Introduction to Facsimile Printing Plates and Published Book of Abraham, circa 23 February–circa 16 May 1842

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Facsimile Printing Plates and Published Book of Abraham, circa 23 February–circa 16 May 1842
JS officially assumed the editorship of the church-owned newspaper Times and Seasons starting with the 1 March 1842 issue, about the same time that he resumed his translation of the Book of Abraham. The Book of Abraham text was published in two issues of the Times and Seasons (dated 1 March 1842 and 15 March 1842); those two issues and the 16 May 1842 issue also contained facsimiles of the vignettes, or illustrations, found on the papyri. In preparation for that publication, member carved three woodcuts that were then used to make metal printing plates. These plates were in turn used to print illustrations, which were often called fac similes, fac-similes, or facsimiles in printing manuals of the day. The editors of the Times and Seasons had never produced similar illustrations before the publication of Facsimile 1. The illustrations appear to have been deemed necessary to properly represent the Book of Abraham text—the narrative refers readers to “the representation at the commencement of this record,” meaning Facsimile 1. Even before the publication of the Book of Abraham, several people who saw the papyri recalled that JS and his colleagues mentioned the illustrations on the papyri, which suggests that they felt the imagery was integral to understanding the text of the Book of Abraham.
The illustrations on the metal plates originated as woodcut carvings. On 23 February 1842, JS gave “instructions concerning the cut for the altar & gods in the Records of Abraham. as designed for the Times and Seasons.” After Hedlock completed the woodcut for Facsimile 1, an impression was likely taken of the woodcut to create a mold, and then the type metal was poured into the mold to create a plate that could be inked and used for printing. The use of the first-person plural pronoun in an entry from ’s journal implies that the creation of the plate was a joint effort: “We prepared A plate for making a cut at the commencment of the Book of Abraham.” On 1 March, JS spent some time in the “printing office correcting the first plate or cut. of the Records of father Abraham. prepared by Reuben Hadlock [Hedlock] for the Times & Season.” It is unclear what kinds of corrections JS made or how they were to be made.
By 2 March, ’s work on the first woodcut was finished. Two days later, JS exhibited “the Book of Abraham. in the original. To Bro Reuben Hadlock [Hedlock]. so that he might take the size of the several plates or cuts. & prepare the blocks for the Times & Seasons. & also gave instruction concerning the arrangement of the writing on the Large cut.” This “Large cut” most likely refers to the woodcut used to make the printing plate for Facsimile 2, which is considerably larger than the first and third facsimiles. It seems that the original hypocephalus, on which the plate for Facsimile 2 was based, was damaged and missing several pieces. The manuscript copy shows significant gaps in the hypocephalus, which are filled in on the woodcut. When Hedlock created the woodcut, he inserted groupings of characters from the papyri where the original hypocephalus had lacunae. It is possible that Hedlock’s visit to JS on 4 March was to determine which portions of the papyri to use in this effort. Neither JS nor appear to have commented on the first and third woodcuts.
Whereas the original papyrus fragment containing the vignette represented by Facsimile 1 is still extant, and a nineteenth-century manuscript copy of the hypocephalus survives, there is neither an original papyrus fragment nor a nineteenth-century manuscript copy extant for Facsimile 3. Neither are any of the woodcuts or molds extant. The printing plate for Facsimile 3 is therefore the earliest extant version of that illustration.
Unlike Facsimile 1, Facsimiles 2 and 3 are both signed by . Facsimile 2 has Hedlock’s name engraved into the design along the outer circle, while Facsimile 3 has his name inserted along the bottom in metal type. Facsimile 1 appeared in the 1 March 1842 issue of the Times and Seasons, Facsimile 2 appeared in the 15 March 1842 issue, and Facsimile 3 appeared in the 16 May 1842 issue.


  1. 1

    See, for instance, Hansard, Typographia, 913; and Mackeller, American Printer, 262, 317.  

    Hansard, T. C. Typographia: An Historical Sketch of the Origin and Progress of the Art of Printing; with Practical Directions for Conducting Every Department in an Office: With a Description of Stereotype and Lithography. London: Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy, 1825.

    MacKellar, Thomas. The American Printer: A Manual of Typography, Containing Complete Instructions for Beginners, as Well as Practical Directions for Managing All Departments of a Printing Office. Philadelphia: L. Johnson, 1866.

