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Arizona woman says first-edition copy of Book of Mormon stolen

A bookstore owner in Mesa, Ariz., says a first-edition copy of the Book of Mormon was stolen from her.

Helen Schlie says she has owned the book for 45 years. Schlie, 88, owned an LDS bookstore for 20 years and later opened an old and rare bookstore in August 2010 where she kept the 1830 copy of the Book of Mormon. She often allowed people to hold the book and take pictures with it.

Schlie says she last saw the book on Friday, May 25, when she locked it away in a filing cabinet in a heavy black fireproof case. When she went back on Monday to show it to a few visitors, it was gone.

Schlie says the store has a decent security system for the book but figures there was probably a 20-minute window on Friday when someone could have taken it. She thinks it would have had to be someone who knew where it was.

Schlie has been taking pages out of the book in recent years and framing them for display in various locations. The book was probably missing about 50 pages at the time of its disappearance.

Brent Ashworth, historian and owner of B. Ashworth's Rare Books and Collectibles in Provo, says Schlie’s book would probably be valued at about $100,000.

Ashworth says first editions of the Book of Mormon are very rare.

“Mormonism started with a book, and that’s the book,” he said. “Everybody wants it.”

He said about 10 percent of the first editions published are still around, and most are owned by institutions. Few are in the hands of private owners as Schlie’s was.

An important feature in the first edition of the Book of Mormon, Ashworth says, is a two-page preface by Joseph Smith. Also, because the printing press in Palmyra was not accustomed to printing in such large quantities, no two editions are exactly the same. It’s almost as good as having a manuscript, according to Ashworth.

“The first edition is not quite as good as having the gold plates,” Ashworth said, “but it’s right next to it.”

Schlie says her edition was used as a missionary tool as people were able to touch “the DNA” of Joseph Smith and the other witnesses.

“Having it back would be wonderful,” she said.