Book of Mormon/Translation/Description of the plates

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    Eyewitness descriptions of the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated

This page is a chronology of statements from primary and secondary sources. Sources may be viewed by following the citation links.

SUBTOPICS


CONCLUSION


Descriptions of the plates

A variety of persons who handled and/or saw the plates left descriptions:[1]

Stone box in which plates were deposited

There were many holes dug in the Hill Cumorah by treasure seekers after Joseph obtained the plates. Full size image may be viewed here: http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/cdm/fullbrowser/collection/GEA/id/11495/rv/singleitem
  • "there, on the side of a hill, found in a stone box, or a square space enclosed by stone on every side, the plates on which the revelation was inscribed. The box in thickness was about 6 inches, and about 7 by 5 otherwise....well secured by silver rings or loops in the box as an effectual defence against all weather...." - “The Orators of Mormon,” Catholic Telegraph (Cincinnati, Ohio) 1 (14 April 1832): 204–5. Reprinted from Mercer Press (Pennsylvania), circa April 1832. off-site
  • "A hole of sufficient depth had been dug, and a flat stone laid in the bottom; then there were four set erect at the outer edges of the bottom stone, joined together with some kind of cement, so as to form a Box. On the bottom stone was laid a Shield or Breastplate, from that arose three pillars made of cement. On the top of these pillars laid the Record, together with the “Urim and Thummim,” the whole not to extend quite even with the top of the side stones. Over the whole was placed a crowning stone, a small part of which was visible, when he first visited the spot." - W. I. Appleby, A Dissertation of Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream... (Philadelphia: Brown, Bicking & Guilbert, 1844), 1–24. off-site Full title
  • "Three times he [David Whitmer] has been at the Hill Cumorah and seen the casket that contained the tablets and seerstone. Eventually the casket has been washed down to the foot of the hill, but it was to be seen when he last visited the historic place." - Salt Lake Herald (12 August 1875); reprinting from Chicago Times (7 August 1875); cited in Ebbie L V Richardson, "David Whitmer: A Witness to the Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon," (M.A. thesis, Brigham Young University, 1952), 156-58. Also in Lyndon Cook (editor), David Whitmer Interviews: A Restoration Witness (Orem, Utah: Grandin Books, 1991), 7.

Material

  • "the appearance of gold"[2] — Joseph Smith Jr., Eight Witnesses
  • "golden plates"[3] — David Whitmer
  • "a mixture of gold and copper"[4] - William Smith
  • "in a good state of preservation, had the appearance of gold" - William Smith in James Murdock to Congregational Observer, 19 June 1841, "The Mormons and Their Prophet," Congregational Observer (Hartford and New Haven, Connecticut) 2 (3 July 1841): 1. Reprinted in Peoria Register and North-Western Gazetteer (Peoria, Illinois), 3 September 1841; reproduced in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 1:477–480.
  • "pure gold" - “The Orators of Mormon,” Catholic Telegraph (Cincinnati, Ohio) 1 (14 April 1832): 204–5. Reprinted from Mercer Press (Pennsylvania), circa April 1832. off-site
  • "whitish yellow" - Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 15; attributed to David Whitmer off-site
  • "engraven on plates of gold" - Parley P. Pratt, "Discovery of an Ancient Record in America," Millennial Star 1 no. 2 (June 1840), 30–37. off-site
  • "this pretended Revelation was written on golden plates, or something resembling golden plates" - A.S., “The Golden Bible, or, Campbellism Improved,” Observer and Telegraph. Religious, Political, and Literary, Hudson, Ohio (18 November 1830): 3, quoting Cowdery. off-site

Weight

  • "weighing altogether from forty to sixty lbs."[5] —Martin Harris
  • "I was permitted to lift them. . . . They weighed about sixty pounds according to the best of my judgement."[6] —William Smith
  • "I . . . judged them to have weighed about sixty pounds."[7]—William Smith
  • "They were much heavier than a stone, and very much heavier than wood. . . . As near as I could tell, about sixty pounds."[8] —William Smith
  • "I hefted the plates, and I knew from the heft that they were lead or gold."[9] —Martin Harris
  • "My daughter said, they were about as much as she could lift. They were now in the glass-box, and my wife said they were very heavy. They both lifted them."[10] —Martin Harris
  • "I moved them from place to place on the table, as it was necessary in doing my work."[11] —Emma Smith
  • Joseph's sister Catherine, while she was dusting in the room where he had been translating, "hefted those plates [which were covered with a cloth] and found them very heavy."[12] —H. S. Salisbury, paraphrasing Catherine Smith Salisbury

