“Bible Detective” Collects Old Bibles and Rare Mormon Books
Contributed By Karen McDonough, Church News contributor
- Reid Moon has an impressive collection of rare books and Bibles. He has in his collection a Bible owned by Joseph Smith and several first edition copies of the Book of Mormon.
“I’m always looking for a book with a story. If it belonged to someone historically significant, I’m fascinated by [what] they chose to keep in their libraries.” —Reid Moon
You could call him the Bible detective.
Reid Moon has spent the better part of the last quarter century tracking down rare books from around the globe, amassing an impressive collection of old Bibles, important historical books, and artifacts. He has crisscrossed the world, logging more than a million miles in pursuit of these gems, which span the last six centuries and are valued at a king’s ransom.
Brother Moon, a member of the Allen 4th Ward, Allen Texas Stake, specializes in rare Mormon books, Bible antiquities, and literature classics as a book dealer. He’s also an expert in authenticating rare books, specifically the Book of Mormon.
Brother Moon’s passion for finding historical remnants is matched by his love of sharing the stories behind them. He has pursued books from the libraries of George Washington, Napoleon Bonaparte, Marie Antoinette, Charles Dickens, and the Mormon prophets Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.
He has several first edition copies of the Book of Mormon printed in 1830 by E. B. Grandin, a first edition King James Bible from 1611, Brigham Young’s 1854 copy of the Doctrine and Covenants, and much more.
There’s a tiny “thumb” Bible, about two inches tall, that belonged to Joseph Smith, who inscribed the front and back cover. It likely came from Palmyra, New York, from the E. B. Grandin bookshop. These miniature Bibles first appeared around 1780.
Originally, 5,000 copies of the first edition Book of Mormon were printed, with only about 500 copies surviving today.
One of his rare copies of the Book of Mormon (1841) is a bound edition with gold lettering for Helen Mar Kimball who, at 13, received it as a gift from England from her uncle Brigham Young. As recorded in a book on early Church history, Helen Kimball received another gift from England: a china doll that was displayed in the family home that Joseph Smith once handled and accidentally dropped. The doll was later repaired.
Brother Moon’s antiquities collection began in 1989 on a trip to England, where he bought his first old Bible for $500.
He returned with it to Dallas, where he had taken over his family’s LDS bookstore. Brother Moon ended up selling the old text to a curious customer for $1,250. He realized with the profit he could buy more rare books, and he’s never looked back.
So, what intrigued him about that first old Bible?
“There were notes written in it, and I wanted to know who owned it,” he said. “How many generations did this pass through? And then I began to look up scriptures, and I saw that some of them read differently because that version was [different than the one] I was used to reading. Why does it read differently? Who translated this version? And that began my quest to track down these different Bibles.”
In December, Brother Moon showed some of his collection at the annual Allen Texas Stake Nativity event, where he fielded questions from visitors about the books and artifacts displayed. “I’m always looking for a book with a story,” he said. “If it belonged to someone historically significant, I’m fascinated by [what] they chose to keep in their libraries.”
He has a 1549 Matthew-Tyndale Bible, originally housed in the British Museum in the late 1700s. William Tyndale’s first translation of the New Testament appeared in 1525.
“You couldn’t have the English Bible until 1539 when the [English King] Henry VIII authorized it,” Brother Moon said. “In 1536, William Tyndale was put to death for translating the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into English.” His translation was published posthumously.
Brother Moon worked at his father’s LDS bookstore after graduating from Brigham Young University. At the time, the shop was small and not very busy. “I vividly remember my dad telling me, ‘You’ll never make a living selling books. We’ve been doing this 10 years and it can’t pay its own rent.’”
He took his father’s words as more of a challenge and threw himself into the business. This onetime non-reader started absorbing books on the shelf—reading one book a night for three years straight—and grew his knowledge of Christianity and history along with the store’s sales. That’s when the past came alive for him. Helping customers find specially requested titles kindled his fire for out-of-print and rare books.
Brother Moon’s voracious reading continues today, and all of that study helps him determine if a book or artifact is unique. “You recognize a name that was an acquaintance of an author, and if it’s inscribed it increases the value,” he said.
He recently acquired a Bible owned by English author J.R.R. Tolkien because he’s fascinated by the writer’s subtle use of good vs. evil that runs through his texts. “[Tolkien] is the one who converted [the author] C. S. Lewis. He’s the one most responsible for getting him to really embrace Christianity. And it’s C. S. Lewis who encouraged Tolkien to finish The Lord of the Rings.”
Brother Moon, one of a few dozen antiquarian book dealers in the world, acquires new artifacts at auction, oftentimes competing against the British Library, which has one of the largest rare book collections ever.