  2. 2

    Though no surviving records document the cost of producing such plates, the Times and Seasons reprinted an article from a Boston newspaper that also made plates of the first facsimile that stated that the effort came at no small cost. The Mormon press did not publish illustrations frequently. The 30 July 1842 issue of the Nauvoo Wasp contained two caricatures of John C. Bennett. About a year after the final facsimile of the Book of Abraham was printed, John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff produced in a broadside the only other significant JS-era commissioned illustration: depictions of the Kinderhook plates discovered and brought to JS in early 1843. William Daniels’s pamphlet A Correct Account of the Murder of Generals Joseph and Hyrum Smith, which was printed at the Times and Seasons office, contains several crude woodcut illustrations. (“The Mormons—Joe Smith, the Prophet,” Times and Seasons, 16 May 1842, 3:797; “Do You Hear That?,” and “A Leaf out of a New Catechism,” Wasp, 30 July 1842, [2]; A Brief Account of the Discovery of the Brass Plates Recently Taken from a Mound in the Vicinity of Kinderhook, Pike County, Illinois [Nauvoo, IL: Tailor and Woodruff, 1843], copy at CHL; Daniels, Correct Account of the Murder, 7 and illustrations between 14 and 15.)  

    The Wasp. Nauvoo, IL. Apr. 1842–Apr. 1843.

    A Brief Account of the Discovery of the Brass Plates Recently Taken from a Mound in the Vicinity of Kinderhook, Pike County, Illinois. Nauvoo, IL: Tailor and Woodruff, 1843. Copy at CHL.

    Daniels, William M. A Correct Account of the Murder of Generals Joseph and Hyrum Smith, at Carthage on the 27th Day of June, 1844. Nauvoo, IL: John Taylor, 1845.

  3. 3

    Book of Abraham and Facsimiles, 1 Mar.–16 May 1842 [Abraham 1:12].  

  4. 4

    For instance, Sarah Sturdevant Leavitt recalled that in about 1835, “We went into the upper rooms, saw the Egyptian mummies, the writing that was said to be written in Abraham’s day, Jacob’s ladder being pictured on it, and lots more wonders that I cannot write here, and that were explained to us.” Oliver Cowdery described a “serpent, represented as walking, or formed in a manner to be able to walk, standing in front of, and near a female figure.” This walking serpent was commented on by Lucy Mack Smith as late as 1843. An extant portion of papyrus contains a serpent walking upright next to a figure. (Pulsipher, History of Sarah Studevant Leavitt, 7; Oliver Cowdery, Kirtland, OH, to William Frye, Lebanon, IL, 22 Dec. 1835, in Cowdery, Letterbook, 72–73; Charlotte Haven, Nauvoo, IL, to “My dear Mother,” 19 Feb. 1843, in Haven, “Girl’s Letters from Nauvoo,” 623–624; Frost, Travel Journal, 11 July 1843; Fragment of Book of the Dead for Semminis–B, ca. 300–100 bc.)  

    Pulsipher, Juanita Leavitt. History of Sarah Studevant Leavitt. By the author, 1919.

    Cowdery, Oliver. Letterbook, 1833–1838. Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino, CA.

    Haven, Charlotte. “A Girl’s Letters from Nauvoo.” Overland Monthly 16, no. 96 (Dec. 1890): 616–638.

    Frost, Barzillai. Travel Journal, 1843. BYU.

  5. 5

    Small notches appear in the negative space of the plates, evidence of woodcarving process marks.  

  6. 6

    JS, Journal, 23 Feb. 1842.  

  7. 7

    Woodruff, Journal, 21–26 Feb. 1842.  

    Woodruff, Wilford. Journals, 1833–1898. Wilford Woodruff, Journals and Papers, 1828–1898. CHL. MS 1352.

  8. 8

    JS, Journal, 1 Mar. 1842.  

  9. 9

    As it exists today, the vignette represented in Facsimile 1 is damaged, with significant lacunae. Though the condition of the vignette in 1842 is unclear, JS may have been instructing Hedlock how to fill in or “correct” gaps in the papyrus fragment. (See Fragment of Book of Breathing for Horos–A, between 238 and ca. 153 bc.)  

  10. 10

    JS read the proof of the 1 March issue of the Times and Seasons, which would have included the printed illustration, on 2 March. (JS, Journal, 2 Mar. 1842.)  

  11. 11

    JS, Journal, 4 Mar. 1842.  

  12. 12

    See Copy of Hypocephalus, between ca. July 1835 and ca. Mar. 1842.  

  13. 13

    Ritner, Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri, 215–217; Rhodes, Joseph Smith Hypocephalus, 2.  

    Ritner, Robert K. The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri: A Complete Edition, P. JS 1–4 and the Hypocephalus of Sheshonq. Salt Lake City: Smith-Pettit Foundation, 2011.

    Rhodes, Michael D. The Joseph Smith Hypocephalus . . . Seventeen Years Later. FARMS Preliminary Reports. Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1994.