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A carefully laid out map of Salt Lake City dating from a few days after 19th-century Mormon pioneers arrived in the valley and believed to be the first of its kind went on sale Thursday in New York City.
"I can't say it's unique to see an early layout of Salt Lake City," says LDS scholar Thomas G. Alexander, author of "Grace and Grandeur: A History of Salt Lake City," "but it looks like it's significant."
There's no question for Rick Grunder, who bought the map in 2014 from the great, great, great-grandson of Jesse Fox Sr., Utah's territorial surveyor.
After months of examining the sheepskin piece and studying journals and documents of the time, Grunder is certain that it is the earliest plat map.
"This really is the first physical reality of Salt Lake City," says Grunder, a rare Mormon books and documents dealer in New York, "before a single stake was driven into the ground."
At 5 p.m. on the evening of July 28, 1847, just four days after the first company of pioneers arrived, Mormon prophet Brigham Young directed LDS surveyor Henry G. Sherwood to draw the plat or plan.
It followed the pattern set by LDS founder Joseph Smith, who intended each Mormon community to be a "City of Zion," with a temple as the spiritual core and streets going north, south, east and west from there.
Sherwood kept the plat, carefully carved on a piece of rolled-out sheepskin about 21.5 by 11.25 inches in his possession during the construction of the city, Grunder says, then gave it to Fox, who passed it down in his family.
The map provides plenty of clues about early Mormonism, Grunder says, especially how seriously members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints strived "to follow Joseph's ideal."
"This plat drawn in a tent becomes the thing which dictates where the blocks will go," Grunder says. "When someone walks streets of Salt Lake City today, they will see exactly what Henry Sherwood put down on this sheepskin."
The manuscript plat of the "Great City of the Valley of the Great Salt Lake" is on exhibit to the public for the first time at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair for four days, starting Thursday.
It is for sale in the booth of Cohen & Taliaferro LLC, dealers in antique maps and rare books.
Longtime collector and antique-book dealer Paul Cohen, who has partnered with Grunder on the sale, sees it as "the most important map I have ever handled."
And the price?
Cohen won't say exactly how much, only that it's less than a "Book of Commandments" an early collection of Smith's revelations which likely would command $1 million to $1.5 million.
To Grunder, who also doesn't know the price Cohen has set, it is worth almost any price.
"In the 35 years I have been collecting Mormon documents," he says, "it is unquestionably the most valuable document I have ever had."
The collector says he doesn't expect to handle another one of the plat's quality ever.