Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Mormon Book Bits #28: James E. Talmage, The House of the Lord

Editor's note: This is # 28 in a series of posts by Dennis Horne about collectible books. The introduction is here.

            The first edition of The House of the Lord is considered a very collectible book for several reasons. It falls under the subject of temple literature, a perennially popular category. Secondly, there is a fascinating story behind the reason for its existence. Furthermore, the first edition contained a photograph, accompanied by an explanation of its use, of the most sacred room in the temple, the Holy of Holies. This photograph appeared in the 1912 first edition, but was omitted from later printings. This fact has made the first edition especially appealing to collectors. The later paperback editions have little monetary value and are easily obtained.

The Holy of Holies room photograph, as well as a close-up of the stained-glass depiction of the first vision found in the room, has since appeared in other works such as The Salt Lake Temple: A Monument to a People, which used the original glass plates of the photographs taken by Ralph Savage to reproduce large, sharp, black & white pictures of the temple, some of which were not included in The House of the Lord. Just a few years ago, the First Presidency gave church employees a leather-bound edition of The House of the Lord as a Christmas present (a different title is given every year as something of a bonus); the beautiful new edition contained the rare picture.

            The book was written as a means of diffusing a blackmail plot against the Church. Since the story of the scheme is recounted in great detail elsewhere, it is only briefly reviewed here. It involved unscrupulous people gaining entrance to the Salt Lake Temple to obtain pictures of its interior. Then an agent was used to try to blackmail the Church by threatening to sell the photographs to movie houses and publishers.

President Anthon H. Lund of the First Presidency wrote particulars in his journal that convey the perspective of Church leadership: “We have discovered a plot to have someone go inside the Temple and photograph its rooms to be used in moving pictures. (August 8, 1911)

“The fact that a German gardener and a certain Gilbert Bossard had been in the Temple and taken pictures of the different rooms stirred up the brethren.  We had a letter from Max Florence from New York offering to sell us the films otherwise he would sell them to postal card makers and to moving shows.  Pres. Joseph F. Smith telegraphed: ‘I do not want to deal with thieves or traffickers in stolen goods.  I prefer to let the law do that.’  These men expected the Church to pay them a fabulous sum for the pictures. (September 14, 1911)

“We find that the story has got out about someone getting into the Temple and taking pictures of the rooms.  The Salt Lake Tribune and the Salt Lake Telegram published it.  The Deseret News published the pictures that Max Florence sent us.  Showing that we did not mind the publishing of true pictures but we did consider it treacherous to steal chances to get into the Temple and to take pictures thinking to make money by exposure of them. (September 16, 1911)

“The Salt Lake Tribune had an interview with Max Florence in New York.  He tells the whole story of the pictures taken surreptitiously in the Temple.  [James E.] Talmage suggests that good pictures be taken and the public notified that they can be obtained. (September 18, 1911)
“I went with President Joseph F. Smith and Dr. James E. Talmage through the Temple and the President named the different rooms.” (October 18, 1911) (Journal of Anthon H. Lund, counselor in the First Presidency)

James E. Talmage, who was called and ordained an apostle and member of the Quorum of the Twelve during the time period he was preparing this book, also wrote of these developments in his journal: “[Sept. 21, 1911] Had interview with the First Presidency and was appointed by them to special work,--viz. the preparation of the manuscript for a booklet on temples and temple work. A few days ago, specifically on the 16th inst. The Salt Lake Tribune announced under sensational headlines that pictures of the interior of the temple in this city had been secured by men who had surreptitiously gained entrance to the building, and that the parties having the pictures so obtained were then in New York negotiating for the sale of some to theatres or “moving-picture” houses for public exhibition. It was further stated that a first offer had been made to the Church officials, and that $100,000 would be considered a fair basis of sale. The “Deseret News” on the evening of the 16th confirmed the main facts of the report and published the seven pictures received by the President of the Church from the conspirators and would-be blackmailers. The pictures are brounide enlargements of prior negatives, evidently made in haste, showing some of the temple rooms during the summer cleaning period. The authorities have since announced that pictures of the temple interior will be made, and that copies of same may be obtained by reputable publishers and other reliable parties, and further that it is the intention of the Presidency to publish a book on the subject of temples and temple work embodying such pictures.”

            “[Sept. 22, 1911] My appointment in connection with this work first given by Pres. Smith orally, was confirmed by letter as follows:… Dear Brother: Your communication of the 18 inst. Suggesting the publication of a booklet dealing with temples in general and with modern temples in particular, to contain interior as well as exterior views of our temples, was considered at our Council meeting yesterday, resulting in an action favoring your suggestion; also, in an action appointing you to prepare the manuscript in the suggested booklet, the same to be revised by a committee to be appointed by ourselves for that purpose. Signed, Your Brethren; Joseph F. Smith, Anthon H. Lund, John Henry Smith, First Presidency. P.S. We have arranged with Bro. Ralph Savage to take the interior views of the Salt Lake Temple, and we would like you to supervise the work.”
            By December James E. Talmage reported that he “Met with a committee convened by President Joseph F. Smith, and read the first five chapters of the prospective publication on Temples….” He then spent part of December 6 in the temple and walking the grounds to take notes for the book. On December 7th he was called to the Quorum of the Twelve and was ordained and set apart on the 8th. On the 9th he was back in the temple “securing notes and photographs.”

            “[March 29. 1912] At an interview with the First Presidency regarding the forth-coming book on ‘temples,’ it was decided to issue an edition of 5000 copies and to place order at once for paper and plates.”  Other journal entries for April 16 and 17 and May 6 (“I was taken to Manti [Utah]…where I was met by President Lewis Anderson and by him conducted over the grounds and through the Temple, thus refreshing my memory, much to my advantage in writing the chapter relating to this Temple for the forthcoming book.”) relate to continued work on the volume, much of which related to reading the manuscript to the Church reading committee for approval.

Ralph Savage, the photographer, was a son of Charles R. Savage, one of the most prominent western photographers of the time. After he died, Ralph managed the prosperous photography studio and store that his father had established in Salt Lake City; the assignment to take the temple pictures was likely a highlight of his professional life. The blackmail plot was foiled and The House of the Lord became the most reliable and authoritative book about LDS temples in print. Even today, reputable authors who write about temples and temple work are expected to stay within the parameters the book sets when discussing the sacred ordinances of the house of the Lord.


  1. One of the most interesting tidbits I learnd from HotL was the contents of the hollow granite sphere that Moroni is perched on. I've often wondered if those books still exist in there, of if they have been removed.

    1. Good question; I don't think I have read anything on the question.