LDS memorabilia collection goes to auction valued at $3.2 million
George Ralph Bailey, a name that sounds like it was pulled from a classic Christmas movie, was a classic himself. As his daughter Kim Bailey Best puts it, “He took the roads less traveled.”
This isn’t just a philosophical pondering on her father, he really did take the backroads.
As a life-long orthodontist, Bailey worked hard, but Best said her family summer vacations were unique.
“Dad was intellectually curious,” she said. “He loved history.”
So, when he piled mom, Sylvia Sloan Bailey and the five kids in the car, he wouldn’t take the freeways or highways. He’d take the scenic routes through small towns and villages.
“He would visit rare book stores, pawn shops and yard sales,” Best said.
Ralph Bailey would visit with the residents, learn about their history and on the way he would seek out treasures, artifacts and books. Mostly they were pieces from the early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
He was also interested in history from England, particularly Liverpool.
“Mom’s second great-grandfather was one of the main people to help get converts on the ships to America in Liverpool,” Best said.
“Dad has a huge collection of the Millennial Stars,” Best said. The Millennial Star was the longest running Latter-day Saint periodical, published continuously for 130 years until it was discontinued in 1970. It was inaugurated by the twelve apostles at the beginning of their mission to England in the 1800s.
Because he was a collector, Ralph also had acquaintances who were collectors. He knew local collectors like Reid Moon, and Brent Ashworth, who both live in Utah County and have businesses on University Avenue in Provo.
Ralph also knew Mark Hoffman who was a counterfeiter, forger and convicted murderer. He killed two people over forged church documents, recently explored in the Netflix documentary “Murder among the Mormons.”
Ralph had opportunities for adventure from his earliest days. He served a church mission in Hawaii which was grand, but as he left the ship to come home after his mission he was handed papers to report for the Korean War.
He was lucky, though, having married a woman who was just as adventurous as himself. On Sylvia’s 50th birthday, Best noted, they went rafting down the Colorado River.
Ralph suffered for years with rheumatoid arthritis. According to Best, he wanted to be around his family no matter where that was. So he took all of them to Lake Powell — kids, grandkids, the whole bunch. Best remarked that they all had a wonderful time.
Two weeks later, at age 76, Ralph died.
Now Best, who lives in Eden, and her siblings had a project. Over all those years of adventures, yards sales, pawn shops and studying history, Ralph had acquired approximately 4,000 items of memorabilia.
“Dad loved to take the grandkids to yard sales,” Best said. Ralph knew what he was looking for and often found great treasures.
In 2007, the family had the collection appraised. The value was approximately $3.2 million.
Last week, marketing agents with The Summit Group put out the following statement:
“The Bailey Family Trust has announced the sale of their collection of rare and historic letters, books, documents, and art relating to the early years of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This lot is one of the most valuable and expansive collections of LDS memorabilia in private hands today.”
Businesswire, an online publication, noted comments from appraiser Jerry Erkelens on the collection.
“This is one of the most valuable and expansive LDS collections in private hands today,” said Erkelens. “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.”
The trust intends to sell the collection as one package, not in individual items.
“We’d like to sell it as a collection,” Best said. “It embodies our dad and we want it to go to someone who has the same passion.”
There are books — lots of them — documents and letters, according to Best.
“We have the incorporation papers for Fillmore being the state capitol,” Best said. Those documents are signed by Brigham Young and W.W. Phelps, both notables in church history.
The collection became Best’s COVID-19 project. The family brought all of the items together and she catalogued them, read and transcribed them and got them ready for auction.
“It was the first time everything was brought together. We knew we had a lot,” Best said.
Ralph has several three ring binders where he kept historical documents and information. The collection features letters from Brigham Young to the then-president of the United States concerning polygamy and other issues, signatures of Joseph Smith, three first-edition copies of the Book of Mormon owned by early leaders of the church and a rare page of the Book of Mormon saved from the Haun’s Mill Massacre.
The Haun’s Mill Massacre happened on Oct. 30, 1838, when a mob from Livingston County, Missouri, attacked a settlement of LDS saints. Several were injured and 18 church members were killed in the attack.
Best said they want to sell it as a complete collection because, “It showcases the American West with maps, books and more — particularly on Utah.”
In the few weeks the collection has been put on the market, Best said they have already had a few inquiries. She added that the church is aware of the collection as well.
For all the years of gathering knowledge and history, Ralph was still the ultimate people person. It wouldn’t be unlike him to find him sitting on a front porch rocking chair visiting with some resident of the town the family was traveling through, Best acknowledged.
“For most of us it’s about how we try to get to the destination,” Best said. “For my dad it was the journey.”
Any questions or offers can be sent directly to the Trustee of the Bailey Family Trust, Scott Best, via email at email@example.com. A bidder’s brochure is available upon request.