John H. Gilbert

John H. GilbertRecollections of John H. Gilbert  [by himself]
Typescript, HBLL

Source:  Recollections of John H. Gilbert [Regarding printing
Book of Mormon], 8 September 1892, Palmyra, New York, typescript, BYU.


        I am a practical printer by trade.  I have been a resident of Palmyra, New York, since about the year 1824, and during all that time have done some typesetting each year.  I was aged ninety years on the 13th day of April 1892, and on that day I went to the office of the Palmyra Courier and set a stickful of type.

My recollection of past events, and especially of the matters connected with the printing of the “Mormon Bible” [Book of Mormon], is very accurate and faithful, and I have made the following memorandum at request, to accompany the photographs of “Mormon Hill,” which have been made for the purpose of exhibits at the World’s Fair in 1893.

In the forepart of June, 1829, Mr. E. [Egbert] 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.”  It was the second application of Harris to Grandin to do the job–Harris assuring Grandin that the book would be printed in Rochester if he declined the job again.

Harris proposed to have Grandin do the job, if he would, as it would be quite expensive to keep a man in Rochester during the printing of the book, who would have to visit Palmyra two or three times a week for manuscript, etc.  Mr. Grandin consented to do the job if his terms were accepted.

A few pages of the manuscript were submitted as a specimen of the whole, and it was said there would be about 500 pages.

The size of the page was agreed upon, and an estimate of the number of ems in a page, which would be 1,000, and that a page of manuscript would make more than a page of printed matter, which proved to be correct.

The contract was to print, and bind with leather, 5,000 copies for $3,000.  Mr. Grandin got a new font of small pica, on which the body of the work was printed.

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– he had it under his vest, and vest and coat closely buttoned over it.  At night [Hyrum] Smith came and got the manuscript, and with the same precaution carried it away.  The next morning with the same watchfulness, he brought it again, and at night took it away.  This was kept up for several days.  The title page was first set up, and after proof was read and corrected, several copies were printed for Harris and his friends.  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?  [Martin] Harris consulted with [Hyrum] Smith a short time, and turned to me and said, “The Old Testament is ungrammatical, set it as it is written.”

After working a few days, I said to [Hyrum] Smith on his handing me the manuscript in the morning, “Mr. [Hyrum] 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 daytime, 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 [Hyrum] 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, which is referred to in the Mormon Report, an extract from which will be found below.

Martin Harris, Hyrum Smith and Oliver Cowdery, were very frequent visitors to the office during the printing of the Mormon Bible [Book of Mormon].  The manuscript was supposed to be in the handwriting of [Oliver] Cowdery.  Every chapter, if I remember correctly, was one solid paragraph, without a punctuation mark, from beginning to end.

Names of persons and places were generally capitalized, but sentences had no end.  The character or short “&” was used almost invariably where the word “and” occurred, except at the end of a chapter.  I punctuated it to make it read as I supposed the author intended, and but very little punctuation was altered in proofreading.  The Bible [Book of Mormon] was printed sixteen pages at a time, so that one sheet of paper made two copies of sixteen pages each, requiring 2,000 sheets of paper for each form of sixteen pages.  There were thirty-seven forms of sixteen pages each–570 pages in all.

The work was commenced in August 1829, and finished in March 1830–seven months.  Mr. J. H. Bortles and myself did the presswork until December taking nearly three days to each form.

In December Mr. Grandin hired a journeyman pressman, Thomas McAuley, or “Whistling Tom,” as he was called in the office, and he and Bortles did the balance of the presswork.  The Bible [Book of Mormon] was printed on a “Smith” Press, single pull, and old-fashioned “Balls” or “Niggerheads” were used–composition rollers not having come into use in small printing offices.

The printing was done in the third story of the west end of “Exchange Row,” and the binding by Mr. Howard, in the second story; the lower story being used as a bookstore, by Mr. Grandin, and now–1892–by Mr. M. Story as a dry goods store.

[Oliver] 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.

Joseph Smith, Jr., had nothing to do whatever with the printing or furnishing copy for the printers, being but once in the office during the printing of the Bible [Book of Mormon], and then not over fifteen or twenty minutes.

Hyrum Smith was a common laborer, and worked for anyone as he was called on.

[Oliver] Cowdery taught school winters–so it was said–but what he did summers, I do not know.

Martin Harris was a farmer, owning a good farm, of about 150 acres, about a mile north of Palmyra Village, and had money at interest.  Martin–as everybody called him–was considered by his neighbors a very honest man; but on the subject of Mormonism, he was said to be crazy.  Martin was the main spoke in the wheel of Mormonism in its start in Palmyra, and I may say, the only spoke.  In the fall of 1827, he told us what wonderful discoveries Jo [Joseph] Smith had made, and of his finding plates in a hill in the town of Manchester (three miles south of Palmyra), –also found with the plates a large pair of “spectacles,” by putting which on his nose and looking at the plates, the spectacles turned the hieroglyphics into good English.  The question might be asked here whether Jo [Joseph] or the spectacles was the translator?

Sometime in 1828, Martin Harris, who had been furnished by someone with what he said was a facsimile of the hieroglyphics of one of the plates started for New York.  On his way he stopped at Albany and called on Lieutenant Governor Bradish–with what success I do not know.  He proceeded to New York, and called on Professor C. Anthon, made known his business and presented his hieroglyphics.

This is what the professor said in regard to them–1834–

“The paper in question was, in fact, a singular scroll.

It consisted of all kinds of singular characters, disposed in columns, and had evidently been prepared by some person who had before him, at the time, a book containing various alphabets; Greek and Hebrew letters, crosses and flourishes, Roman letters inverted or placed sidewise, arranged and placed in perpendicular columns, and the whole ended in a rude delineation of a circle, divided into various compartments, arched with various strange marks, and evidently copied after the Mexican Calendar, given by Humboldt, but copied in such a way as not to betray the source whence it was derived.  I am thus particular as to the contents of the paper, inasmuch as I have frequently conversed with my friends on the subject since the Mormon excitement began, and well remember that the paper contained anything else but “Egyptian Hieroglyphics.”

Martin [Harris] returned from this trip east satisfied that “Joseph” was a “little smarter than Professor Anthon.”

Martin was something of a prophet–he frequently said that “Jackson would be the last president that we would have; and that all persons who did not embrace Mormonism in two years’ time would be stricken off the face of the earth.”  He said that Palmyra was to be the New Jerusalem, and that her streets were to be paved with gold.

Martin was in the office when I finished setting up the testimony of the Three Witnesses– ([Martin] Harris–[Oliver] Cowdery and [David] Whitmer).  I said to him, “Martin, did you see those plates with your naked eyes?”  Martin looked down for an instant, raised his eyes up, and said, “No, I saw them with a spiritual eye.”