John Gilbert's 1892 Account of the 1830 Printing of the Book of Mormon
Occasionally historians and other observers of the past attempt to discredit
someone’s account of a past event by referring to the age of the person when
the account was given. Age frequently becomes an argument against the account
if the historian or observer does not agree with the implications of that
Yet the real issue is how an account
matches up with other accounts or, even more significantly, how it matches
up with the physical evidence that remains. Independent, physical evidence
can often be used to test the reliability of accounts. A good example of this
procedure in analyzing accounts can be found in the analysis by Don Enders
of numerous statements made in E. D. Howe’s 1834 Mormonism Unvailed,
in particular, claims by some of the residents around Palmyra that Joseph
Smith’s family were poor and lazy. Enders compared these claims against the
original land and tax records and other local government papers from the 1820s
and 1830s and discovered that the assessment of Joseph Smith Sr.’s property,
based on the 1830 tax records, shows that the valuation of the Smith farm
per acre exceeded that of nine out of ten farms owned by families who criticized
the Smiths in Mormonism Unvailed. This finding calls into question the overall validity
of these accounts in Howe’s book denigrating the Smiths’ work ethic.1
In this article, I would like to consider a
statement made by John Gilbert, the compositor (or typesetter) for the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon. Gilbert
made this statement on 9 September 1892, when he was 90 years old. In his
statement, a typescript located in the King’s Daughters Library in Palmyra,
Gilbert describes events that occurred 63 years earlier. Now of course we
could dismiss his account (if we didn’t like what he was saying about the
early publishing history of the Book of Mormon) by simply referring to his
age, or the lateness in making this statement, or even his anti-Mormon bias.
But the better procedure is to test this statement against what we have been
able to discover about the printing of the first edition of the Book of Mormon.
This process includes evidence from the two
Book of Mormon manuscripts: the original manuscript and the printer’s manuscript.
The original manuscript is the dictated manuscript the scribes wrote down
as Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon. During 1829–30, a copy
of the original manuscript was made. This copy is called the printer’s manuscript
because, for the most part, this was the manuscript that was taken to the
printer’s shop in Palmyra,
New York, where the type was set for the first edition of the Book of Mormon,
published in 1830. About 28% of the original manuscript is extant. Most of
the extant portions of the original manuscript are owned by the LDS Church.
The printer’s manuscript is owned by the RLDS Church and is extant except
for three lines. Fragments of the original
manuscript show that the original (dictated) manuscript rather than the copied
printer’s manuscript was used
to set the 1830 edition from Helaman 13 through Mormon 9.2
In addition to the two manuscripts, this analysis
of John Gilbert’s statement has involved the examination of about one hundred
copies of the 1830 edition, an original proof sheet of the 1830 title page,
and a complete set of unbound sheets of the 1830 edition (sometimes called
the “uncut sheets”) that Gilbert had saved.
I reproduce Gilbert’s entire statement (as a typographical facsimile) in the
appendix to this article (see pp. 400–405), but here I list a number
of claims Gilbert made in that statement about the printing of the 1830 edition
and compare those claims with the extant physical evidence dating from 1829
1. 500 pages of manuscript
A few pages of the manuscript were submitted as a
specimen of the whole, and it was said there would be about 500 pages.3
There were 466 pages in the printer’s manuscript and probably a few more in
the original manuscript, perhaps as many as 480 pages. In either case, the estimate
that Gilbert remembered is close to the actual number of pages.
2. 5,000 copies of the 1830 edition for $3,000
In the forepart of June 1829, Mr. E. B. Grandin, the printer of the “Wayne
Sentinel,” came to me and said he wanted I should assist him in estimating
the cost of printing 5,000 copies of a book that Martin Harris wanted to get
printed, which was called the “Mormon Bible.” . . .
The contract was to print and bind with leather 5,000 copies for $3,000.
