Criticism of Mormonism/Books/Early Mormonism and the Magic World View/Use of sources/Cheap magic books

Table of Contents

Use of sources: Availability of cheap magic books?

A FairMormon Analysis of: Criticism of Mormonism/Books/Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, a work by author: D. Michael Quinn

The Claim

Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, page 182

  • The author claims "bookstores near Joseph's home" in the 1820s were selling "thousands" of books that ranged from "44 cents to a dollar each."

The References

Endnote 31-32 , page 491

  • "Just received at the Rochester Book-Store," Palmyra Herald & Canal Advertiser (Palmyra, NY), 31 July 1822.
  • "NEW BOOKS," Ontario Repository (Canandaigua, NY), 13 June 1820.

The Problems

The author grossly underestimates the cost of books in Joseph Smith's world, especially the esoteric and occult books which he claims were an influence.

“The total cost of all these books is $81.62, which, divided by the seventy books on the list, provides an average cost of $1.17 per book. Thus, rather than finding a real average price, Quinn attempts to use the range of prices for books ("44 cents to a dollar each"), thereby substantially underestimating the actual costs, since there are far more books costing a dollar or more than there are costing under a dollar.”[1]:32

Furthermore, the author

"...did not provide the prices for any of the rare magic books he claims Joseph read, even though such information was readily available in at least one important case. When originally published in England in 1801, Barrett's The Magus which Quinn repeatedly cites as a source that influenced Joseph cost one pound, seven shillings for the standard edition and one pound, thirteen shillings for the leatherbound edition. In the early nineteenth century, the official rate of exchange was $4.44 to the pound, while the actual rate of exchange was closer to $4.87. Thus in contemporary American currency Barrett's book would cost from $6.57 for the inexpensive edition to $8.04 for the expensive edition, to which would be added shipping costs from Europe. Thus, far from costing between "44 cents to a dollar" (p. 182) as Quinn implies, one of the most important magic books in Quinn's argument would have cost between six and a half and eight dollars. In terms of Joseph's daily wage of fifty cents, this book would represent two to three weeks' work. At the modern minimum wage, this would equate to between $400 and $600 for a single book. Or, to put it another way, to purchase Barrett's The Magus would have cost the Smiths nearly the value of one month's mortgage on their farm and house."[1]:33


  1. 1.0 1.1 William J. Hamblin, "That Old Black Magic (Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn)," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 225–394. [{{{url}}} off-site]