History buffs, book buffs and lovers of all things religious had a rare treat this weekend. Reid Moon, an antiquarian book dealer, shared his collection of more than 100 rare Bibles, religious materials, and LDS books at Zion’s Mercantile in the Riverwoods on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
“I don’t have everything, but everything I have has a story,” Moon said Thursday.
Walking into Zion’s collection room, people may not have realized what was really there. One history buff realized it right away. Birgitte and Jason Smoot of Provo were there to see the 1785 Marie Antoinette prayer book, but quickly realized the staggering amount of treasures there.
“You can’t find an assortment like this in one place. You’d have to go to different colleges and universities all over the world. And in a museum, you can’t touch it, you can’t even get that close to it,” Birgitte Smoot said.
Her husband agreed. Jason Smoot shared a story of a time when they were in an art museum, looking at a famous painting. It was behind glass, but patrons still had to stand at least three feet away from it.
“If you leaned over too far and got too close, alarms went off,” Jason Smoot said.
Moon’s showing was not a regular museum type of presentation. As he led patrons around, he often pulled a book out from a glass case and held it for patrons to view closer.
At one point, he opened a first edition, first printing of the King James Bible. That one was unique because it is known as the “He Bible,” due to a small typo. Moon invited viewers to look closely at Ruth, chapter three, verse 15, where it should say “she,” but was written “he.”
“There are only 500 first editions – 400 of them are the ‘She Bible,’ and only about 100 of these ‘He Bible’ have survived in the world,” Moon said.
He even let Birgitte Smoot hold a sixteenth century book owned by Elizabeth Boleyn, who later became Queen Elizabeth I. As Smoot paged through the book, the giddiness on her face lit up the room.
Moon’s own excitement and flair for storytelling made all of the old books come alive. He was a master storyteller, sharing the folios of the book's history as he turned its pages.
He pulled out one nondescript Bible, and said, “Why would I have this -- it’s not really that old compared to the other Bibles I have here.”
Then he opened the book, and indicated where its owner had written in the margins and made notes and personal corrections to the translation from Greek. With a bit of a flourish, Moon flipped to the inside cover of the book. There, signed in his trademark handwriting, was the name, J.R.R. Tolkien.
“I don’t know anywhere in the world you can see Tolkien’s Bible, except right here, right now, in Provo,” Moon said.
Moon, who is from Dallas, Texas and is relocating to Provo, started out as an insurance salesman, but worked his way into owning a used book store. He worked that career for many years, carving out a living for his wife and eight children. Then in 1999, he found a somewhat rare book in an old store. He bought it for $500, set it on one of the tables in his store, and forgot about it. A man came in one day, and in excitement asked the price of the book.
“I said, how about $1250? The man was surprised at the reasonable price and bought it right away,” Moon said. “That’s when a light turned on in my brain.”
After that, Moon set out to be a different type of used book seller. You’d be hard-pressed to find anything younger than 100 years old on his shelves. His Bible collection includes a first edition Tyndale Bible, a family Bible owned by a man who drowned on the Titanic and even a Thumb Bible owned by LDS Prophet Joseph Smith.
Thumb Bibles are about half the size of a business card, and about one inch thick. They were very found in the pockets of many peasants and pioneers in the 1700s. Moon has one that has its own metal carrying case with an embedded magnifying glass.
“What’s fascinating is a laser printer can’t print that small. These were engraved,” Moon said. “Not only that, they were engraved that tiny, backwards.”
His LDS rare book collection include editions of the Doctrine and Covenants owned by LDS prophets Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff, and a first edition Book of Mormon that traveled across the plains on a hand cart. But his favorite is a Book of Mormon on loan from a family who initially didn’t realize they had in their possession Hyrum Smith’s own copy of the Book of Mormon.
His 5th grade daughter calls him a treasure hunter. He describes himself as a historical treasure hunter, similar to Nicholas Cage in the movie "National Treasure." He has an eye for rare and historic books, and has been tracking rare books since before the Internet.
In order to keep food on the table at home, every book in his collection is for sale, except for two his wife has claimed and his two favorites -- Joseph Smith’s own copy of the Book of Mormon, and a 1616 first edition, first printing of the King James Bible that was actually owned by King James.
Moon is the voice of the books of history, telling the stories the books can’t tell. Every book ever written has a story within its pages, but Moon shares the story of where that book has been, and whose hands it’s been in. That part of it spurs him to build and share his collection to the benefit of others who don’t have the means to see these unique pieces of history.
“I had no idea it would be such a large exhibition,” Birgitte Smoot said, with a huge smile. “So many people here would have a connection to, well, all of this here. It’s extraordinary.”