Church History Topics essay discusses gold plates.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

"Gold Plates," Church History Topics, accessed June 24, 2021

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Emma Hale Smith, Eight Witnesses, Joseph Smith, Jr., William Smith, John Whitmer, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
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When word spread that Joseph Smith had secured the copyright for the Book of Mormon, it caused a stir in the local press. Newspapers began publishing information about the forthcoming book and its translation, drawing on speculation that had circulated “for some time past,” according to Palmyra’s Wayne Sentinel. The ancient artifact Joseph had found “is generally known and spoken of,” the Sentinel reported, “as the ‘Golden Bible.’” Though the editor stated the term had grown common in the area, his reference to the plates’ golden appearance represents the earliest on record.

With rumors swirling about the plates, Joseph sought to set the record straight by publishing official statements in the first edition of the Book of Mormon. Joseph’s preface and a testimonial written by a group of eight witnesses described the plates as having an “appearance of gold.” The Book of Mormon authors simply said they engraved their writings on “plates.” In their descriptions, Joseph Smith and the witnesses emphasized the antiquity of the plates and the curious engravings, but it was the golden sheen of the plates that captivated the popular imagination. Joseph unearthed the plates in September 1827 at the direction of an angel named Moroni, who further commanded Joseph to translate the ancient record. He worked on the translation between early 1828 and June 1829 after which he returned the plates to the angel.

Witnesses later left statements that detailed the plates’ material composition, weight, dimensions, thickness, and binding. The plates weighed about “forty to sixty” pounds, and together were between four and six inches thick. The leaves measured about “six” or “seven inches wide by eight inches in length” and individually had the thickness “of plates of tin” and, according to Emma Smith, would rustle with a metallic sound when the edges were moved by the thumb, as one does sometimes thumb the edges of a book.” Three D-shaped rings bound the leaves “through the back edges” into a volume. According to one witness, there was a sealant securing “about the half of the book” from tampering. This sealed portion made it impossible to separate the leaves and “appeared as solid as wood.” Joseph Smith derived his translation from the loose leaves of the plates.

Based on these parameters, modern researchers have estimated plates of pure gold would weigh at least 45 kilograms (100 pounds) and might be too soft for engraved characters. Book of Mormon record keepers may have employed an alloy to forge the metal plates, making them golden in appearance but not fully gold in substance. William Smith, Joseph’s younger brother, believed “a mixture of gold and copper” made up the plates.

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