A part of the book was sealed, and was not to be opened yet. The sealed part, said he, contains the same revelation which was given to John upon the isle of Patmos, and when the people of the Lord are prepared, and found worthy, then it will be unfolded unto them.
Oliver Cowdery (1806-1850) Selected writings in Messenger and Advocate Source: Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, 3 vols. (published 1834-1837).
“The plates often lay on the table without any attempt at concealment, wrapped in a small linen tablecloth, which I had given him [Joseph Smith, Jr.] to fold them in. I once felt of the plates, as they thus lay on the table, tracing their outline and shape. They seemed to be pliable like thick paper, and would rustle with a metallic sound when the edges were moved by the thumb, as one does sometimes thumb the edges of a book. … I did not attempt to handle the plates, other than I have told you, nor uncover them to look at them. I was satisfied that it was the work of God, and therefore did not feel it to be necessary to do so. … I moved them from place to place on the table, as it was necessary in doing my work.”
(The Saints’ Herald, 1 Oct. 1879, p. 290; spelling modernized.)
Golden Plates made of Tumbaga?
The first consideration in the study of Book of Mormon archaeology is not translation, text, or family history; it is the plates themselves. Long before the translation began, before the engraved characters were studied, and before the Nephite story began to unfold, Joseph Smith’s mind was busy with questions that have occupied the minds of generations since his time. But as soon as he had hefted, handled, smelled, and turned the pages, his questions began to be replaced with knowledge.
His experience has passed on to us the following information: (1) The plates had the “appearance of gold”; (2) they were about 6″ x 8″ x 6″ or 288 cubic inches in size; (3) the surfaces of the plates were engraved with figures of “curious workmanship”; and (4) they could be easily lifted and carried by one man.
The plates were not so heavy that a man could not carry them. Joseph Smith was a man of youth and vigor, yet Mormon was 74 years of age when he turned them over to his son. (See Morm. 6:6.) We are not led to believe that the weight of the plates was a great hindrance. The witnesses testified that they had “hefted” them, indicating that the weight seemed tolerable.
Gold is the most ductile of all metals. It can be hammered into a leaf .0003 of an inch in thickness, and a single ounce can be drawn into a thread 35 miles long. Silver and copper, the next two most ductile metals, range very close to gold both having properties almost beyond imagination.
Tumbaga is an alloy of gold and copper, the only two colored metals known to man. Gold melts at 1060°C. and copper at 1083°C. Yet an alloy of the two metals that has 15 to 40 percent copper melts at 200 degrees C. less than gold.
The early American smiths used the alloy of tumbaga extensively. It ranged in content from 97 percent gold to the same proportion of copper, with several trace metals as impurities and silver as an impurity or deliberate alloy up to 18 percent.
Tumbaga, the magic metal, can be cast, drawn, hammered, gilded, soldered, welded, plated, hardened, annealed, polished, engraved, embossed, and inlaid. Yet with all this versatility, tumbaga will destroy itself if it is improperly alloyed, improperly stored, or improperly finished.
We must conclude that ancient American smiths had sufficient knowledge and skill to make a set of plates using the alloy that the Spaniards called tumbaga. The plates of the Book of Mormon, we allege, were of this alloy and were probably of between 8- and 12-carat gold. They thus appear to have weighed between 53 and 86 pounds. We further allege that the plates were manufactured by hammering the metal to a thickness of .02 of an inch with a 23-carat gilded surface of .0006 of an inch, resulting in a hardness of 30 Brinells to the engravers tool, while the center of the plate maintained a Brinell of 80 or above.
The plates themselves would have presented a solid gold surface to the eye, yet they would have weighed as little as half as much as pure gold. Were the Golden Plates made of Tumbaga? by Read H. Putnam The Improvement Era (Sept 1966) Vol. 69, No. 9, Page 788
On one occasion he said that “the title page of the Book of Mormon is a literal translation, taken from the very last leaf, on the left hand side of the collection or book of plates, which contained the record which has been translated; the language of the whole running the same as all Hebrew writing in general; and that, said title page is not by any means a modern composition either of mine or of any other man’s who has lived or does live in this generation” (Times and Seasons, 15 Oct. 1842, 943; emphasis added). “By the Gift and Power of God” By Elder Neal A. Maxwell Ensign, Jan 1997, 36