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Visitors to the University of Utah's J. Willard Marriott Library now will be able to see — and hold in their hands — historic papers signed by Mormon founder Joseph Smith, his brother Hyrum Smith, successor Brigham Young and other early LDS leaders.

On Monday, the Salt Lake City-based school announced the library had received a donation of 13 handwritten documents — real estate transactions, letters and notes — valued at over $3 million.

"It's the largest material gift we've ever received," explained Gregory Thompson, associate dean for special collections. "It's kind of a big deal."

The papers, nearly all in mint condition, have been in the same private hands for more than 50 years. They date from 1839 through the end of the 19th century, covering the Latter-day Saints' Nauvoo, Ill., experience and the Mormon migration to Utah.

In a four-page 1859 letter to early LDS officials in Missouri and New York, Young details instructions for bringing tens of thousands of Mormons in England and Europe to the U.S. along with the logistics of their westward trek.

The earliest item includes an 1839 notice — autographed by both Joseph Smith and brother Hyrum — of a property sale for a home in Nauvoo.

Besides the papers' monetary worth, Thompson said, "the real value for us is as a teaching tool."

The items will give viewers a sense of these early leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, what their signatures looked like and how they wrote, he said. It's a chance "to see their world through their brief writings that we haven't had the ability to do before."

The U. is "indebted to the donors for their generosity," Alberta Comer, dean of the Marriott Library and university librarian, said in a news release. "These papers add a new dimension to our Mormon history archives – one that provides breadth and depth and that supports our students' and faculty, as well as that of the wider community."

The identity of the donors was not released.

The archive can be viewed, the release noted, in special collections on the library's fourth floor. —

More from Joseph's journals

The latest volume of the groundbreaking Joseph Smith Papers Project is out.

"Journals, Volume 3," published by the Church Historian's Press, features the conclusion of Mormon founder Joseph Smith's second Nauvoo journal — kept by scribe Willard Richards — and covers May 1843 to June 1844.

The book "provides a framework for understanding the events of the final year of the prophet's life," co-editor Alex D. Smith said in a news release, "unmatched by any other single contemporaneous source."

Peggy Fletcher Stack