Church History
Gold Plates

“Gold Plates,” Church History Topics

“Gold Plates”

Gold Plates

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.1

a replica of the golden plates

A replica of the Book of Mormon plates.

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.”2 The Book of Mormon authors simply said they engraved their writings on “plates.”3 In their descriptions, Joseph Smith and the witnesses emphasized the antiquity of the plates and the curious engravings,4 but it was the golden sheen of the plates that captivated the popular imagination.5 Joseph unearthed the plates in September 1827 at the direction of an angel named Moroni, who further commanded Joseph to translate the ancient record.6 He worked on the translation between early 1828 and June 1829 after which he returned the plates to the angel.7

Witnesses later left statements that detailed the plates’ material composition, weight, dimensions, thickness, and binding. The plates weighed about “forty to sixty” pounds,8 and together were between four and six inches thick.9 The leaves measured about “six” or “seven inches wide by eight inches in length”10 and individually had the thickness “of plates of tin”11 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.”12 Three D-shaped rings bound the leaves “through the back edges”13 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.”14 Joseph Smith derived his translation from the loose leaves of the plates.15

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.16 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.17

Related Topics: Angel Moroni, Book of Mormon Translation


  1. The Wayne Sentinel, June 26, 1829, 3.

  2. Joseph Smith Jr., The Book of Mormon: An Account Written by the Hand of Mormon, upon Plates Taken from the Plates of Nephi (Palmyra, New York: E. B. Grandin, 1830), iii–iv, 590,; emphasis added.

  3. 1 Nephi 9:2–4; Words of Mormon 1:1–3, 6, 10.

  4. Joseph Smith Jr., The Book of Mormon, 590; emphasis added.

  5. See “19th-Century Publications about the Book of Mormon (1829–1844),” Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Compare with accounts created by Joseph Smith, such as “Revelation, July 1828 [D&C 3],” in Revelation Book 1, 1–2,; “Revelation, March 1829 [D&C 5],”; “Revelation, Spring 1829 [D&C 10],” in Book of Commandments, 22–27,; “Revelation, April 1828–B [D&C 8],” in Revelation Book 1, 12–13,

  6. Moroni was among the ancient record keepers who contributed his writings to the Book of Mormon.

  7. Joseph Smith, “History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834],” 8,

  8. “A Witness to the Book of Mormon,” Iowa State Register, Aug. 28, 1870.

  9. “Mormonism—No. II,” Tiffany’s Monthly, Aug. 1859, 165; Joseph Smith letter to John Wentworth, in Joseph Smith, “History, 1838–1856, volume C-1 [2 November 1838–31 July 1842],” 1282,

  10. Joseph Smith, “Church History,” Times and Seasons, Mar. 1, 1842, 707,; “Mormonism—No. II,” 165; “An Old Mormon’s Closing Hours,” Chicago Tribune, Jan. 24, 1888, 5.

  11. “Mormonism—No. II,” Tiffany’s Monthly, Aug. 1859, 164.

  12. Joseph Smith III, “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” Saints’ Herald, Oct. 1, 1879, 2.

  13. David Whitmer, Interview, in Edward Stevenson diary, Dec. 22–23, 1877, in Edward Stevenson Collection 1849–1922, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.

  14. David Whitmer, Interview by P. Wilhelm Poulson, Deseret Evening News, Aug. 16, 1878, in Lyndon W. Cook, David Whitmer Interviews: A Restoration Witness (Orem, Utah: Grandin Book Company, 1991), 20–21.

  15. “An Old Mormon’s Closing Hours,” 5.

  16. See Robert F. Smith, “The ‘Golden’ Plates,” in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, ed. John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1992), 277.

  17. William B. Smith, “The Old Soldier’s Testimony,” Saints’ Herald, Oct. 4, 1884, 644.