SALT LAKE CITY — Inside Jerry Erkelens' historic Salt Lake City home, lie rich histories hidden in treasures hunted from around the world.
"Everything in that corner is from the 1700s," Erkelens said, looking toward a corner of his living room, occupied by a colorful and intricately-painted 18th century credenza.
On top of the credenza, sat a hand-painted platter, books, and other pieces from the same time period.
After 40 years of appraising historic collections, and a lifetime of owning them, Erkelens knows a good artifact when he sees it. From art by Renoir, to a rifle used and signed by Clint Eastwood-- Erkelens has come across some fascinating items.
"I did one of Joseph Smith's seer stones this summer, and that happens to be just a little geode with a hole in it," Erkelens said.
Another one of his recent appraisals, is from a collection carefully curated by a late friend of Erkelens named G. Ralph Bailey.
Bailey, his family explained, loved anything related to the founding of Utah and the West.
Erkelens remembered how Bailey would call him up every once in awhile, excited by a new find. He would tell Erkelens not to leave his house, so that Bailey could come by and show it to him right away.
"It was really fun to see someone that excited about a little treasure that he had found," Erkelens said.
He never realized just how extensive Bailey's collection grew to be, until after Bailey passed away in 2007.
In fact, no one in the family quite knew just how many rare items Bailey was storing for safe keeping, because his daughter Kimberly Best explained that Bailey kept the items in various places. It wasn't until Best's mother passed away in 2020, that the family began the task of bringing the entire collection together.
Best said her father kept things in bank safe deposit boxes, as well as at his home and in his library.
Best's brother was storing 55 boxes full of documents, letters, photos and more in a warehouse.
When Covid-19 hit, Best and her husband Scott took on a pandemic project of going through everything. They even transcribed all the letters.
"It was more when we brought the collection together, and really started going through it and seeing what he had, it was fascinating," Best said. "It was kind of a treasure hunt for us to see what he had actually collected."
She grew up watching her dad bring home his amazing finds, but as a child, Best described how she didn't fully appreciate the significance.
Bailey was always reading books in his spare time, she indicated. He traveled the world and enjoyed meeting new people. Best talked about how her father loved listening to people's stories, and learning history.
He channeled his passion for history into acquiring materials mostly related to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Much of Bailey's finds were 100 to 200 years old.
One of the more talked-about parts of his collection, is a series of letters written by Brigham Young.
"The Brigham Young letters are kind of, it's kind of a treasure trove," Best said.
The nearly three dozen letters detail Young's daily life, his family, supplies needed in Salt Lake City, and political turmoil he faced.
Erkelens explained the significance of the letters, describing how it provides new insight into life back then not known about until now.
"It's things that no one knows about," Erkelens said. "No one knows that he called president Buchanan 'Beezlebub.' No one knows how much he hated the federal judges and the army that was here protecting them…. When the army was low on food, he offered them wagon loads of salt. That's in one of the letters. And it's just incredible."
The collection features dozens of other pieces of history like three First Edition Book of Mormon books, currency from The Kirtland Safety Society Bank, an 1874 copy of a Salt Lake City Directory, and a mission pamphlet by Orson Pratt, an original member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, printed during a mission in England.
Erkelens appraised the collection at $3.2 million.
Best shared that she hopes to find someone just as passionate as her dad to take this collection on.
"I think he just had this adventurous spirit, and loved meeting people, and learning," she said, of her father.
Hopefully, she said, this person will build on the collection and make it better. Someone who will do as her dad did-- find rich histories hidden inside treasures of Utah's past.
Anyone with inquiries or offers on the G. Ralph Bailey Collection can contact Scott Best at firstname.lastname@example.org.