The Miraculous Printing of the 1840 Edition of the Book of Mormon

By Ebenezer Robinson

1840 Book of Mormon Title Page

The Book of Mormon was "Carefully Revised by the Translator."

On the title page of the 1840 Edition of the Book of Mormon (pictured above) is an important statement which reads, "Carefully Revised by the Translator." Joseph Smith the Prophet had translated the Book of Mormon from the golden plates and Oliver Cowdery and other scribes wrote his words, which constituted the original manuscript. An additional copy of the manuscript was made and one copy was sent to the printer. As in all manuscripts, human errors were made, so Joseph corrected later editions. Joseph had the authority to revise the Book of Mormon by virtue of being the original translator and the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator. The corrections he made are reflected in the present 1908 Edition. That edition was also approved by the Prophet Joseph Smith III and the General Conference (see General Conference Resolutions No. 602). These facts make it the most correct and official edition of the Church.

The first edition (three thousand copies) of the Book of Mormon was printed by E. B. Grandin in Palmyra, New York, in 1830. The second edition was printed in Kirtland, Ohio, in the Church printing office in the winter of 1836–37, on which I assisted in setting the type. This edition consisted also, I believe, of three thousand copies.

In 1837–38 a large majority of the Church members moved from Kirtland to Caldwell and Daviess Counties, Missouri. In the fall of 1838 the great persecution arose against the Church, which resulted in Lilburn W. Boggs, governor of Missouri, issuing his famous exterminating order to General Clarke, commander of the militia of the state, to "expel the Mormons from the state, or exterminate them if necessary." Quite a number of the members of the Church were killed (eighteen were massacred at one place—Haun's Mill), some sixty cast into prison, the writer being one of the number, and all were required to sign a deed of trust conveying their property, both personal and real, to the state to, as they said, "defray the expenses of the war," and the entire Church was driven from the state in the winter of 1838–39.

The writer (having been liberated from prison by order of the court) walked from Far West, Caldwell County, Missouri, through the snow in the latter part of January 1839 to Quincy, Illinois, where he arrived early in February with barely one dollar in his pocket, and his family (wife) yet to be provided for her removal.

The citizens of Quincy, and people of Illinois generally, were kind and hospitable to the exiled members of the Church, and I soon obtained a situation as journeyman printer in the office of the Quincy Whig, published by Messrs. Bartlet and Sullivan, for whom I will always retain a warm regard. As soon as possible, arrangements were made and my wife came, and we remained at Quincy until the month of May 1839, when we moved to Commerce, Hancock County, Illinois, afterwards called Nauvoo, to which place the Church rapidly gathered.

At a council of the First Presidency and authorities of the Church early in June, it was decided to let Don Carlos Smith and the writer (as we were practical printers) have the press and remnants of printing material, which had been saved from the mob in Missouri, by having been buried in the ground and a haystack placed over it; and that we should publish a paper for the Church, or a Church paper, at our own expense and responsibility, and receive all the profits arising therefrom. The council named said paper Times and Seasons. Accordingly we undertook the task, and after purchasing fifty dollars' worth of type on credit from Dr. Isaac Galland, and cleaning the Missouri soil from the press and type that had been saved, and hiring from one of the brethren fifty dollars in money, which we spent for paper, we issued the prospectus for the Times and Seasons and sent it to the brethren residing in the different states.

The only room we could get for the printing office was a basement room in a warehouse on the bank of the Mississippi River, with a ground floor which was kept damp by the water constantly trickling from the bankside. Here we set the type for the first number of the paper, which we got ready for the press in July, and had struck off only some two hundred copies when both Carlos and myself were stricken down with the chills and fever. And what added to our affliction, both our families were taken down with the same disease. My wife was taken down the very next day after I was, which sickness lasted us ten months. This was a year of suffering for the citizens of Nauvoo, as it was estimated that there was not one well person to ten who were sick. Five grown persons died out of one family in the short space of one week.

Before we had taken sick we had wet down paper sufficient for two thousand copies of the Times and Seasons, which paper mildewed and spoiled. Afterwards another batch of paper was wet down by Francis Higbee, who thought he could work the papers off, but he failed and that paper was lost.