Size of each plate

  • "7 inches in length, 6 inches in breadth" - A.S., “The Golden Bible, or, Campbellism Improved,” Observer and Telegraph. Religious, Political, and Literary, Hudson, Ohio (18 November 1830): 3, quoting Cowdery. off-site
  • "six inches wide by eight inches long"[13] —Joseph Smith Jr.
  • "seven inches wide by eight inches in length"[14] —Martin Harris
  • "seven by eight inches"[15] —Martin Harris
  • "about eight inches long, seven inches wide"[16] —David Whitmer
  • "about eight inches square" - Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 15; attributed to David Whitmer off-site
  • "six or eight inches square" - “Mormonism,” Fredonia Censor (New York) (7 March 1832). Reprinted from the Franklin Democrat (Pennsylvania) circa March 1832. off-site
  • "The plates were each about 7 by 8 inches in width and length." - Parley P. Pratt, "Discovery of an Ancient Record in America," Millennial Star 1 no. 2 (June 1840), 30–37. off-site
  • "about eight inches long, and six wide" - Lucy Mack Smith (allegedly) in Henry Caswall, The City of the Mormons; or, Three Days at Nauvoo, in 1842, 2nd ed. revised and enlarged, (London: J. G. F. & J. Rivington, 1843), 26. off-site
  • "Each plate was about six by eight inches" - W. I. Appleby, A Dissertation of Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream... (Philadelphia: Brown, Bicking & Guilbert, 1844), 1–24. off-site Full title

Thickness of each plate

  • "of the thickness of tin" - A.S., “The Golden Bible, or, Campbellism Improved,” Observer and Telegraph. Religious, Political, and Literary, Hudson, Ohio (18 November 1830): 3, quoting Cowdery. off-site
  • "of the thickness of plates of tin"[17] —Martin Harris
  • "thin leaves of gold"[18] —Martin Harris
  • "about as thick as parchment"[19] —David Whitmer
  • "[We] could raise the leaves this way (raising a few leaves of the Bible before him)."[20] —William Smith
  • "They seemed to be pliable like thick paper, and would rustle with a metalic [sic] sound when the edges were moved by the thumb, as one does sometimes thumb the edges of a book."[21] —Emma Smith
  • "each as thick as a pane of glass" - “Mormonism,” Fredonia Censor (New York) (7 March 1832). Reprinted from the Franklin Democrat (Pennsylvania) circa March 1832. off-site
  • "the plates themselves were about as thick as window glass, or common tin" - “The Orators of Mormon,” Catholic Telegraph (Cincinnati, Ohio) 1 (14 April 1832): 204–5. Reprinted from Mercer Press (Pennsylvania), circa April 1832. off-site
  • "thickness of tin plates" - Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 15; attributed to David Whitmer off-site
  • "being about the thickness of common tin" - Parley P. Pratt, "Discovery of an Ancient Record in America," Millennial Star 1 no. 2 (June 1840), 30–37. off-site
  • "as thick as common tin" - W. I. Appleby, A Dissertation of Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream... (Philadelphia: Brown, Bicking & Guilbert, 1844), 1–24. off-site Full title

Thickness of whole volume

  • "a pile about 6 inches deep." - A.S., “The Golden Bible, or, Campbellism Improved,” Observer and Telegraph. Religious, Political, and Literary, Hudson, Ohio (18 November 1830): 3, quoting Cowdery. off-site
  • "[W]hen piled one above the other, they were altogether about four inches thick."[22] —Martin Harris
  • "six or eight inches thick" - “Mormonism,” Fredonia Censor (New York) (7 March 1832). Reprinted from the Franklin Democrat (Pennsylvania) circa March 1832. off-site
  • "The volume was something near six inches in thickness." - Parley P. Pratt, "Discovery of an Ancient Record in America," Millennial Star 1 no. 2 (June 1840), 30–37. off-site
  • "The volume was something near six inches in thickness" - Joseph Smith, "Church History [Wentworth letter]," Times and Seasons 3 no. 9 (1 Mar 1842), 706–710. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.) off-site
  • "the whole being about six inches in thickness" - W. I. Appleby, A Dissertation of Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream... (Philadelphia: Brown, Bicking & Guilbert, 1844), 1–24. off-site Full title

