The Origin of the Pearl of Great Price

This article is not an official publication of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has four standard works of scripture: the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine of Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.  


The shortest is the Pearl of Great Price.  These 61 pages reveal how LDS doctrine is distinct from other religions.  

Before I talk about the doctrine, let's look out how this short book came to be part of the LDS cannonized scripture*.  

To understand the history of the Pearl of Great Price, one needs to understand the history of the LDS Church, England, and the LDS Church in England.  

LDS Church 

In 1844, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Joseph Smith, was killed by an angry mob.  Over the course of the next few years, the LDS Church saw some significant changes:  

1. The members of the Church left Nauvoo, Illinois, which was in the United States, and began migrating to a Mexico Territory, which is now Salt Lake City, Utah.  

2. The Church got a new president and prophet, Brigham Young, who led this migration. 

3. Due to lack of resources, the LDS Church stopped publishing the Book of Mormon. 


During this time, England was also experiencing many changes due to the Industrial Revolution.  

1. The birthrate increased. 

2. Landlords united farms, putting farmers out of work forcing them to seek employment in factories. 

3. Taxes increased making it hard for the poor to make a living.  It was cheaper to sail to America to find a grave site and be buried there than to pay the taxes to be buried in England.  

4. Children went to work as young as 8 years old part time, and worked full time by the time they were 14 years old.  

5. Many could not read or write due to lack of schooling. 

6. Wages were low and unemployment was extremely high.  

7. Crime was rising, theft and murder filled the land.  

LDS Church in England 

In June 1837, Prophet Joseph Smith called Apostle Heber C. Kimball to preside over the first foreign mission to England.  In the 1840's, LDS missionaries were having huge success in Britain.  The missionaries reported that their success was due to the fact that the Brits did not have many false notions in their heads and were open to the truth.  

Once those in England learned of the LDS Church, many wanted to leave their homeland and the join the Saints.  And they did.  They started migrating when the Saints still lived in Nauvoo, and kept coming for over 50 years.  This proved to be a salvation for both the LDS Church and the British members.  

However, not all British Saints left for America.  

In 1850 the LDS Church had more than 57,000 members.  

  • 11,000 were living in the Utah territory 
  • 15,000 were living in the East (U.S.) and either making plans to come west or intended to remain 
  • 31,000 were living in Great Britain 

That means over 50% of the LDS Church lived on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, and this was before telephones, airplanes, or even the railroad.  So Brigham Young sent an apostle to live in England and run the Church over there as a mission president.  Orson Pratt had the assignment from August 1848 until January 1, 1851.  

Remember what I said about no more scriptures were published after Prophet Joseph was killed?  This meant that most members living in Great Britain did not own a copy of the Book of Mormon.  Of course the missionaries were desperate for more copies, but there were several challenges.

1. Trees were scarce in Utah, consequently paper was scarce.
2. Producing books was expensive.  

3. Members in Great Britain were poor.
4. Some members in Great Britain didn't speak English, they spoke Welsh.  

The Pearl of Great Price is Born 


Franklin D. Richards replaced Orson Pratt as the Apostle to preside over the Church in England and Wales.  On February 1, 1851 the same day Orson Pratt set sail for America, Richards wrote his uncle Levi who happened to be a missionary south of Liverpool. He told him that he had an idea. 

His idea was for a new pamphlet or "tract" that would contain doctrine, revelation, and prophecies intended for the members in Great Britain.  It was not for those who did not know about the LDS Church, but rather meant for those who had already joined.  

The first time this pamphlet is recorded as being named the Pearl of Great Price was on May 8, 1851.  Levi noted that he was with his nephew Franklin at 15 Wilton, Liverpool proofing the sheets of the Pearl of Great Price.  

The first mention of the publication of the Pearl of Great Price is in the Millennial Star on Sunday June 15, 1851.  It said that soon a pamphlet would be ready for sale.  It would be 64 pages printed on superior paper.  

On July 11, 1851 the Pearl of Great Price was published.  
A pamphlet to help the LDS Saints that are living in Great Britain know how their church differs from all other religions.  

To find out what information was in the first Pearl of Great Price pamphlet, click here.  

*Information for this article was found primarily in a book titled "The Pearl of Great Price: A History and Commentary" by H. Donl Peterson, published by Deseret Book Company 1987.