George Ralph Bailey spent most of his life amassing a collection of rare books, letters, documents and art related to the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Now his entire private collection — more than 4,000 items valued at $3.2 million — is up for sale.
A stack of more than 30 handwritten letters by Brigham Young and three first edition copies of the Book of Mormon are among the items in the massive collection, said Jerry Erkelens, a personal property appraiser who knew Bailey.
“This is one of the most valuable and expansive LDS collections in private hands today,” Erkelens said. “In my 40 years of appraising LDS works, I have never come across anything quite like it. With more than 4,000 items, this collection provides a unique lens into a transformational time for the religion, which helps piece together significant moments within U.S. history.”
Who was Ralph Bailey?
Born and raised in the Salt Lake Valley, Bailey attended BYU and went on to became an orthodontist with offices in Salt Lake City and Davis County.
Bailey and his wife Sylvia raised a family in Bountiful. He was a faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ who became an avid collector of church history artifacts before his death in 2007, according to his obituary.
Her father was an adventurous man who delighted in visiting small towns with old book stores or pawn shops where he would search for rare items, said his daughter, Kimberly Bailey Best.
At the end of a work day, Bailey liked to get comfortable in a black leather rocking chair in his library and read all things church history.
“It was a definitely a lifelong treasure hunt for him,” Best said. “It embodies our dad, because it really is this lifelong collection of bits and pieces, a lot really amazing little gems that he found along the way. It represents his life.”
A glimpse into Bailey’s vast collection
One of the first edition copies of the Book of Mormon is said to have been found at Hawn’s Mill, a frontier settlement in Missouri where 17 Latter-day Saints were killed by vigilantes in 1838.
The Brigham Young letters offer insight into the settlement of Salt Lake Valley with descriptions of the church’s efforts to prevent the U.S. Army from entering the Utah Territory, as well as Young’s reaction to the U.S. government’s political and judicial activities concerning church practices, Erkelens said.
“I would say the Brigham Young letters are by far and away the jewel of the collection,” the appraiser said.
Here are the top 10 most valuable items, all of which have an appraised value above $50,000:
- First edition Book of Mormon with reference pages found in the well at Hawn’s Mill, Missouri.
- Brigham Young letter, dated 8/8/1857.
- Brigham Young letter, dated 3/18/1859.
- First edition Book of Mormon.
- First edition Book of Mormon.
- Brigham Young letter, dated 1/6/1858.
- Brigham Young letter, dated 12/3/1858.
- Brigham Young letter, dated 4/15/1859.
- Brigham Young letter, dated 11/26/1857.
- Brigham Young letter, dated 2/4/1858.
Along with the Brigham Young letters and trio of first edition copies of the Book of Mormon, the collection includes many rare books and early Latter-day Saint pamphlets, legal property and society documents and a selection of drawings by Utah artist Jack Sears.
When Bailey died, his collection was spread out in various locations, with some of the lesser-valued items in a family member’s warehouse, some items at home, and the higher-valued items stored in safety deposit boxes.
“It wasn’t until my mom passed that we were able to bring the entire collection together and itemize it ... and see what it was,” Best said.
Why is the family selling their father’s collection?
“We’d like somebody else that is as passionate as my dad was to have the opportunity to enjoy it,” Best said.
Why selling the entire collection may be a challenge
The family wants to sell the complete collection as one lot to maintain its integrity.
That may prove difficult, said Reid Moon, a rare book collector and owner of Moon’s Rare Books in Provo.
“The tricky thing is getting somebody to take an entire collection,” Moon said. “Typically people like to kind of curate their collections to their taste.”
For example, what if an interested party only wants a few of the Brigham Young letters?
“That can be one issue that somebody runs into trying to sell that,” Moon said. “It really is going to take an alignment of the stars to find that one person who wants a turnkey collection.”
Moon speaks from experience. Four years ago, he paid seven figures to acquire a collection of 5,000 items. He’s glad he acquired it, but said he only did it to acquire a few key items.
A potential buyer will also want a discount, Moon said.
“Typically, people expect a substantial discount to buy an entire collection, if everything is priced at market already. There has to be some incentives,” he said. “Very few large collections like this come on the market anywhere. He was definitely a well-known collector, and many of those items would be extremely difficult to acquire. But the sheer size, 4,000 items, is unwieldy for most individuals. It’s almost like an institutional-sized collection.”
Moon hasn’t seen the collection or a list of items, but said a first edition copy of the Book of Mormon recently sold for $112,000. The Brigham Young letters could range anywhere from $5,000 to $25,000, depending on content.
“You can quickly see how it would add up to $3.2 million with 4,000 items,” Moon said. “But in my experience in dealing with a lot of high-end buyers, they are typically more selective and don’t like to buy things in bulk.”
Questions or offers should be sent to the trustee of the Bailey Family Trust, Scott Best, at firstname.lastname@example.org. A bidder’s brochure is available upon request.