“Historic Discoveries at the Grandin Building,” Ensign, July 1980, 48–49
Egbert B. Grandin is not well known except to those who remember him as the Palmyra printer who did the first edition of the Book of Mormon in this dispensation. But when the Church acquired the Grandin Building on Palmyra’s Main Street last year, it purchased an important historic site. The building, a green-painted brick structure three stories high, will become the area’s fifth visitors center and historical exhibit, according to Glen M. Leonard, assistant director, Arts and Sites Division.
Recent investigations cleared up several areas that have become fuzzy in the 150 years since the Book of Mormon was printed: (1) How much of the building was Grandin’s? (2) Where exactly was the Book of Mormon printed?, and (3) What did the original building look like?—all crucial questions for the planned restoration of the printshop, bookstore, and bindery. Paul L. Anderson, manager of historic buildings and sites, Donald L. Enders, senior historic sites specialist, and T. Michael Smith, registrar of collections and a historic sites archaeologist, not only answered all three of these questions but also discovered documents dating back to the time of Joseph Smith—letters addressed to E. B. Grandin himself, nearly 300 pieces of historic type, artifacts related to the printing business, and portraits of the Grandins.
From documents of the period, the three researchers knew that Grandin had occupied the westernmost part of the multi-shop building, but there was some question about which of the three floors had held the printing press or what the room had looked like. Since Grandin’s day, walls have been added, false ceilings installed, and new stairwells cut.
Smiling, they described their investigatory methods as “a combination of the janitor and the demolition expert.” With crowbars, they “bashed in the sheetrock” interior walls and by tracing mortar lines and baseboards discovered that the whole area had been one large room completely walled off from the rest of the building with a stairwell on the opposite side of the existing stair.
Getting down to the original flooring was an archaeological job. They removed linoleum, pressboard, tongue-and-groove planking installed with modern nails, and a patchwork of old boards also installed with modern nails before they got to the original flooring which had sagged about four inches over the years. The tongue-and-groove flooring, installed with hand-forged period nails, was inch-thick pine planks seven to eighteen inches wide—and there was no question of its period. “It was very dirty, had obviously seen very heavy wear, and was blotched with discolorations” which they believe will prove to be printer’s ink. Careful probing of the first-jammed cracks provided the final evidence that Grandin’s press had indeed been here—about three hundred pieces of printer’s lead, about a third of them with letter, were found. Some have been examined by a knowledgeable printer and appear to be of the same font of type as used to produce the title page of the Book of Mormon. Soon, all the type will be examined by experts.
When they crawled up into the attic for a cursory look around, they first believed it was empty except for a large uninhabited wasps’ nest and a thick layer of dust. Then they noticed a piece of paper stuck to the plaster between the beams. It was a newspaper fragment dated 1828. They looked further and found not only more newspaper scraps but actual letters—a letter to Pomeroy Tucker, Grandin’s brother-in-law, a predecessor as editor of the Sentinel and later author of an antagonistic history of the rise of Mormonism, another letter to Tucker and his later partner, John H. Gilbert—the Book of Mormon’s typesetter, and—the crowning discovery, a letter to Grandin himself.
Under the eaves they found a pre-Civil War shoe made in the days before shoes were fitted to the right or left foot, and apron fragment made out of striped ticking with a pocket, and two intact leather printer’s inkballs about the size of large grapefruits, now undergoing cleaning and restoration by Dale Heaps, Church conservator.
An important sidelight to their visit was meeting Mrs. Lillian Allen, ninety-four, of Auburn, New York, whose husband, a great-grandson of Grandin, had donated photographs of portraits of Egbert Grandin and his wife, Harriet Rogers, to the Albany, New York, Public Library, along with a copy of Grandin’s only known extant journal. The paintings, 24 x 35 inches, oil on canvas, are willed to Helen Etzkorn, eighty-three, of Encinitas, California, a second great grand-daughter. Both women heard about the project to restore the Grandin Building, and said, “Wouldn’t it be nice if the paintings could be in the exhibit?” The arrangements have now been completed and the portraits have been transferred to the Church by Mrs. Etzkorn.
The portraits, painted in 1843 by a Mr. Alonzo Parks, show a surprisingly young and handsome couple who are today known outside the family only because of a printing job that Grandin, ironically, initially refused.
Born 30 March 1806, Grandin was about three months younger than the twenty-three-year old Prophet-translator when Joseph Smith and Martin Harris asked him to bid on the job in June 1829. According to one antagonistic source, Grandin “at once expressed his disinclination to entertain the proposal to print at any price, believing the whole affair to be a wicked imposture and a scheme to defraud Mr. Harris, who was his friend, and who he advised accordingly.” (Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism, 1888, p. 51.) He accepted after the Prophet and Martin Harris got a bid from a Rochester printer and assured him that if he didn’t publish it, someone else would.
Grandin may have had motives other than an unwillingness to help “defraud” Martin Harris in refusing to take on the job. Printing 5,000 copies of the Book of Mormon was a gigantic job, ahead of the book industry by nearly twenty years according to the size of jobs being done in the urban centers along the Atlantic seaboard at the time. Grandin, principally a newspaper and job printer, was brand new to the book publishing business, having begun advertizing himself as a book printer only three months before he was first contacted regarding printing of the Book of Mormon. He had purchased Palmyra’s newspaper, the Wayne [County] Sentinel and a bookstore on 13 April 1827 from John Henry Gilbert, the printer who, as Grandin’s employee, would actually set type for the Book of Mormon on the coincidentally named Smith Press. This machine was apparently acquired just three months before, in March 1829, and is now on exhibit on the second floor of the Historical Department wing in the Church Office Building.
Setting type and printing was a laborious hand job. Each character had to be picked out of the type case, set up by hand, inked form by form, and printed, sixteen pages at a time. One study estimates that it took eleven hours a day, six days a week, excluding Sundays and holidays, for nine months, to print the almost six hundred pages of the Book of Mormon’s 5,000 copies.
It would be interesting to know what Grandin himself thought of the book that he helped proofread with Oliver Cowdery. His sketchy journal indicates an interest in religion since it records his attendance at Presbyterian, Baptist, Episcopal, Shaker, and Methodist meetings, and his annoyance when “Presbyterians” complained that he “allowed [ed] discussion on religious subjects to be held in the bookstore.” (Journal, 17 Feb. 1831.) But his only known journal does not begin until January 1831, nine months after he finished printing the Book of Mormon, and his only mention of the book is on 14 July 1831 when he records that he spent “most of the day in moving Gold Bibles from Mr. Howard’s Bindery to my bookstore.” Something he had to do because the man who had contracted to bind it had gone bankrupt.
Grandin was simply the right man in the right place at the right time. By 1833, he had left the publishing business. He tried a variety of other occupations, and died, still a young man, in April 1845 at the age of thirty-nine, not quite a year after the thirty-eight-year-old Joseph Smith met his death in Illinois.
The two men had at least one other characteristic in common. From his sketchy diary entries, we can see Grandin’s love and affection for his family. He records visits to his relatives, and his concern for his wife when she was ill. He sometimes stayed home from work to care for his wife or one of their six children. And his oldest son, Carlton, not quite six, died in 1829 from “typhus fever and swelling in his leg,” the local name for the same disease that had almost required the amputation of young Joseph Smith’s leg. Grandin pays quiet tribute to his little son: “His sufferings were almost beyond description, which he bore up under with uncommon fortitude for one his age.” (Journal, 14 Nov. 1837.) His wife, Harriet Rogers Grandin, and their remaining five children survived him; all of the children grew to maturity, married, and settled in western New York.