Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants.

Rick Montgomery: 816-234-4410, @rmontgomery_r