The number 5,000 agrees with other accounts of the press run for the 1830
edition. For instance, these same figures are found in Joseph Smith’s 1839
History, in both the draft and the final versions.4 The final version reads:
Mean time our translation drawing to a close, we went to Palmyra, Wayne Country,
N.Y: Secured the Copyright; and agreed with Mr Egbert Grandin to print five
thousand Copies, for the sum of three thousand dollars.
3. 1,000 ems per printed page
The size of the page was agreed upon, and an estimate of the number of ems
in a page, which would be 1,000.
An em is a measure of type width equal to the point size of the font being
used. There are about 1,075 ems per page in the 1830 edition, with 25 ems per
line and 43 lines per page (excluding the header on each page). Gilbert’s recollection
of the estimated number of ems is close to the actual count for an 1830 page.5
4. Manuscript page somewhat longer than an 1830 printed
A page of manuscript would make more than a page of printed matter, which
proved to be correct.
As already noted, there are 466 pages of manuscript in the printer’s manuscript
and perhaps as many as 480 pages were in the original manuscript. The 1830 edition
itself has 590 pages, which means that one manuscript page provided about one
and a fourth pages in the 1830 edition.
5. A new font of small pica
Mr. Grandin got a new font of small pica, on which the body of the work was
The “small pica” of the 1830 edition is a 10-point type. The type
used in the 1830 edition is called Scotch Roman, a very common type designed about 1810
by Richard Austin in Edinburgh, Scotland. This type face was widely used throughout
the nineteenth century.6
The type used in the 1830 edition had only a few pieces of broken type. The
type imprint in 1830 copies is sharp and clean and shows little wear.
6. 24 pages on foolscap paper
When the printer was ready to commence work, [Martin] Harris was notified,
and Hyrum Smith brought the first installment of manuscript, of 24 pages,
closely written on common foolscap paper.
The entire printer’s manuscript is a collection of gatherings of sheets.
To form a gathering, Oliver Cowdery (the principal scribe for the printer’s
manuscript, as well as the original
manuscript) would typically take 6 sheets of foolscap
paper (a size of paper), line them, and fold them down
the center to form a gathering of 24 pages or 12 leaves.
Later, after writing the text, he would secure the gathering by producing
at least 4 holes (or “stabs”) along the fold (or “gutters”)
and weaving in yarn and then tying it to hold the gathering together. The
very first gathering for the printer’s manuscript starts at the beginning
of 1 Nephi and goes up to 1 Nephi 14:21. Like most of the other gatherings
in the printer’s manuscript, this first one contains 24 pages (6 foolscap
sheets folded widthwise to form 12 leaves or 24 pages).
Foolscap paper originally referred to a watermark showing a fool’s cap, but
by the 1800s this term was universally used to refer to a paper size. The sheets
for the printer’s manuscript show some variance, but range from 31.4 to 33.1
cm in width and from 38.3 to 41.5 cm in length. Published accounts (given in
the Oxford English Dictionary under “foolscap”) indicate that
foolscap paper varied from 12 to 13.5 inches in width and from 15 to 17 inches
in length (that is, from 30 to 34 cm in width and 38 to 43 cm in length). All
the sheets in the printer’s manuscript are within these bounds, as are the extant
sheets of the original manuscript.
7. Proof sheet of title page alone
The title page was first set up, and after proof was read and corrected,
several copies were printed for [Martin] Harris and his friends.
One of the individuals in the print shop that day was Stephen Selwyn Harding,
who later served as territorial governor of Utah (1862–63). Harding received
one of these copies of the proof sheet of the title page and in 1847 donated
his copy to the LDS Church. This copy has been on display at the Church Museum
in Salt Lake City. In comparing this proof sheet with the title page as actually
published, we see that a number of misspellings were corrected; in addition,
the spacing (or “leading”) between the various lines, especially in
the title and subtitle, was increased.
8. Grammatical “errors” not corrected
On the second day—[Martin] Harris and [Hyrum] Smith being in the office—I
called their attention to a grammatical error, and asked whether I should
correct it? Harris consulted with Smith a short time, and turned to me and
said: “The Old Testament is ungrammatical, set it as it is written.”
