John Hajicek has owned a couple copies of the 1833 Book of Commandments, one of the world's rarest books. Held in tradition as a series of revelations to prophet Joseph Smith, the principal founder of the Mormon Church, the book was printed in Independence.
That is, at least, some of the planned copies got printed, before an anti-Mormon mob set fire to the printer's house and ruined the cast-iron printing press and lead type pieces by throwing them out of an upper-story window.
But Hajicek's three previous copies, like many of the 29 he says still exist, are incomplete. This one, which the Independence historian and collector recently purchased from a private owner in Utah, is possibly the only complete copy in private hands.
Even for a man who owns a collection of thousands of historic books and artifacts related to Mormonism, this particular book is one he's been looking hoping to collect and preserve for “many, many years.”
The Book of Commandments gave root to the Doctrine and Covenants, one of the church's four scriptural texts. Most other copies are in permanent collections in colleges and libraries.
“This particular book is important because people are becoming more interested in how the text developed,” said Hajicek, whose giant collection is in his eastern Independence home.
Also of significance is the story behind the book.
The Mormons had the original manuscripts when they arrived in western Missouri in the early 1830s, Hajicek says. The printer had five large sheets of paper, with 32 pages on each sheet, and planned to make three thousand copies in all. The pages would then be folded, trimmed and bound.
The printer never got near that amount before the mob gathered papers and set them on fire. Two young teenage sisters rescued an armful of sheets, ran into a cornfield to flee the mob and gave the rescued sheets to the Whitmers, the Mormons' other founding family along with the Smiths. There were enough to make a few copies, if not all complete ones. The Whitmer mother hand-stitched his copy together into suede sheepskin, Hajicek said.
“It's a story of religious faith and persecution,” he said during a telephone interview in Utah, part of his latest historian road trip. “That's why all the great collectors have looked for copies of the book, even those people who are not necessarily Mormon.
“There's all sorts of angles why this book is important. I can't emphasize enough that this book is important beyond Independence.”
Hajicek's copy had been handed down in the Whitmer family in Richmond, Missouri, for more than century and had been with Utah owners since 1970. Copies of the book have climbed through the six-figure values, and while he declined to disclose the actual amount, Hajicek said he paid “substantially above” the reported previous record of $500,000.
Hajicek grew up in Minneapolis and then small-town southeast Wisconsin and as a teenager began to emerge himself into historical Mormon texts and treasures. Several successful business ventures and investments in his younger adult years allowed him to be a full-time historian now and amass his collection. He's now working on a book about the early history of the Smith family.
He estimates he sells about 1 percent of what he finds, and his collection is available for public viewing (visit mormonism.com).
“People would call me a Restorationist, but that's not really correct,” Hajicek said. “I'm a historian, and I think that it needs to be preserved and protected for all members of all those groups. There's a lot of shared culture, including Missouri heritage. I just don't collect for myself.”