Subscriptions for the paper soon commenced coming in, in answer to the prospectus, and the two hundred copies sent out, which enabled us to provide for our families; and also to have a small, cheap, frame building put up, 16 by 22, one-and-a-half stories high—the lower room for the printing office, and our friends moved myself and wife into the upper room, or chamber, in the latter part of August. We were moved upon our bed, and a portion of the time in those days neither of us was able to speak a loud word. We had been living in an old log house, situated in the woods above the upper stone house on the riverbank, more than a mile from the printing office. This was a happy change for us.

In the month of November 1839, we secured the services of a young printer from Ohio, Lyman Gaylord, and resumed the publication of the paper. In the winter of 1839–40, Brother Carlos and myself had each of us a log house built on a lot donated to us by the Church, situated on a block next to the one on which the printing office was located —and moved into the same in early spring.

The two editions of the Book of Mormon, spoken of above, had all been sold, so there were none to supply the demand which was being made for them. The question arose, How can means be devised to have an edition printed, as the Church was in the depths of poverty and many of its members just recovering from a severe and protracted sickness brought on in a great measure, as is believed, in consequence of the terrible exposure to which they had been subject in being driven from their homes in Missouri in the depths of winter? Therefore, the idea of having the Book of Mormon printed was given up as hopeless.

My health had so far recovered that I was able to walk back and forth from my house to the printing office; when, in the month of May 1840 as I was walking from my house to the printing office, I received a manifestation from the Lord—such an one as I never received before or since. It seemed that a ball of fire came down from above, and striking the top of my head, passed down through into my heart and told me in plain, distinct language what course to pursue, and I could succeed in getting the Book of Mormon stereotyped and printed. I went into the printing office, and in a few moments Brother Joseph Smith (he who translated the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God, as I verily know) stepped into the office; when I said to him, "Brother Joseph, if you will furnish $200 and give us the privilege of printing two thousand copies of the Book of Mormon, Carlos and I will get $200 more and we will get it stereotyped and give you the plates." He dropped his face into his hand for a minute or so, when he said, "I will do it." He asked how soon we would want the money. I replied, "In two weeks."

Brother Carlos and I made an effort immediately to obtain our $200. We found a brother in the Church who would let us have $120 until the next April [1841] at thirty-five percent interest, the interest to be incorporated in the note and all to draw six percent interest if not paid when due. We consented to the terms and got the money. A few days after, the same brother brought us $25 more, on the same terms, making $145. I took the money and put it away. In a few days Brother Joseph Smith came to the printing office and said, "Brother Robinson, if you and Carlos get the Book of Mormon stereotyped, you will have to furnish the money, as I cannot get the $200." I replied, that if "he would give us the privilege of printing four thousand copies we would do it." He said he "would do that." We then made a strenuous effort to raise more money, but signally failed and did not succeed in raising another dollar for that purpose.

We were considerably in debt to different persons, and our creditors were repeatedly pressing us for money, so that after a little time we began to draw a few dollars from the $145. We knew that it would not do to be paying thirty-five percent interest for money to pay ordinary debts with, so Carlos said to me one day in June, "Brother Robinson, you take that money and go to Cincinnati and buy some type and paper, which we must have." I said, "Yes, I will go, but I will not come home until the Book of Mormon is stereotyped"—for it was as fire shut up in my bones, both day and night, that if I could only get to Cincinnati the work could be accomplished. He replied that "that was out of the question, as it could not be done with our limited means." Brother Hyrum Smith also said it could not be done, but Brother Joseph Smith did not say it could not be done when I told him. But he said, "God bless you."

Brother Joseph and I immediately went to work and compared a copy of the Kirtland Edition with the first edition by reading them entirely through, and I took one of the Kirtland Edition as a copy for the stereotype edition.

Ebenezer Robinson

Ebenezer Robinson, whose sacrificial efforts helped the 1840 Edition of the Book of Mormon to be printed.

On the 18th of June 1840, I took passage on board the steam packet, Brazil, which made regular trips from Cincinnati, Ohio, to Galena, Illinois, stopping at Nauvoo as she passed each way. At St. Louis, while the steamer was waiting for passengers and freight, I foolishly stepped into a mock auction store, when the auctioneer had up a fancy box filled with valuable articles, among which was a gold watch, or what the auctioneer claimed to be one. A young man present said he wanted an interest in the contents of the box, and if I would bid it off he would take half of it. I bid it up to $23, when of course I secured the prize—but just then I did not find my partner ready to take half. This took $23 from my already limited purse. I left that auction room, if not a better, I trust, a wiser man. Since writing the above sentence, the thought has occurred to me that perhaps it was a good thing that it occurred, as it had a tendency to try my faith just that much more, and the sequel proved to me that the Lord is abundantly able and willing to provide means for the accomplishment of His purposes when we follow His directions.