For the most part, Gilbert did not edit out the grammatical “errors.”
The vast majority of them were copied over straight from the manuscripts into
the 1830 edition. In some cases some accidental correction seems to have occurred.
And in a handful of cases we have specific evidence that either John Gilbert
or Oliver Cowdery consciously corrected what was perceived to be pronominal
redundancies. For instance, in Ether 9:8, the printer’s manuscript originally
read as follows:
& now the brother of him that suffered death & his name was Nimrah
& he was angry with his father because of that which his father had done
unto his brother
While punctuating the manuscript to set the type for this part of the text,
Gilbert placed the intrusive “& his name was Nimrah” in parentheses
and then crossed out the words “& he” that followed. This kind
of conscious editing is infrequent in the text. The vast majority of “ungrammatical”
expressions were left unchanged.
9. Scribes for the printer’s manuscript
Martin Harris, Hyrum Smith, and Oliver Cowdery were very frequent visitors
to the office during the printing of the Mormon Bible. The manuscript was
supposed to be in the handwriting of Cowdery. . . .
Cowdery held and looked over the manuscript when most of the proofs were
read. Martin Harris once or twice, and Hyrum Smith once, Grandin supposing
these men could read their own writing as well, if not better, than anyone
else; and if there are any discrepancies between the Palmyra edition and the
manuscript these men should be held responsible.
The printer’s manuscript is mostly in
Oliver Cowdery’s hand (84.6%). A not-yet-identified scribe (referred to as
scribe 2) accounts for 14.9% of the printer’s manuscript. This scribe basically
transcribed two large portions (from Mosiah 25 to Alma 13, and from 3 Nephi 19 to the end of Mormon), but in the first
portion, Hyrum Smith briefly took over for scribe 2 on five different occasions
(from Mosiah 28 to Alma 5). Hyrum’s minor contribution amounts to only 0.5%
of the text.
But the printer never saw the second portion done by scribe 2. Instead, the
original manuscript was taken in for this portion of the typesetting. All
extant fragments of the original manuscript from this part of the text (from
Helaman 13 to the end of Mormon) are in Oliver Cowdery’s hand, so if we presume
that all this portion of the original manuscript was in Oliver’s hand, the
1830 printer saw Oliver Cowdery’s hand for slightly over 91% of the text.
By this calculation, scribe 2 then accounts for 8.5% of the text and Hyrum
the remaining 0.5%. So Gilbert’s comment that the manuscript was supposed
to be in Oliver’s hand is probably accurate for about 91% of the text.
Gilbert’s comment that Oliver Cowdery did most of the proofing, but that
Martin Harris did it twice and Hyrum Smith once is intriguing, especially
since these rankings are consistent with the frequency with which the printer
set type from the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery, scribe 2, and Hyrum Smith.
The additional statement from Grandin about proofing “their own writing”
suggests that Martin Harris might have been scribe 2, although of course Gilbert’s
initial statement about the handwriting implies that Oliver Cowdery was the
only scribe. Except for his signature, there are apparently no identified
extant examples of Martin Harris’s handwriting.7
We also have definite
evidence that Oliver Cowdery was learning from his proofing of the 1830 edition.
For instance, by the time he got into 3 Nephi, Oliver had learned that exceeding(ly) is spelled with two e‘s after the c, not as exceding(ly), which is how he consistently spelled the word
in the original manuscript as well as in the printer’s manuscript before 3
Nephi 12:12. From then on in the printer’s manuscript, Oliver always spelled
In addition, Oliver Cowdery also learned to
hyphenate at the end of lines. Earlier he had always hyphenated at the beginning
of the line (in the original manuscript and the first part of the printer’s
manuscript). For example, in the original manuscript, if only accord of according fit at the end of a
line, Oliver would have written accord
at the end of the line and -ing
at the beginning of the next line. But when he finally learned that hyphenation
occurs at the end of the line, Oliver would have written accord- at the end of the line,
but still he would have kept the hyphen at the beginning of the next line
(that is, -ing), thus ending
up with two hyphens.
