SALT LAKE CITY – Jerry Erkelens’ historic Salt Lake City home has rich stories hidden in treasures from around the world.
“Everything in this corner is from the 18th century,” said Erkelens, looking into a corner of his living room where there was a brightly colored and artistically painted sideboard from the 18th century.
On top of the sideboard was a hand-painted platter, books, and other pieces from the same period.
After 40 years of reviewing historical collections and lifelong ownership, Erkelens recognizes a good artifact when he sees it. From artwork by Renoir to a rifle used and signed by Clint Eastwood, Erkelens has come across some fascinating items.
“I made one of Joseph Smith’s seer stones this summer and it just happens to be a small geode with a hole in it,” said Erkelens.
Another of his most recent reviews comes from a collection carefully curated by a late friend of Erkelens named G. Ralph Bailey.
Bailey, his family explained, loved anything to do with founding Utah and the West.
Erkelens remembered Bailey calling him every now and then, excited about a new find. He would tell Erkelens not to leave his house so Bailey could come over and show him immediately.
âIt was really fun to see someone so excited about a little treasure they found,â said Erkelens.
He never realized how extensive Bailey’s collection had become until Bailey died in 2007.
In fact, no one in the family knew exactly how many rare items Bailey kept for safekeeping, as his daughter, Kimberly Best, explained that Bailey kept the items in different locations. It wasn’t until Best’s mother died in 2020 that the family began the task of bringing the entire collection together.
Best said her father kept things in safe deposit boxes, at his home and in his library.
Best’s brother stored 55 boxes full of documents, letters, photos, and more in a warehouse.
When Covid-19 struck, Best and her husband Scott took on a pandemic project going through everything. They even transcribed all the letters.
“It was more when we got the collection together and really started going through it and seeing what he had, it was fascinating,” said Best. “It was kind of a treasure hunt for us to see what he actually collected . “
She grew up watching her father bring home his amazing finds, but as a child, Best described how she did not fully realize the meaning.
Bailey always read books in his spare time, she suggested. He traveled the world and enjoyed meeting new people. Best talked about how much her father loved listening to people’s stories and learning history.
He used his passion for history to purchase materials primarily related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Many of Bailey’s finds were 100 to 200 years old.
One of the most talked about parts of his collection is a series of letters from Brigham Young.
“The Brigham Young letters are kind of a treasure trove,” said Best.
The nearly three dozen letters describe Young’s daily life, his family, the supplies needed in Salt Lake City, and the political unrest he faced.
Erkelens explained the meaning of the letters and described how they enable new insights into life at that time, about which one previously knew nothing.
“They are things that nobody knows about,” said Erkelens. âNobody knows he called President Buchanan ‘Beezlebub’. Nobody knows how much he hated the federal judges and the army that protected them … When the army was short of food, he offered them truckloads of salt. That’s in one of the letters. And it’s just amazing. “
The collection includes dozens of other historical items, such as three books from the first edition of the Book of Mormon, money from the Kirtland Safety Society Bank, a copy of an 1874 Salt Lake City directory, and a missionary brochure from Orson Pratt, an original member of the quorum of the Twelve Apostles, printed during a mission in England.
Erkelens valued the collection at $ 3.2 million.
Best of all, she shared that she hopes to find someone just as passionate as her father to take over this collection.
“I think he just had this adventurous spirit and loved meeting people and learning,” she said of her father.
Hopefully, she said, that person will build on the collection and improve it. Someone who will do the same as their father did in finding rich stories hidden in treasures of Utah’s past.
Anyone with inquiries or offers regarding the G. Ralph Bailey Collection can contact Scott Best at [email protected]