SMITH, Joseph (1805-1844). American religious leader. Book of Commandments for the Government of the Church of Christ, Organized According to Law, on the 6th of April, 1830. [Zion (Independence, Missouri): Published by W.W. Phelps & Co., 1833].
SMITH, Joseph (1805-1844). American religious leader. Book of Commandments for the Government of the Church of Christ, Organized According to Law, on the 6th of April, 1830. [Zion (Independence, Missouri): Published by W.W. Phelps & Co., 1833].

SMITH, Joseph (1805-1844). American religious leader. Book of Commandments for the Government of the Church of Christ, Organized According to Law, on the 6th of April, 1830. [Zion (Independence, Missouri): Published by W.W. Phelps & Co., 1833].

24o, 4¾ x 3 in. (120 x 77mm.). Collation: A-E... Lacking titlepage (A1), pages 27-30 & 32 shaved at top, affecting pagination, pp.10-12, 14, 19-20 shaved at bottom with partial loss of last line of text, rust mark from a paperclip on p.32, light browning and scattered foxing. Binding: IN AN ORIGINAL BINDING of contemporary or slightly later polished brown calf (probably an adaptation of a pre-existing binding for a thicker volume, as the central panel is too wide for the spine of the book and the rear cover is off-center by about an inch), hand-stitched along the spine, wallet-style edges, both covers identically decorated with four heartshaped tools at the center and with single repetitions of the same tool at each corner, a front endleaf cut from an unrelated printed document with a reference to the Presidential elections of 1829 and 1833. (Rubbed, small tear to back cover, rear endleaf not present). Folding protective case.


FIRST EDITION of this key scriptural work of the Church of Jesus of Latter-Day Saints (the work known since 1835 as the Doctrine and Covenants) constituting the second book publication of the new Church (preceded only by The Book of Mormon, 1830.) Printing of the book was never completed due to a anti-Mormon mob's attack on the printing office in Zion (Independence), which resulted in the destruction of the press and all but a handful of the printed sheets. Today, only some 25 copies of the edition are extant; of those, a significant number are imperfect, lacking title and in some cases, whole gatherings. Peter Crawley, A Descriptive Bibliography of the Mormon Church, Vol.1, no.8 (recording 18 copies, some of which are imperfect, in institutional collections); Sabin 83147; Streeter sale, Part 3, 1854.

The book was to contain a series of revelations occurring to Joseph Smith between July 1828 and April 1832, largely concerning the organization and governing of the recently established and rapidly growing Church. Dictated by Smith to Oliver Cowdery and John Whitmer, some had circulated in manuscript among members, so it was an obvious step to have the text printed and more widely circulated among adherents. In July 1831, the Church had acquired lands near Independence (christened "Zion" in a revelation to Smith). In September, at a meeting of the Church leaders in Hiram, Ohio, the printer W.W. Phelps was instructed to purchase a press and types in order to establish a printing office at Zion, where it was intended to issue a monthly newspaper; he was also authorized to print an edition of 10,000 copies of the Book of Commandments. In May 1832, a Church council designated Phelps, Cowdery and Whitmer to supervise the printing of the Commandments. The size of the edition was scaled back to a more modest 3,000 copies. For this purpose a manuscript of the revelations, corrected by Smith, was furnished to serve as copy-text and a supply of paper was brought to Zion. Phelps began to issue the monthly newspaper The Evening and the Morning Star in June 1832 and selections from the Book of Commandements were printed in that and subsequent issues, along with reports on the progress of the book, which was to be priced at 20 or 25 cents. By July, five sheets (each comprising 32 pages) had evidently been set in type and printed. "At this stage of the work, on July 20, the printing house was attacked by an anti-Mormon mob, and its contents, including the sheets of the printed revelations, destroyed or scattered through the streets" (Sabin). The types and press were thrown into the Mississippi River. "Some of these sheets were rescued, and a few copies of the book made up from them. It is probable that some other copies were also issued in sheets, while being printed" (Sabin).

A young girl, Mary Elizabeth Rollins, has left a vivid account of the efforts to rescue the sheets: "When the mob was tearing down the printing office...they (the mob) brought out some large sheets of paper saying 'Here are the Mormon commandments.' My sister, 12 years old (I was then 14) and myself were in a corner of a fence watching them. When they spoke about them being the commandments, I was determined to have some of them. So while their backs were turned...we ran and gathered up all we could carry in our arms. As we turned away, two of the mob...called for us to stop, but we ran as fast as we could, through a gap in the fence into a large corn field, and the two men after us. We ran a long way in the field, laid the papers on the ground, then laid down on top of them. The corn was very high and thick. They hunted all around us, but did not see us. After we were satisfied they had given up the search, we tried to find our way out of the field...We...came to an old log stable...Sister Phelps [wife of the printer] and family were there...She asked us what we had. We told her and also how we came by them. She took them and placed them between the beds. Subsequently Oliver Cowdery bound them in small books..."(Quoted in Crawley, p.39). John Taylor, another church member, was also able to salvage some sheets by pulling them through chinks in the wall of the printing office.

The rescued sheets were folded, sewn, trimmed and distributed, either unbound, or in simple bindings. Sabin cites a letter of instructions, dated 25 June 1833, from Smith, Sidney Rigdon and F.G. Williams which, in regard to whether the book should be bound, states that "it is not necessary," since it will sell without a binding, "and there is no book binder to be had as we know of, nor are the materials to be had for binding, without keeping the book too long from circulation." As Crawley notes, the copies "now extant show a diversity of bindings, many obviously home-made, a reflection of the book's history." The present copy was probably bound by its original owner by adapting a binding originally used on another, thicker book. It can be rather accurately dated by the endpaper, which refers to the Presidential elections of 1829 and 1833; the next presidential election would have been that of 1836. The text itself was rendered obsolete in August 1835 when a complete edition of the Doctrine and Covenants was issued at Kirtland, Ohio. It is entirely possible, some have speculated, that the title-pages of some copies of the book were deliberately removed to hinder its identification by hostile anti-Mormons.

1. Marshall Graham Hill (d.1945), a resident of the upstate New York area where Joseph Smith lived at the time of the Church's founding, at Fayette, N.Y. An amateur historian, Hill collected materials relating to local history and the Church and acquired the book in a local auction in Afton, New York, 16 June 1930. A number of small sheets with his handwritten notes are still inserted in the volume.
2. The present owners, by descent.

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