Significant Artifacts from Early Church History on Display

Keith A. Erekson, Director of Research and Outreach
25 March 2024

Many sacred treasures from Nauvoo and Kirtland are now on display at the Church History Museum. Learn more about these historic artifacts and plan a visit to see them in person.

The Sacred History: Treasures from the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ exhibit is now open at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City, Utah. With the recent acquisition of several historic sites, documents, and artifacts from Community of Christ, Temple Square visitors can view many sacred treasures from Nauvoo and Kirtland. Below is a list of items currently on display at the museum along with information about each.

You can also learn about other newly acquired artifacts and documents displayed at specific sites in Nauvoo and Kirtland. The Church History Department has immense gratitude for the care and respect the Community of Christ has given to these beloved pieces of Church history. It’s through their reverent stewardship that these items and sites are available to us today.

The Church History Museum’s Sacred History Exhibit

Portraits of Emma and Joseph Smith

These colorful, elegant portraits hung in Emma Smith’s homes throughout her life. Specific details about their creation are unknown, but they are attributed to artist David Rogers, a church member from New York who, according to Joseph Smith’s journal, visited the Smith home in September 1842 and spent several days working on a portrait of the Prophet.

Letters from Joseph Smith to Emma Smith

Joseph Smith Jr. married Emma Hale in 1827, and they loved each other deeply. They raised their family through times of happiness and struggle. The seven acquired letters are from Joseph to Emma and dated 13 October 1832, 18 May 1834, 4 November 1838, 12 November 1838, 9 November 1839, 23 June 1844, and 27 June 1844. All but one are in Joseph Smith’s handwriting, and the letters describe his activities and express his love for his family. The 27 June 1844 letter was written on the morning of the martyrdom and expresses his final words to his family: “I am very much resigned to my lot knowing I am justified and have done the best that could be done give my love to the children.

Liberty Jail Door

In 1838, Joseph Smith and five other men were imprisoned in a jail in Liberty, Missouri, for crimes allegedly committed during conflicts with other Missourians. During the five harsh winter months from November 1838 to April 1839, the men experienced hunger, cold, and loneliness. Here Joseph Smith also received significant revelatory insights, dictated into a letter from which excerpts were published as Doctrine and Covenants 121, 122, and 123. The jail operated until 1856 and then fell into disrepair, but this original door survived and is part of the new collection displayed in the Church History Museum.


This “Caractors” document is in the handwriting of John Whitmer, and was likely made between 1829 and 1831. Though it does not derive directly from the process of Book of Mormon translation, the document may be illustrative of characters copied from the plates.

Manuscript Pages of Early Revelations

The earliest act to preserve the revelations given to Joseph Smith was to copy them into a single volume. John Whitmer first created the book shortly after the Church was organized and titled “Book of Commandments and Revelations.” Over time, and after other record books were created, it came to be known as Revelation Book 1. The four acquired pages have writing on both sides and contain portions of revelations now known as Doctrine and Covenants 64, 65, 66, 133, and 76 and 81.

Joseph Smith Translation Materials

From 1830 to 1833, Joseph Smith worked on a new translation of the Bible. Rather than looking at Hebrew or Greek sources, Joseph Smith used a copy of the King James Bible as a starting point and dictated inspired changes and additions to scribes. Among the acquired items are the 1828 copy of the Bible together with five scribal manuscripts—three for the Old Testament and two for the New.

Church History Manuscript

In 1831, Joseph Smith directed Church historian John Whitmer to prepare a history of the Church. Whitmer recorded the Church’s history from circa 1830–1847. After his excommunication in 1838, and up until his death in July 1878, Whitmer retained possession of the record. After his death, his widow, Sariah Maria Jackson Whitmer, sent the book to his brother, David Whitmer, who then gave it to his son David J. Whitmer before his death in 1888. The record would then go to David J. Whitmer’s nephew, George Schweich, until he sold it along with printer’s manuscripts of the Book of Mormon to the Community of Christ (formerly RLDS).

Additional Items Not on Display at the Museum

Nauvoo House Cornerstone

Early saints hollowed out the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House to hold several meaningful items:

  • Bible
  • Copy of the Doctrine and Covenants
  • Hymnal
  • Eight coins
  • Copy of the revelation on the Nauvoo House (Doctrine and Covenants 124)
  • Issue 35 of the Times and Seasons
  • Lyman Wight’s petition on Missouri persecutions
  • Copy of the Nauvoo House charter

Emma Smith Interview

Manuscript notes from Joseph Smith III’s interview of Emma Smith in February 1879. The interview was published in the October 1879 edition of the Herald.


The desk was made for Joseph Smith by Levi Hancock and is now on display in the Mansion House in Nauvoo, Illinois.

Writing Desk

Another desk associated with Joseph Smith. You can find it displayed at the Kirtland Temple in Ohio.

Walking Stick

Owned by Emma Smith, this walking stick is now on display in the Homestead, Joseph’s and Emma’s first residence in Nauvoo.


Two Arrowback Windsor chairs are currently on display in Mansion House kitchen.

Rocking Chair

Owned by Joseph Smith’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith. It is currently displayed in the Mansion House.

Nauvoo Temple Elements

Part of the newly acquired collection not on display at the Church History Museum includes two moonstones and one sunstone from the original Nauvoo Temple. The moonstones stood as bases for the temple’s pilasters (rectangular columns) while the sunstone was one of 30 located at the tops of the columns.


A trunk associated with Emma Smith includes a false bottom where manuscripts were hidden and kept safe. It is currently on display at the Mansion House in Nauvoo, Illinois.

Kirtland Temple Elements

Unlike the Nauvoo Temple that was destroyed by a fire and tornado, and then eventually torn down in the mid 1800s, the original Kirtland Temple still stands today. Original architectural elements, including windows, the oval window frame, door frames and arches, stucco, and sandstone are on display in Kirtland.

Other Historical Artifacts

These other items are currently on display at the following locations:

  • Homestead – Washstand, sampler, and bowl
  • Red Brick Store – Ink wells
  • Kirtland Temple – Couch associated with the Whitney family
  • Mansion House – Dresser and mirror purchased by Emma Smith and a clock with hand-tinted engravings on glass (Loaned to the Church by private owners)

You’re Invited to Come and See the Sacred History Exhibit

The exhibit opens March 25, in the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City, Utah. Come and see these sacred and meaningful items of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The museum is free and open to all. Visit the museum’s Plan Your Visit page for hours and more information about the museum.