Oliver Cowdery started this practice of double hyphenation at the beginning
of 2 Nephi (page 49 in the printer’s manuscript), but here he put hyphens at
the end of a line only once or twice a page, so that in this part of the printer’s
manuscript most hyphenated words had only a single hyphen, at the beginning
of a line. But by the time Oliver got through 200 pages of the printer’s manuscript,
he started to hyphenate more frequently at the ends of lines, so that ultimately
in the last half of the manuscript we often find double hyphenation more than
ten times a page.
10. Paragraphing and punctuation in the manuscript
Every chapter, if I remember correctly, was one solid paragraph, without
a punctuation mark, from beginning to end.
. . . I punctuated it to make it read as I supposed
the author intended, and but very little punctuation was altered in proof-reading.
Originally, very little punctuation appeared
on the printer’s manuscript and virtually none on the original manuscript,
including that portion (from Helaman 13 to the end of Mormon) used to set
the type for the 1830 edition. For the first part of the printer’s manuscript,
Oliver Cowdery copied the original manuscript without adding punctuation.
He finally realized that he himself could add the punctuation, so beginning
with page 106 of the printer’s manuscript, Oliver started to add a little
punctuation, but only sporadically and never systematically. Moreover, Gilbert
basically ignored Oliver’s punctuation.
Beginning with page 129 of the printer’s manuscript, Oliver Cowdery added paragraph
marks as he prepared this manuscript, but by page 145 he stopped this practice,
probably because he had realized that the compositor was ignoring his suggested
paragraph breaks. In any event, all the original chapters in the Book of Mormon
manuscripts were written as a single paragraph. Gilbert is responsible for the
actual paragraphing in the 1830 edition, although he does not mention it in
this statement. While inserting punctuation, he would also use the letter P
(not the reversed paragraph symbol ¶) whenever he wanted to show the beginning
of a new paragraph.
Scribe 2, unlike Oliver Cowdery, fairly consistently punctuated the portions
of the printer’s manuscript that he was responsible for, although scribe 2
had only a single punctuation mark that sometimes looks like a period and
sometimes like a small comma. This same mark is used interchangeably for both
full and half stops. Once more, for the first portion of scribe 2’s handwriting
(from Mosiah 25 to Alma 13), Gilbert ignored this rather confusing punctuation
mark from scribe 2.
As Gilbert indicated, he basically typeset the 1830 edition with the same punctuation
marks that he had placed in the printer’s manuscript. I would estimate that
over 90% of Gilbert’s punctuation marks in the printer’s and original manuscripts
were carried over without change into the 1830 edition.
11. Capitalization in the manuscript
Names of persons and places were generally capitalized, but sentences had
no end. The character & was used almost invariably where the word and
occurred, except at the end of a chapter.
In those portions of the original manuscript in the hand of Oliver Cowdery,
the first word in a chapter was systematically capitalized (as were names).
If the first word was and,
it was written as And.
Gilbert’s “end of a chapter” refers, of course, to the beginning
of a new chapter, since one implies the other. But other sentence-initial
words in the original manuscript were generally not capitalized by Oliver.
And he wrote virtually all other examples of and
as an ampersand (&). Oliver nearly always followed this same practice
in the printer’s manuscript. In a couple instances in the manuscripts, Oliver
did write and as and, but in each case he had
accidentally started to write some other word and he then overwrote the incorrect
word by writing out the full and
rather than using the shorter ampersand.
On the other hand, it should be noted that in the book of Helaman, Oliver
Cowdery started to occasionally show the beginning of a new sentence in the
middle of a chapter by capitalizing the sentence-initial word, as in Helaman
for they remembered the words which their father Helaman spake unto them
& these are the words which he spake Behold my Sons I desire that . .