Sealed vs. unsealed

  • "A large portion of the leaves were so securely bound together that it was impossible to separate them."[23] —David Whitmer
  • "What there was sealed appeared as solid to my view as wood. About the half of the book was sealed."[24] —David Whitmer
  • "they thus translated about two thirds of what the plates contained, reserving the residue for a future day as the Lord might hereafter direct." - “The Orators of Mormon,” Catholic Telegraph (Cincinnati, Ohio) 1 (14 April 1832): 204–5. Reprinted from Mercer Press (Pennsylvania), circa April 1832. off-site
  • "the leaves were divided equidistant between the back and the edge, by cutting the plates in two parts, and again united with solder, so that the front might be opened, while the back part remained stationary and immovable, and was consequently a sealed book, which would not be revealed for ages to come, and which Smith himself was not permitted to understand." - Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 15; attributed to David Whitmer off-site
  • "some of them are sealed together and are not to be opened, and some of them are loose" - Lucy Mack Smith (allegedly) in Henry Caswall, The City of the Mormons; or, Three Days at Nauvoo, in 1842, 2nd ed. revised and enlarged, (London: J. G. F. & J. Rivington, 1843), 26. off-site
  • "a part of which was sealed. The unsealed part has been translated; and contains the Book of Mormon" - W. I. Appleby, A Dissertation of Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream... (Philadelphia: Brown, Bicking & Guilbert, 1844), 1–24. off-site Full title

Rings

  • "[T]hey were fastened with rings thus [a sketch shows a ring in the shape of a capital D with six lines drawn through the straight side of the letter to represent the leaves of the record]."[25] —David Whitmer
  • "bound together like the leaves of a book by massive rings passing through the back edges"[26] —David Whitmer
  • "They were bound together in the shape of a book by three gold rings."[27] —David Whitmer
  • "put together on the back by three silver rings, so that they would open like a book"[28] —Martin Harris
  • " bound together in a volume, as the leaves of a book with three rings running through the whole" - Joseph Smith, "Church History [Wentworth letter]," Times and Seasons 3 no. 9 (1 Mar 1842), 706–710. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.) off-site
  • "The plates were . . . connected with rings in the shape of the letter D, which facilitated the opening and shutting of the book."[29] - William E. McLellin quoting Hyrum Smith
  • "I could tell they were plates of some kind and that they were fastened together by rings running through the back."[30] - William Smith
  • "volume of them were bound together like the leaves of a book, and fastened at one edge with three rings running through the whole" - Parley P. Pratt, "Discovery of an Ancient Record in America," Millennial Star 1 no. 2 (June 1840), 30–37. off-site
  • "They are all connected by a ring which passes through a hole at the end of each plate" - Lucy Mack Smith (allegedly) in Henry Caswall, The City of the Mormons; or, Three Days at Nauvoo, in 1842, 2nd ed. revised and enlarged, (London: J. G. F. & J. Rivington, 1843), 26. off-site
  • "put together with three rings, running through the whole" - W. I. Appleby, A Dissertation of Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream... (Philadelphia: Brown, Bicking & Guilbert, 1844), 1–24. off-site Full title
  • "The plates were minutely described as being connected with rings in the shape of the letter D, when facilitated the opening and shutting of the book."[31] - Early skeptical newspaper account
  • "back was secured with three small rings of the same metal, passing through each leaf in succession" - Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 15; attributed to David Whitmer off-site

It should be noted that the "D" shape here described is the most efficient way to pack pages with rings. It is a common design in modern three-ring binders, but was not invented until recently (the two-ring binder did not exist prior to 1854 and were first advertised in 1899. The critics would apparently have us believe that Joseph Smith and/or the witnesses just happened upon the most efficient binding design more than a century before anyone else! Such a pattern also matches a collection of gold plates found in Bavaria dating from 600 B.C.[32]

Engravings

  • "[The plates] were filled with . . . Egyptian characters. . . . The characters on the unsealed part were small, and beautifully engraved. The whole book exhibited many marks of antiquity in its construction and much skill in the art of engraving."[33] —Joseph Smith Jr.
  • "There were fine engravings on both sides."[34] —John Whitmer
  • "We also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work, and of curious workmanship."[35] —Eight Witnesses
  • "[T]he characters . . . were cut into the plates with some sharp instrument."[36] —William Smith
  • "On opening that part of the book which was not secured by seals, he discovered inscribed on the aforesaid plates, divers and wonderful characters, some large and some small" - Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 15; attributed to David Whitmer off-site
  • "These were filled with engravings on both sides" - Parley P. Pratt, "Discovery of an Ancient Record in America," Millennial Star 1 no. 2 (June 1840), 30–37. off-site
  • "are covered with letters beautifully engraved" - Lucy Mack Smith (allegedly) in Henry Caswall, The City of the Mormons; or, Three Days at Nauvoo, in 1842, 2nd ed. revised and enlarged, (London: J. G. F. & J. Rivington, 1843), 26. off-site
  • "on each side beautifully engraved, and filled with black cement" - W. I. Appleby, A Dissertation of Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream... (Philadelphia: Brown, Bicking & Guilbert, 1844), 1–24. off-site Full title

