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Deseret Book - A Brief History of Mormon Publishing

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Deseret Book - A Brief History of Mormon Publishing

Nauvoo News

NAUVOO NEWS - Shortly after the initial publication of the Book of Mormon in 1830 and the formal establishment of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that same year, Joseph Smith, in a conference with Church members, authorized William W. Phelps to purchase a printing press and type as he traveled with other members to Missouri. In 1832, Phelps inaugurated that press with the publication of the first issue of the first Church periodical, The Evening and the Morning Star.

Thus began a long and continuous history of publishing in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. From the Grandin press to Deseret Book this is a brief look at the publishing companies of the Church.

Joseph Smith, the founder and first president of the Church, felt the importance of a church “voice,” a means by which doctrine, revelation and even pertinent instructions could be shared with members of the newly organized Church, regardless of their individual locations.

From that original Missouri publication to the present day, vital and instructional information continues to be published in a variety of formats.

During the early days of the Church, nearly every region had its own individual publication, some areas with more than one. In the 1830’s Church members in Kirtland, Ohio read The L.D.S. Messenger and Advocate, and The Elder’s Journal. Those in Philadelphia read The Gospel Reflector and in New York, The Prophet.

Nauvoo Mormons read the news in the Times and Seasons, while members in Great Britain followed the Millennial Star. Many, traveling west across the United States in wagon trains, for a time, relied on the Frontier Guardian, published in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

In 1850, when larger groups of settlers arrived in Utah, a general newspaper, The Deseret News, began publication.

As the Church expanded in numbers and organizations, additional publications were added, beginning with the Juvenile Instructor in 1866. Branded chiefly as a children’s magazine, it was adopted by the Sunday School and eventually, in 1930, became the Instructor.  

The Women’s Exponent, The Contributor, Historical Record and Young Women’s Journal, published in Utah in the second half of the 19th Century,were all important fore-runners to today’s Church publications.

By 1929 separate magazines for young men and young women merged to become the Improvement Era, while the women of the Church published the Relief Society MagazineTheChildren’s Friend, prepared by the Primary (children’s organization) began in 1902.

Beginning in January 1971, all regional and Church-wide magazines were discontinued and three basic publications were instigated: the Ensign, geared to adult members; the New Era, focused on teenagers; and The Friend, for children. A magazine for Church members in international areas, the Liahona, is currently published in more than 50 languages each month. The Liahona also includes articles for youth and children.

Subsidiaries of the Church have also long been involved in the publication of books, though, until now, the Church has never claimed its own imprint.

George Q. Cannon, the original publisher of the Juvenile Instructor, also opened a territorial bookstore in 1867, a store intended to sell his magazine and other “uplifting” publications. The store shared ties with the Deseret News and the newspaper press printed Cannon’s original publications. Cannon sold the bookstore to the Church in 1900. Following a 1920 merger of the Deseret Sunday School Union Bookstore with Cannon’s company, Deseret Book came into existence. Though this publishing house, which still operates, is owned by the Church, it is editorially independent.

Initially charged with publishing lesson manuals, Deseret Book also produced significant titles in Church literature including Jesus the Christ by James E. Talmage and a 1930 six-volume Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by B. H. Roberts.

The Deseret News Press and part of the Deseret Sunday School Union Bookstore have become the Printing Services and Distribution Services of the Materials Management Department of the Church, the official publisher of the Church. Deseret Book selling both books and other LDS gifts remains an important feature in that landscape. Deseret Book also carries LDS art and LDS gifts.

From the beginning of the Church in 1830, the printed word has played a crucial role in teaching and sharing the significant messages of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Publications have claimed a vital part in the establishment and maintenance of the Church. Some publications were long lived; others were published briefly as the needs and the circumstances of the Church changed throughout the years.