Although Oliver never consistently applied this practice in the
rest of the printer’s manuscript, still he occasionally did capitalize a few
sentence-initial words in the middle of a chapter. And eventually, there are examples
of mid-chapter sentences beginning with And
instead of &, as
in 3 Nephi 13:34–14:1:
sufficient is the day unto the evil thereof And now it came to pass that
. . .
Although this sentence begins chapter 14 in our current chapter system (dating
from Orson Pratt’s editing for the 1879 edition), originally this sentence
occurred about one-third the way through chapter VI of 3 Nephi. But since
this part of the printer’s manuscript was never seen by John Gilbert, he never
saw this example of a mid-chapter And. Only in a few cases in
Ether and Moroni of the printer’s manuscript could Gilbert have seen in the
middle of a chapter an occasional
And instead of Oliver
Cowdery’s much more frequent &.
In nearly all instances, Gilbert would have seen & in the printer’s manuscript.
The two other scribes in the printer’s manuscript (scribe 2 and Hyrum Smith)
used both & and and interchangeably, but this variation would have
occurred for only 8.9% of the text (from Mosiah 25 to Alma 13). In any event,
Gilbert’s recollection of the massive use of & is accurate for the vast
majority of the Book of Mormon text.
12. John Gilbert works on the manuscript at home
After working a few days, I said to [Hyrum] Smith on his handing me the manuscript
in the morning: “Mr. Smith, if you would leave this manuscript with me,
I would take it home with me at night and read and punctuate it, and I could
get along faster in the day time, for now I have frequently to stop and read
half a page to find how to punctuate it.” His reply was, “We are
commanded not to leave it.” A few mornings after this, when Smith handed
me the manuscript, he said to me: “If you will give your word that this
manuscript shall be returned to us when you get through with it, I will leave
it with you.” I assured Smith that it should be returned all right when
I got through with it. For two or three nights I took it home with me and
read it, and punctuated it with a lead pencil. This will account for the punctuation
marks in pencil.
John Gilbert had to wait more than “a few mornings” after “a
few days” before getting permission to take the printer’s manuscript
home to punctuate it. In the first part of the manuscript, before page 73,
there are only a few minor places where Gilbert added punctuation to the manuscript. These
few punctuation marks are all in pencil. When Gilbert refers to reading down
half a page of manuscript to determine the punctuation, he was apparently
trying to determine the reading of the text and then adding the punctuation
to the typeset text only, not on the manuscript itself (except in those few
The first place where Gilbert began to systematically punctuate the printer’s
manuscript is on page 73 (beginning with 2 Nephi 17:4). Since this place is about
one-sixth the way through the manuscript, Gilbert’s impression about when
he started to take the manuscript home is a little too early. I would estimate
that he probably took the manuscript
home sometime in the last half of September 1829, after at least one month
We do have evidence that Gilbert took the manuscript home for two days. For
these two sessions, Gilbert marked the punctuation in heavy black ink, not
in pencil. The first session covers pages 73–75 of the printer’s manuscript.
The second session covers pages 77–79 and the first third of page 80.
After these two sessions, all of Gilbert’s subsequent punctuation marks on
the printer’s manuscript (and on the original manuscript for Helaman 13 through
the end of Mormon) are in pencil rather than ink. Gilbert’s penciling seems
to be restricted to work actually done in the printing shop, not at home,
especially since his punctuation marks are interspersed with take marks (also
in pencil) that were made during the actual setting of the type. (These take
marks show where in the manuscript the compositor finished setting the type
for a portion of the text.)
Since the clear majority of Gilbert’s punctuation is in pencil, it is understandable
that he might not have remembered that he used ink for the two nights he took
the manuscript home to prepare it for typesetting.
13. Details about the signatures
The [Mormon] Bible was printed 16 pages at a time, so that one sheet of paper
made two copies of 16 pages each, requiring 2,500 sheets of paper for each
form of 16 pages. There were 37 forms of 16 pages each, 570 pages in all.
The 1830 edition has 16 pages to a signature and has 37 signatures. Of course, Gilbert could
determine this by referring to a copy of the edition (or perhaps to his set
of 37 unbound folded sheets).
