Home The Catalog of Accusations

Were Joseph Smith's Gold Plates Fake?
by Woody Brison

Accusation: Joseph Smith had a set of plates but they were fake.

The 8 witnesses didn't say the plates were made of gold, only that they had "the appearance of gold". These men were not metallurgists, they were mostly farmers, but they may have had or seen gold watches or rings or gold candlesticks; almost certainly they had all seen gold coins on occasion and other such items.

They also saw the writings on the plates. It was not in English, they couldn't read it; but they said it seemed ancient and "curious" (which I take to mean 'unusual'.)

Our witnesses were not scientists. If they had been, I'd expect to see a more technical description: more details, plate count, measurements, symbol counts and description, etc. Their published testimony didn't even tell us the size, not even approximately. Today this seems fundamental but in that time and place, it was a typical description of an artifact.

The phrase, "the appearance of gold", suggests to me that when they composed their written testimony, they discussed this, and realized they didn't know the metallic composition. Gold mining and sale, never too far from the minds of New World colonists, always involves careful assaying, ie. analysis.
It was estimated by witnesses that the plates weighed about 60 pounds which would be 960 ounces; the current price of gold is about 1300 dollars an ounce, so this would be $1.2 million in today's money, or a commensurate value in the 1820's.

It was impossible that Joseph Smith could obtain such a quantity of gold to make plates like that.

His family was struggling to pay the mortgage on a farm they homesteaded; in fact, they ultimately were foreclosed. If poor farmers ever get money like that, the first thing they do is pay off their mortgage, not spend it making props, which will be exhibited for a total of less than one hour, in order to support a scam, to try to get an uncertain, and probably meager, flow of money. And when that flow of money does not materialize, the gold won't still be kept hidden away, never to be seen again!

Could the plates have been made of lead or something and just plated with gold? Gilding has been known for centuries.

Gold is one of the heaviest materials, almost twice the density of lead. A forger trying to fool witnesses with anything much lighter, would be taking a risk.

Gilding takes some considerable skill and science to do well. There generally has to be one, probably two layers of other metal between the base and the gold. Remember that this was a book of some hundred pages more or less, and there was engraved writing on every surface. Every unsealed page could be examined by the witnesses, and they didn't notice any areas of flaking or incomplete guilding, where the underlying metal showed thru. To gild such an assembly would be very laborious and difficult. It would involve acids, chemicals in quantity - including considerable gold; vats; and secrecy would be very difficult. Yet no one ever came forward saying they remembered how Joseph Smith purchased vats, or chemicals, or spent a lot of time in his secret shop; nor did any metalsmiths ever report doing this operation for him.

There is a sealed section of the plates which will be translated at a future date.

On the other hand, ancient people wrote on metal plates, including gold; inscribed them with sacred texts; and did indeed cache them in the ground when threatened with imminent annihilation.

The problems in finding a rational explanation for Joseph having plates yet not having any, require more faith, and more miracles... it's far easier to believe that he simply did have a set of plates manufactured by ancient people, who wrote on them and buried them.

Next: Were Joseph Smith's Witnesses Complicit?

1. Woody Brison is an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but this website is not affiliated with the church. It may be thought of as an additional, somewhat independent witness.

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3. All biblical quotations are from the King James unless otherwise noted.

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