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Faith

149 first editions of Book of Mormon translations donated to BYU Library

“It was really an extraordinary coincidence,” Carolyn Potter Ingersoll recalled of that lucky first find.

She and her husband, William Boley Ingersoll, had gone on a pleasure outing to Baltimore with friends one afternoon in the 1970s, looking for antique furniture.

They hadn’t set out to be among the world’s foremost private collectors of rare editions of the Book of Mormon, but the antique shop had a book display.

“Our friend mentioned that a relative had found an original copy of the Book of Mormon, and wouldn’t that be neat to find in someplace like this?” William said. “He no more than said that and I turned around and there was a Book of Mormon.”

Book of Mormon

The Ingersolls bought the 1830 first edition for $6,000—it was a steal—and William was hooked. Eventually they’d build a collection professionals would envy, obtaining not only several copies of the 1830 edition but also first editions of the Book of Mormon in all 149 translations.

Recently, the Ingersolls donated the collection to the L. Tom Perry Special Collections department of the Harold B. Lee Library at BYU.

A work of faith and sacrifice

“I thought it would be a neat thing to get for our kids,” William said.

Both BYU graduates, the Ingersolls were raising a family in the Washington, D.C., area when they found their first original edition. Each had forged a deep love for the Book of Mormon in adolescence, and they decided to continue collecting editions for their children.

In fact, their children were nearly grown before the collection blossomed. After that serendipitous discovery in Baltimore, “it took probably 8 to 10 years to get the second one, and another 10 years to get the third,” William said. “And the prices just kept going up and up. But we did manage to get first edition copies. I thought, ‘Maybe we should start collecting the first editions in all the different languages.’”

William tirelessly worked the small network of people who privately collect Church memorabilia. Finally, in the 1990s, a book dealer connected him to Sam Weller’s Books (now Weller Book Works) in Salt Lake City. Sam Weller’s had a complete collection of first editions translated into other languages.

“We didn’t start out putting together a set,” said Joan Nay, who worked at Sam Weller’s for 40 years. They kept the foreign-language books in the back—customers weren’t usually that interested—and it wasn’t lucrative for a small business to gather sets to sell.

Plans changed when Sam Weller’s unexpectedly acquired a copy of the near-mythical 1855 Hawaiian edition of the Book of Mormon. That edition is the scarcest: some say most copies perished in a fire at a shipping dock, and others believe many of the printed copies were never bound at all. Recently, a single copy was valued at about $145,000.

When someone sold Sam Weller’s a deceased relative’s old books, “just sitting there in the box was this Hawaiian first edition,” Nay recalled. “Sam had never had a chance to buy one and when he finally held it in his hands, he just looked at it for the longest time.”

Sam Weller’s began to see a purpose in keeping the translated editions together. “The really important aspect of a set like this is that it’s a history of how the Church missionary program and translation process has changed,” said Nay.

Each time the Church began proselytizing in a new country, Nay explained, it would test short translated sections of the Book of Mormon.

“You have to figure out, ‘Are the phrases meaningful to these people, will they understand the context?’ Some of these translations took up to 50 years to complete, and until 1970 all the translations were done by missionaries and people they met in the field. The building of faith and sacrifice in that process is almost as important as the book itself.”

A family treasure

For years when the missionaries came over for dinner, the Ingersolls delighted in bringing them back to the 18th-century secretary bookshelf where they housed the collection. “I mean, their jaws would drop,” William said, “especially when they saw the 1830 edition.”

The Ingersolls in front of their bookcase
William and Carolyn Ingersoll with the 18th-century secretary bookshelf that housed their Book of Mormon collection.

Like the missionaries, Carolyn has always most cherished the original edition. “Just to know the hands that touched it, from the very beginning,” she said. The Ingersolls have gifted several 1830 editions to their four children and 10 grandchildren.

It’s precisely because their family’s love for the collection that the Ingersolls decided to give it away to BYU. “They’ll be able to see the fruits of their labor in their lifetime,” said their daughter, Courtney Ingersoll DeMordaunt. “Their grandchildren and great-grandchildren will come to see this collection.”

“They’ve exemplified a life of service, and this is just another example of that,” added Courtney’s husband, Lorin DeMordaunt.

For Carolyn, it’s simple: “If you have it at BYU, it can be used. It will really take on a new life.”

A blessing for generations

“This isn’t a trophy collection,” said Greg Seppi, the BYU assistant librarian and curator of Mormon and Western Americana who helped arrange the donation. “These books will be used to bless the lives of BYU students for generations.”

Having multiple copies of rare editions not only provides a trove for scholars—it also means that more people can handle the books.

“We previously had only a single copy of most of the editions the Ingersolls donated,” Seppi explained. “We now feel much more comfortable putting the books in public hands. Visitors come to BYU from all over the world, including students, researchers and visiting dignitaries. For many, holding a first edition of the Book of Mormon printed in their nation or language is an incredible experience.”

And what was Seppi’s reaction to seeing the collection, nestled in the Ingersolls’ antique cabinet, for the first time? “I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Seeing the collection and knowing that the Ingersolls wanted it to come to BYU brought tears to my eyes—although I confess that I cry easily when beautiful rare books are involved.”

Anyone can see the books in Special Collections during normal operating hours or locate the collection in the library catalog by searching with the Ingersolls’ names.

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