After arriving at Cincinnati I purchased a quantity of paper and put [it] on board the Brazil to take to Nauvoo on her return trip. After paying for the paper and paying my passage, I had $ 105.06 1/4 left. Now came the trial of my faith. I had not yet taken my trunk from the steamer. The adversary of all righteousness said to me, "Get more paper and some type and go home; it is folly to think of getting the Book of Mormon stereotyped, for you cannot do it." I replied that "I came for that purpose and did not propose to return until it was done." But I assure you he made the big drops of sweat roll from my face, but I did not give up to him for one instant or swerve from my purpose, although I was there a stranger in a strange city, not knowing a single person there except those who came with me on the steamer.

I took the Book of Mormon in my pocket and made enquiry for a stereotype foundry. I was informed there was one on Pearl Street. I found the place, and as I stepped into the office a feeling of horror came over me and it seemed as though I was in prison. A gentlemanly appearing man was there, and I asked him what they charged for stereotyping a book—giving him the size as near as I could without naming or showing him the book. He told me what they charged for one thousand ems, a term which I understood. I then asked him if there was not another stereotype foundry in the city. He said, "Yes, one in Bank Alley off Third Street, owned by Gleason and Shepherd."

I felt in an instant that that was the place for me to apply to, and bidding the gentleman "Good day," left breathing freer when I stepped into the street. I soon found the other foundry, and as I entered the office I saw three gentlemen standing by the desk, in conversation. I asked if Messrs. Gleason and Shepherd were in. A gentleman stepped forward and said, "My name is Gleason." I said, "I have come to get the Book of Mormon stereotyped." Mr. Shepherd stepped forward and said, "When that book is stereotyped I am the man to stereotype it." I then handed him the book and told him what size type I wanted it done in. He took the book and went to a case of type the size I had named and set up one line and counted the ems in the line, then counted the number of lines in the page and multiplied the two numbers together, and then counted the number of pages in the book and multiplied the number of pages by the number of ems in a page, when he said the stereotyping would amount to five hundred and fifty dollars.

I told him that I had one hundred dollars to pay in hand and would pay two hundred and fifty dollars more in three months, or while he was doing the work, and the remaining two hundred dollars within three months after the work was done. He said he would do that and sat down and immediately wrote out a contract accordingly, which we both signed—which contract I have to this day. I then told him I wished to see a bookbinder and contract for the binding of two thousand copies of the book. He said, "I will go with you to a good bookbinder around on Main Street," and taking me by the arm we went directly to the bookbinder, who said he would bind two thousand copies in good leather for two hundred and fifty dollars, which was twelve-and-a-half cents apiece. I told him I would give him eighty dollars while he would be doing the work, and the remainder within six weeks after the work was done. He agreed to that and wrote out a contract to that effect, which we both signed.

I told Mr. Shepherd I wanted to engage paper enough for the two thousand books, when we went from the bindery to the paper warehouse where I had just purchased the paper I sent to Nauvoo. But the paper dealer, the proprietor, was not in, so we left word for him to come to Mr. Shepherd's foundry the next morning, which he did, when I engaged the paper from him amounting to nearly two hundred and fifty dollars to be paid for in payments similar to the stereotyping and binding—but we did not write the contract. After we had concluded our bargain the paper dealer said, "Mr. Robinson, you are a stranger here and it is customary to have city references in such cases when we deal with strangers." Mr. Shepherd stepped forward and said, "I am Mr. Robinson's backer, sir." "All right," said the paper dealer, "you can have the paper, Mr. Robinson." This was the only case where any reference or backing was required.

Mr. Shepherd purchased a font of new type the day we made the contract and put three compositors (typesetters) immediately at work on the book, and I was to remain and assist in reading the proof so as to be sure it was done according to copy. I was to have twenty-five cents an hour for what time I would be engaged at that, or any other service for Mr. Shepherd—to be applied on the contract.

