Schlie said she believes it will be more of a “missionary tool” since the framed pages _ priced at $2,500 to $4,500 apiece _ can be handed down from generation to generation.
“This way, it will touch hundreds of lives and span generations of time,” said Schlie, who is Mormon. “The book has now started a whole new missionary career.”
Her decision, however, has garnered mixed reviews from fellow Mormon book dealers and librarians who think such a rare piece of church history is better left intact.
Some librarians were appalled when they learned of Schlie’s intentions, said Haybron Adams, a retired librarian who worked in the special collections division at Brigham Young University and who authenticated Schlie’s book.
“But librarians have a different look at books,” he said.
The Book of Mormon is the story of a Hebrew family who migrated from Jerusalem to the New World; their descendants are later visited by Jesus Christ after his resurrection.
It was first published in 1830 by Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, after he said an angel named Moroni guided him to gold tablets documenting the teachings and lives of ancient tribes.
Schlie’s book is one of the first 5,000 printed. Book dealers say hundreds of complete works are likely left, although there is no way to tell for sure.
Schlie said she came across her copy while working as a book dealer in suburban Phoenix. Though she can’t remember the name of the man she bought it from or exactly when, she had it authenticated by two collectors, one of whom was Adams.
Adams said he and other librarians who specialize in rare books looked at Schlie’s copy about three years ago and had no doubt it was a first-edition. He said Schlie was upfront about her intentions to split it apart to sell.
Schlie said she first offered it to the church.
“But they said ‘No, go ahead and do this project because it will touch more lives over the long run,'” Schlie said from her home in Gold Canyon, east of Phoenix. “And the condition the book was in, it could not be used for study. It was too fragile.”
The church has shied away from criticizing Schlie for her plans.
“Issues like these rest on our member’s sense of propriety and conscious,” said Mike Otterson, an LDS spokesman in Utah.
Schlie said she also didn’t want to sell her complete copy to a collector because she didn’t want it hidden under glass or touched only by scholars with white gloves.
“Hundreds of people have touched and felt the spirit of this book already,” Schlie said. “I wanted it to continue its usefulness.”
Schlie has framed each page in a double-sided, purple heartwood frame and affixed a 14-karat gold Moroni angel on each side. The signatures of both authenticators also accompany each page, she said.
Curt Bench, owner of Benchmark Books in Salt Lake City, which specializes in Mormon literature, said there’s a general sentiment among book dealers that breaking up a complete work is “frowned upon.”
“I won’t pass personal judgment on anybody,” he said, “but there are some people that would have a problem with that.”
Bench said he, too, has sold pages from a first-edition Book of Mormon for up to $2,000 apiece. However, he said those pages were taken only from books that were incomplete.
Depending on the condition, the average going rate for a complete first-edition book is somewhere between $50,000 and $75,000, Bench said. If each of Schlie’s pages sold for her minimum asking price of $2,500, all 290 pages would bring in $725,000.
Although some book dealers have questioned whether Schlie’s price is too high, she said she’s already sold “quite a few” through eBay and on her personal Web site.
“One man reserved seven pages _ one for of each of his children,” she said.
On the Net:
Helen Schlie’s site: http://www.bookofmormonpages.com
Aug. 23, 2005