For decades, two extremely rare historical treasures have sat unnoticed in Provo's Pioneer Village.
A very rare portrait of Joseph Smith, believed to be based on an 1843 daguerreotype photograph that has never been found, has surfaced in Provo. Along with it, a one-of-a-kind pottery vessel made in 1899 to celebrate the July 24 holiday.
Both pieces may have continued their quiet, hidden lives except that the local chapter of the Sons of Utah Pioneers decided to renovate Pioneer Village. To do that, they need funds. They decided to auction some of their extensive collection of antiques, and invited appraisers to visit the property to help them plan.
Appraisers could not believe their eyes.
"There it was on the wall," said Brent Ashworth, a dealer of rare books and manuscripts who called the Smith portrait "a mighty rare print... I'd never seen it before and I've been collecting for 48 years."
Ashworth had a good reason to immediately recognize the portrait. He owns a later, much smaller historic photograph of the print, taken by pioneer photographer Charles W. Carter. Ashworth's copy has an inscription stating that his miniature, which measures 3x5 inches, is a Carter photograph of a drawing based "on the original daguerreotype, which we have been looking for since Brigham Young's day," Ashworth said.
No photographic image of Joseph Smith has ever been found. The print found in Pioneer Village, based on the missing daguerreotype, "is probably as close as we can get" to knowing what Joseph Smith looked like, making it very important, Ashworth said.
As it happens, Ashworth is serving a volunteer mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints historic archive. As soon as he found the print, he asked permission to take it to Salt Lake City, where Chris McAfee, senior conservator for the LDS Church Archives, restored it at no cost, removing some stains caused by water damp from the cabin where the portrait had been displayed for more than half a century.
According to Ashworth, McAfee said the church was aware of the print, but had only known there to be one other copy in existence, and that copy is more damaged than the Provo one.
McAfee could not be immediately reached on Friday for comment. An LDS Church spokesman said the church could not immediately comment on the print, but cautioned that any claim of an early portrait of Joseph Smith should be taken with a grain of salt.
This week, Ashworth purchased the newly restored print from Pioneer Village for $2,000. He has decided to display the portrait in his rare books store in Provo so the public can have a chance to see it. He will then donate it to the LDS Church, he said on Friday.
It was during the same tour of Pioneer Village that appraisers discovered the rare pottery vessel, which this week was sold to a collector for $2,500.
"We had no idea that we had them or what they were or that they were even valuable, said Steve Nelson, director of Pioneer Village. Stupefied appraisers spotted the jug and told Nelson that it is "one of a kind."
An inscription written in the clay before the jug was fired reads, "The first jug made at the Pioneer Stoneware Pottery, Provo, July 24, 1899, made by A.E. Clark for W.D. Roberts." Roberts is the founder of the historic Roberts Hotel in Provo, which was demolished in recent years under community protest.
Records show that both the jug and the Joseph Smith portrait were donated to Pioneer Village in the 1950s, where they have been on display ever since.
At first, Nelson and others were thrilled by the discovery.
"My first inclination was, great, we have something of value to show people," Nelson said. "But as we began to ponder what we had, it became apparent it would be risky and difficult as far as security to keep them in the Village. ... We did not want people coming to tear down the cabin to get to them."
The decision to sell the items caused much stress.
"We agonized over that for some time," Nelson said. "These were given to the village and we wanted to keep them in the village. It was not an easy decision to come up with."
The rare Joseph Smith portrait may be viewed by the public during business hours at B. Ashworth's Rare Books, Manuscripts, Art and Collectibles at 120 W. Center Street, Provo.