There are, however, 592 pages in the 1830 edition (37 x 16 = 592), of which
the last two are blank, thus giving 590 printed pages, not 570. Perhaps the
570 is a typo for 590.
The 2,500 sheets for each signature would
thus account for 5,000 copies since they were printing all 16 pages of each signature on both sides of
the sheet. This process, called half-sheet imposition (or in more modern terminology,
“work and turn”), requires that each sheet be properly oriented
and lined up (a process referred to as registering) before printing the opposite
side. Finally, the 2,500 larger sheets were torn or cut in two—so that
prior to binding, 5,000 copies of each signature were available.
Examination of the unbound sheets shows quite clearly the torn side at the
top of each of the 37 signatures. Here each of the original larger sheets was
folded and cut along the crease with a bone cutter (personal communication from
Don Enders), which left a rough, tornlike edge. The bottom edge has always been
cut mechanically, whereas the sides always show a deckle edge—that is,
the original uneven edge that results from the paper-making process itself.
In addition, the two pinholes resulting from pinning down the middle of the
full sheet to the tympan (the frame to which the sheet is secured during the
presswork) can be found about half the time near the torn upper edge of the
unbound sheets. Thus the unbound sheets clearly show that Gilbert’s statement
about printing 2,500 sheets to produce 5,000 copies was entirely accurate.8
From these many examples, we can see that in every instance, John Gilbert’s
recollections regarding the printing of the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon
are either precisely correct or, where wrong, the error is easily explained.
In a number of cases where he thought something held in every instance, the
actual facts show that his recollection is still correct for the clear majority
of cases. All in all, these examples show that Gilbert’s memory is very accurate,
even at 90 years of age and 63 years after the fact.9
1. Donald L. Enders, “The Joseph
Smith, Sr., Family: Farmers of the Genesee,” in Joseph Smith: The Prophet,
the Man, ed. Susan Easton Black and Charles D. Tate Jr. (Provo, Utah: BYU
Religious Studies Center, 1993), 213–25; see page 220 for the nine-out-of-ten
2. For further information about the
use of the original manuscript as the printer’s copy, see Royal Skousen, “Piecing
Together the Original Manuscript,” BYU Today (May 1992): 18–24;
or Royal Skousen, “The Book of Mormon Critical Text Project,” in Joseph
Smith: The Prophet, the Man, 65–75.
3. To enhance readability, a few changes
(mostly in punctuation and grammar) have been made in the quotations from the
typographical facsimile that appears at the end of this article.
4. See The Papers of Joseph Smith,
ed. Dean C. Jessee (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989), 1:241 and 300.
5. I wish to thank Jonathan Saltzman
for help in determining these figures.
6. I wish to thank Jonathan Saltzman
for identifying the type face for the 1830 edition. For further information
about Scotch Roman, see W. Pincus Jaspert, W. Turner Berry, and A. F. Johnson,
The Encyclopaedia of Type Faces, 4th ed. (Poole, Dorset, England: Blandford,
7. For an early discussion of this problem,
see Dean C. Jessee, “New Documents and Mormon Beginnings,” BYU
Studies 24/4 (1984): 397–428.
8. I wish to thank Louis E. Crandall
of the Crandall Historical Printing Museum (Provo, Utah) for his valuable assistance
in identifying these aspects of the unbound sheets. For further information
on printing in the 1800s and earlier, see Ronald B. McKerrow, An Introduction
to Bibliography for Literary Students (1928; reprint, New Castle,
Delaware: Oak Knoll, 1994), 22–23 (for registering), 19 and 45–46
(for the tympan), 66–70 (for half-sheet imposition), and 103 (for deckle
9. I wish to thank Richard L. Anderson
and Larry C. Porter for providing copies of Gilbert’s 1892 statement. Scott
Faulring provided access to some related documents; Matthew Empey, my research
assistant, helped collect some of the information for this article. Don Enders
also provided a helpful critique of this paper as well as some additional information