The Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon, a complete copy of the Book of Mormon Manuscript made by Oliver Cowdery and Hyrum Smith between April, 1829 and January 1830, to be used by E.B. Grandin’s typesetters in printing the book. was purchased in 2017 by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for an eye-popping $35,000,000.
However, the Original Manuscript, which was handwritten as it was dictated by the Prophet Joseph Smith to his scribes, exists only in fragmentary form. Perhaps as much as 28% of the original document is extant. In 1841, Joseph Smith had invited members to a fireside for laying the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House, a hotel the Lord had commanded the Saints through revelation to build, not far from the banks of the Mississippi River at Nauvoo, Illinois, then Church Headquarters.
The invitation included bringing items of spiritual significance to early members and some brought scriptures, pamphlets and even coins (the coins dates were significant to their baptism, marriage or others of importance). These were about to be sealed in the cornerstone, when the Prophet suddenly said, “Wait a minute, boys. I have something I want to put in there.”, and he crossed the street to his home, then the Homestead, and brought back a pile of papers, some of legal size and some 40″ long called foolscap, according to Ebeneazer Robinson’s diary account. Robinson was later editor of the “Times and Seasons”.
Joseph told the assembled congregation that he had in his hands the Original Dictated Manuscript to the Book of Mormon and that he had had “trouble enough” with it (having had to retrieve it over the years from various individuals who had left the Church (Oliver Cowdery and John Whitmer, in particular), and that it would finally be safe in the sealed cornerstone, as there were no bank vaults available there to keep it in then.
The Original Manuscript was then in the cornerstone for the next 41 years, until Lewis Bidamon, Emma Smith’s second husband, uncovered the cornerstone in 1882, when he did some remodeling to their home, originally constructed from a portion of the unfinished Nauvoo House, which had included their home’s cornerstone. The Prophet Joseph Smith and Patriarch Hyrum Smith had been murdered at Carthage Jail on June 27, 1844, Emma Smith had subsequently married Lewis Bidamon. Emma Smith died in 1879, leaving Bidamon as her widower. He died in 1891.
The items in the cornerstone had indeed been safe from everyone and everything except the elements. The books and pamphlets and even the original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon had been nearly destroyed by the waters seeping into the cornerstone from the Mississippi over the previous four decades.
Only parts of the remaining fragments of the manuscript were readable, mostly from the front of the book, as First Nephi was on top in the box. By the time you got down the stack to Alma, there were mostly fragments of sheets, many unreadable. It was a sad loss, because some of the surviving pages of the Original Manuscript clarified some sections which were changed, undoubtedly by error in the effort copying the Printer’s Manuscript.
At the least, every surviving fragment of the Original Manuscript is precious as having been dictated “By the Gift and Power of God” from the Gold Plates.
Following his discovery of the remnants of the Original Manuscript in the cornerstone, Bidamon began parcelling it out piece by piece and fragment by fragment to any number of interested visitors and inquirers, including some visiting Church missionaries passing through Nauvoo on their way to the East Coast. As a matter of fact, missionaries were instructed by the Brethren in Salt lake City to stop by at Nauvoo and request fragments, which would be returned to the Church Historian.
These efforts, including those of others such as Church Historian Franklin D. Richards and Sister Sarah M. Kimball of the Relief Society, resulted in the Church’s acquisition of nearly 28% of the Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon.
The fragment in our collection is from Alma 60, verses 8-9 on the front and verses 16-17 on the verso. It is one of only three or four known fragments remaining in private hands. These verses are from the famous letter of Captain Moroni to Chief Judge Pahoran, part of the miscommunication venting Moroni’s disturbance of a lack of support for his army during the time Pahoran was taking on the King men and could send no support.
This surviving fragment contains no punctuation, once again testifying to the inspired manner of the translation process, “…as it fell from the lips of the Prophet.”, according to the testimony of Oliver Cowdery, whose handwriting it is in.