I engaged board with Mr. S. W. A. Oliver, who was in Mr. Shepherd's employ as moulder and finisher of his stereotype plates, and paid him the five dollars I had left after paying Mr. Shepherd the one hundred on his contract, leaving me only 6 1/4 cents (an old-fashioned Spanish sixpence) on hand. The five dollars was soon boarded out and there I was, a stranger in a strange city, with contracts on hand amounting to over one thousand dollars on which only one hundred had been paid, and board bill due and nothing to pay with. I confess that for a time, viewed from a worldly standpoint, it looked quite gloomy. But I never for a moment lost faith in the final success or literal fulfillment of the previous promise of the Lord made to me in Nauvoo. In the meantime I had written to Brother Don Carlos Smith telling him what I had done, and also to several brethren in the eastern states requesting them to get subscribers for the book, offering to send them one hundred and twenty books for every one hundred dollars sent us in advance, in time to meet our engagements. It was several weeks before I received a response.

The first money I received, Brother Don Carlos Smith sent me— a twenty-dollar bill on the state bank of Indiana, a specie-paying bank, the bills of which were at a premium of 13 percent, so that I realized $22.60 for the $20. This relieved me of present financial embarrassment. Not long after this my brother, Joseph L. Robinson, who resided in Boonville, Oneida County, New York, whom I had baptized into the Church when on a mission to that state in the summer and fall of 1836, sent me a draft on the Leather Manufacturer's Bank of New York City for $96. This was also at a premium of 13 percent. Brother John A. Forgeus, of Chester County, Pennsylvania, who now resides at Little Sioux, Harrison County, Iowa, then a perfect stranger to me whom I had never seen, sent me a draft on a Philadelphia bank for two hundred dollars, as a loan, which I afterwards paid him in Nauvoo.

Several other brethren sent me money in advance for books, so that I paid Mr. Shepherd all his money before it became due, and gave the bookbinder eighty dollars on his contract before he had done any work on it. And when I was ready for the paper to print them on, the paper dealer with whom I had contracted for the paper on time did not have it on hand of the size and quality I wanted, when I went to another paper dealer who had the article I wanted and paid him all cash in hand for the paper, and had the books printed on a power press, for which I paid the cash in hand as the work was done.

I had the printing progressing before the stereotyping was finished, so that by the time the last twenty-four pages of stereotype plates were finished, the printer had the book all printed except the last form of twenty-four pages, and the printed sheets were in the hands of the bookbinder being folded, so that soon after this last form was printed the bookbinder had several hundred copies bound, ready for me to deliver to those who had advanced their money for the books. This was strictly in accordance with the instruction I received in the first manifestation made to me in Nauvoo.

Thus the work was accomplished, and all paid for before the time specified in the contracts, and I had nearly one thousand copies of the book left. The work was finished in October [1840].

I then purchased from Mr. Shepherd and other parties several fonts of type and material for a stereotype foundry and bookbindery, and a winter's supply of news and book paper, and took [them] to Nauvoo—a considerable portion of which I paid for down, and got credited for the balance. Mr. Shepherd endorsed one note for me of four hundred dollars, payable in four months, which money I sent him before it became due.

In June 1844 [1841], I went to Cincinnati and settled all up with Mr. Shepherd and paid him what was due him (his bills altogether amounting to about $1,000), when he arose and said, "Mr. Robinson, do you want to know what made me do as I did when you came here last summer? It was no business way—it was not what I saw in you, but it was what I felt here," putting his hand upon his heart.

This voluntary statement of Mr. Shepherd's afforded me great pleasure, as it was a practical illustration of the ease with which the Lord can move upon the hearts of the children of men to assist in the accomplishment of His work and purposes; and to our Heavenly Father be all the praise and glory, now and ever, Amen.

From the foregoing experience, together with many other evidences which I have received of the truth of the divine origin of the Book of Mormon, I bear record that it is true, and that the promises and prophecies contained therein are being, and will be, fulfilled to the letter. May the Lord help us to walk according to its holy precepts, that we may be able to stand in the day of His visitation and power, which is coming as a whirlwind upon the nations, and that we may be worthy to enter into His rest, is the desire of your brother. (The Saints' Herald 33 [December 1886]: 778–781)