Endnotes

  1. [note]  Many of these were collected in Kirk B. Henrichsen, "How Witnesses Described the "Gold Plates"," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 10/1 (2001): 16–21. off-site wiki (Key source)
  2. [note] Joseph Smith Jr., "Church History [also known as the Wentworth Letter]," Times and Seasons (1 March 1842), 707. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.) ; "The Testimony of Eight Witnesses," Book of Mormon; and Orson Pratt, in a pamphlet titled "An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions, and of the Late Discovery of Ancient American Records" (Edinburgh, Scotland: Ballantyne and Hughes, May 1840), 12–13.
  3. [note]  David Whitmer interview, Kansas City Journal, 5 June 1881, in David Whitmer Interviews: A Restoration Witness, ed. Lyndon W. Cook (Orem, Utah: Grandin, 1993), 60.
  4. [note]  William Smith (Joseph's younger brother) interview, The Saints' Herald, 4 October 1884, 644.
  5. [note]  Martin Harris interview, Iowa State Register, August 1870, as quoted in Milton V. Backman Jr., Eyewitness Accounts of the Restoration (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1986), 226.
  6. [note]  William Smith, William Smith on Mormonism (Lamoni, Iowa: Herald Steam, 1883), 12.
  7. [note]  William Smith interview with E. C. Briggs. Originally written by J. W. Peterson for Zions Ensign (Independence, Mo.); reprinted in Deseret Evening News, 20 January 1894, 11.
  8. [note]  William Smith interview, The Saints' Herald, 4 October 1884, 644.
  9. [note]  "Interview with Martin Harris," Tiffany's Monthly, May 1859, 169.
  10. [note]  Ibid., 168.
  11. [note]  Emma Smith interview, published as "Last Testimony of Sister Emma," The Saints' Herald, 1 October 1879.
  12. [note]  I. B. Bell interview with H. S. Salisbury (grandson of Catherine Smith Salisbury), Historical Department Archives, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
  13. [note]  Joseph Smith Jr., "Church History [also known as the Wentworth Letter]," Times and Seasons (1 March 1842), 707. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  14. [note]  Martin Harris interview, Tiffany's Monthly, May 1859, 165.
  15. [note]  Martin Harris interview, Iowa State Register, August 1870, as quoted in Backman, Eyewitness Accounts, 226.
  16. [note]  David Whitmer interview, Chicago Tribune, 24 January 1888, in David Whitmer Interviews, ed. Cook, 221.
  17. [note]  Martin Harris interview, Tiffany's Monthly, May 1859, 165.
  18. [note]  Martin Harris interview, Iowa State Register, August 1870, as quoted in Backman, Eyewitness Accounts, 226.
  19. [note]  David Whitmer interview, Kansas City Journal, 5 June 1881, in David Whitmer Interviews, ed. Cook, 64.
  20. [note]  William Smith, The Saints' Herald, 4 October 1884, 644.
  21. [note]  Emma Smith interview, The Saints' Herald, 1 October 1879.
  22. [note]  Martin Harris interview, Tiffany's Monthly, May 1859, 165.
  23. [note]  David Whitmer interview, Chicago Tribune, 24 January 1888, in David Whitmer Interviews, ed. Cook, 221.
  24. [note]  David Whitmer interview, Deseret Evening News, 16 August 1878, in David Whitmer Interviews, ed. Cook, 20–21.
  25. [note]  David Whitmer interview, Edward Stevenson diary, 22–23 December 1877, Historical Department Archives, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Original capitalization and punctuation have been modernized. In Stevenson's interview, Whitmer recounted his mother's description of the rings.
  26. [note]  David Whitmer interview, Kansas City Journal, 5 June 1881, 1.
  27. [note]  David Whitmer interview, Chicago Tribune, 24 January 1888, in David Whitmer Interviews, ed. Cook, 221.
  28. [note]  Martin Harris interview, Tiffany's Monthly, May 1859, 165.
  29. [note]  Reported in the Huron Reflector (Norwalk, OH), 31 October 1831; cited in Ashton, below.
  30. [note]  Interview of William Smith with E. C. Briggs and J. W. Peterson, Zion's Ensign, 13 January 1894, 6.
  31. [note]  “The Mormonites,” Christian Intelligencer and Eastern Chronicle (Gardiner, Maine) (18 November 1831): 184. Reprinted from Illinois Patriot (Jacksonville, Illinois) (16 September 1831). off-site
  32. [note]  Warren P. Ashton, "The Rings That Bound the Gold Plates Together," Insights 26 no. 3 (2006), N/A.
  33. [note]  Joseph Smith Jr., "Church History" (Wentworth Letter)
  34. [note]  John Whitmer to Theodore Turley, "in the presence of his anti-Mormon friends." As reported in Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 131. ISBN 0877478465.
  35. [note]  "Testimony of the Eight Witnesses."
  36. [note]  William Smith interview, The Saints' Herald, 4 October 1884, 644.

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