Theft, intrigue and the Book of Mormon

There were a couple of interesting posts on CNN's Belief Blog that caught my eye yesterday. The first was a post extrapolating from Bryce Harper's "clown question" retort a deeper meaning relative to the Washington Nationals phenom's Mormon beliefs. I then caught myself researching various baseball players' religious affiliations and was quite surprised to find out that another player I'd met in a bar once was also identified as LDS. But the point being it's a great hook for a religion angle. Also on the blog was a story about the FBI recovering a stolen first edition of the Book of Mormon. But the best story I came across on that theft was in the Washington Post, which also worked a local angle. You have to read the whole thing but the piece is full of colorful characters, such as Jay Linford, a Mormon bookseller who "pilfered the prized tome" as the story puts it. But the piece was as educational as it was entertaining:

The theft and arrest spotlighted the market for “Mormonia” — memorabilia about Mormonism — that has been thriving as Mitt Romney’s presidential candidacy, television shows and a Broadway play have stoked interest in the faith.

The news last month that Helen Spencer Schlie’s first edition had been stolen spread quickly through the small, tightknit world of rare-book dealers, who were aware of Schlie’s book as one of 5,000 original 1830 copies of the Book of Mormon, which is viewed by Mormons as sacred text.

But the theft didn’t elicit much sympathy for the Mesa, Ariz., widow, who had become something of a pariah for removing individual pages from the book and offering them for sale.

We hear from other booksellers who think that Schlie got what she deserved and was motivated by greed. We learn that Schlie felt that Linford was like a grandson and that unlike her real grandchildren, he was interested in her work. Their Mormonia is explored:

Linford, 48, had founded Experience Press in Palmyra, N.Y., a business intended to serve the growing number of tourists interested in Mormonism’s birthplace. The company produced handmade books that were meant to look like the originals and that sold for $100 to $1,000.

Linford and Schlie also worked together on video interviews with people who owned some of the prized first editions of the Book of Mormon. The videos were intended to be sold as mini-documentaries to buyers of the books.

Schlie, a convert to Mormonism, attracted sharp criticism a few years ago when she started removing pages from the first edition that her husband acquired in 1967. “Some people were disturbed I’d taken a perfectly good book apart, but each page in its lifetime is capable of touching hundreds of thousands of lives,” she said.

And she priced the pages as much as $4,500! The article explains what Mormons believe about the Book of Mormon and its importance among Mormon book collectors. This part was also fascinating:

No one knows how many of the original 5,000 copies are left. At the time they were printed, it was unheard of to print thousands of books in one run, and it was particularly noteworthy because there were no Mormons at the time. The run is considered part of the unusual history of Mormonism’s rapid spread during a period when Americans were experimenting with new religions.

We learn that Linford had various financial troubles and that Schlie wasn't the most organized book seller. Oh, this part intrigued me, too:

Schlie said she realized that the book was gone Memorial Day when she went to show it to some Mormon missionaries from Asia who wanted their photos taken with it.

Are Asian Mormons really sending missionaries to Mesa, Arizona? That would be a great story in and of itself. The other thing I found interesting was that Schlie claims she was once Mitt Romney's Sunday School teacher. I think many reporters would have led with that claim but I rather liked how it was tucked in at the end.

Just all in all, a fascinating story with great religious touches and fun style. It did also remind me of the intense world of Mormon memorabilia revealed by this scandalous story about counterfeiting, forgery and murder. Dunh dunh dunh!

Book of Mormon image via Shutterstock.

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