Books and Printing and Mormons. Part 8.

From its very inception Mormonism was linked to the print trade. In this it followed American Protestantism and especially Methodism, whose Book Concern was fabled for volume printing. The industry served two purposes across religious groups in America: it got the “word” out and it helped to support the church infrastructure.

While Mormonism thrived on a volunteer unpaid ministry, in practical terms at least some church officers who devoted their lives to the church had to rely on member generosity to live (and revelations directed that the church care for the families of absent missionaries). Mormons had a kind of rotating itinerancy. Settled lay persons could be called at any time to become traveling ministers but the assignments were generally temporary.[1]

In the case of central leadership, particularly those involved in church business and printing interests, there were specific (now somewhat disguised) revelations that authorized an early group to undertake printing interests for the Mormons with the provision that they could share in any profits accrued from the enterprise. The “Literary Firm” was the result.

Financially, the firm was not successful. Partly this was the result of violent or legal opposition to the Mormons. Nevertheless, printing was always a part of Mormonism. It still maintains a very large printing complex in house, though through its history, the church has farmed out much of its print work, particularly in its operations away from headquarters.

After Joseph Smith moved from New York to Ohio, a printing operation eventually became an order of business, but with revelation directing a “Lamanite Mission” also came the purchase and setup of a printing operation in Independence, Missouri.

Within the church itself, Oliver Cowdery had experience in printing practice via his work with Grandin’s operation and in 1831, the multiplexed William Wines Phelps was converted. Phelps had edited and published three papers prior to joining his fortunes with the little Church of Christ. Phelps was appointed “printer unto the church” and directed to buy press and type in Ohio and see it set up and operated in Missouri. The result was a monthly: The Evening and Morning Star. Phelps was almost elderly when compared to the church leadership of Smith and Cowdery.

By January 1832, Phelps and Cowdery were in Missouri and by the following month they produced the first print job of the fledgling church press: the Star prospectus. In May they did a small print job for none other than future adversary, Lilburn Boggs. The Star began to appear in June 1832 and along with it a “gentile” general interest weekly, the Upper Missouri Advertiser.

However, the point behind the press was really an operation to print further revelations beyond the Book of Mormon. In November 1831, revelation texts were copied into what is now known as Revelation Book 1. That book went with the Lamanite mission. The intent was that Phelps and Cowdery use the press to print and bind ten thousand copies of the revelation collection.[2]

Next: book binding and construction

[1] The system was imperfect and burdensome on the families of absent men. Joseph Smith’s wife experienced threats and moved from house to house, church members not always able or willing to take on more responsibility.

[2] These and further details are found in Peter L. Crawley, A Descriptive Bibliography of the Mormon Church vol. 1:18-9.

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