6. THE DOCUMENTS EXAMINED
OATH OF A FREEMAN
The Oath of a Freeman, as far as monetary value is concerned, was supposed to be Mark Hofmann's greatest discovery. Mr. Hofmann, in fact, claimed that it was worth 1.5 million dollars! Although this figure may be inflated, experts agree that it would be worth a great deal of money if it could be proven authentic. What Hofmann claimed to have was the only extant copy of the first document printed in America. After the bombings, the New York Times published an article by Edwin McDowell. In this article we find the following:
"A gallery in New York that deals in rare books said yesterday that it was in possession of the first item ever printed on a press in Americathe one-page 'Oath of a Freeman,' which is said to have been printed in Cambridge, Mass., in 1638 or 1639.
"Until now, the earliest known American imprint has been the Bay Psalm Book, published in 1640 by the same printer, Stephen Daye.
'The principal owner of the 'Oath of a Freeman,' which was purchased for a few dollars in a New York book shop last spring, is Mark Hofmann,...
"The existence of the 'Oath of a Freeman' was noted in 1647 by John Winthrop, the Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, who recorded in his diary that it was the 'first thing' printed by Mr. Daye eight or nine years earlier. No other copy has ever emerged....
"The Library of Congress was asked by the Schiller Wapner Galleries,...which also owns part of the 'Oath of a Freeman,' to authenticate the document. In a statement mentioning that the discovery of the Oath 'would be one of the most important and exciting finds of the century,' the Library said its examination 'found nothing inconsistent with a mid-17th-century attribution, though additional tests remain to be conducted.'...
" 'I don't know anything about the bombings, but I do know that Mr. Hofmann's discovery has the ring of authenticity,' said Raymond Wapner,...
"The Schiller Wapner Galleries offered to sell the document to the Library of Congress and to the American Antiquarian Society, reportedly for $1.5 million. The Library of Congress announcement said only that it entered into discussions, 'which did not lead to an agreement on a formal offer'...
"The 'Oath of a Freeman,' according to the Library of Congress, was required of all new members of the Massachusetts Bay Company. They had to pledge their obedience to the company's government, 'making this the foundation of our country's understanding of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.' "
The following appeared in The ALPHA Newsletter, a publication of the American Printing History Association, in January 1986, pages 1-2:
"...the Freeman's Oath soon vanished as have so many other pieces of ephemeral printing. The only difference in this instance is that it was known to have been printed; it possessed great historical, symbolic, and monetary value; and it has been sought for over 250 years. Now, after three and a half centuries of oblivion, it appears to have been found.
"The broadside was bought for $25 at the Argosy bookshop in New York City, and is now the property of 31-year old Mark Hoffmann,...
"Hoffmann took the broadside to dealers Justin Schiller and Raymond Wapner in New York, and they compared it to a copy of The Whole Books of Psalmesthe first book printed in English America, of which there are now eleven copies extant of the original edition of 1,700 copies. Because the oath and the psalm book matched well, Schiller and Wapner agreed to represent Hoffman in the sale of the oath, and sent it to the conservation laboratory at the Library of Congress for testing. There the basic elements of the broadsideink, paper, and textall appeared correct....
"In April 1985 the LC entered into discussions with Schiller-Wapner Galleries, Inc., which, in the LC's words 'did not lead to an agreement on a formal offer.' The asking price was reportedly $1,500,000. The Library returned the broadside...in June. At the time of the discussions LC did not know the name of the owner. James Gilreath, American history specialist at the Library of Congress, has stated that 'questions of title, provenance, and price made us decide to return it.' "
When I first learned of the Oath of a Freeman I was very skeptical with regard to its authenticity. It reminded me too much of the story of the Salamander letter. The Salamander letter was supposed to have been obtained for only $25 and sold for $40,000 (1,600 times the original price). Hofmann claimed he obtained the Oath of a Freeman for only $25 and wanted to sell it for $1,500,000, which would be 60,000 times its original purchase price! I also felt that the Oath would be the very type of thing a forger would want to produce. The text fits easily on just one side of a single sheet of paper. In fact, the Hofmann document is only 4 by 6 inches in size. This comment appeared in The ALPHA Newsletter, page 2:
"There is little doubt that the document presents a prospective purchaser with problems. It is, after all, a 4" x 6" piece of unwatermarked paper, printed on one side with no date or place of printing; it has no provenance; and the owner has found himself in the midst of a scene of violence and intrigue that is unsettling to august institutions....the question of a possible fake in the case of the Freeman's Oath must also be addressed. Could it be done? On this question we would be interested in hearing comments from any reader with expert knowledge. Our own feeling is that it could be done, but it would not be easy. On the other hand the reward would be great."
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A photograph of the Oath of a Freeman. Hofmann said it was worth $1,500,000. (photo from Maine Antique Digest, December 1985, p. 26-A)
The same newsletter said that the search for the original Oath of a Freeman "has been in progress since the middle of the eighteenth century." It is interesting to note that even the Freemen Digest, edited by W. Cleon Skousen had an article on this document in the July 1984 issue. This paper is published in Salt Lake City and is widely distributed among the Mormon people.
In December 1985, the Maine Antique Digest printed some interesting information concerning Hofmann's major discovery:
"It appears that Hofmann, a scout with a nose for rare manuscripts, was in New York in March, 1985, and picked up a Sotheby's catalogue for a March 27th sale of American books and autographs...Reading the catalogue on the plane back to Utah, he noticed...a pamphlet, known as New Englands Jonas Cast Up at London, by Major John Child, printed in London in 1647....
"The catalogue noted that it also 'provides the earliest reprint of 'The Freeman's Oath,' the first issue from Stephen Daye's Cambridge press, of which no copy of the original printing survives.'
"Hofmann got to thinking that a postcardsize broadside he had bought at the Argosy bookshop in New York for $25 during an earlier trip East was indeed the only copy of the Freeman's Oath....
"The comparison of the oath with the psalm book showed that printer's ornaments found in the psalm book also appeared around the border of the Freeman's Oath, and the type and paper were the same. 'The chain line [i.e. border] on some of the [Psalm Book] pages matched beautifully to the chain line on the oath,' Wapner said....
"According to Wapner, although they have had firm offers from both institutions and private individuals below the acceptable price, 'it will have to undergo further tests, but we would like the possible purchaser to underwrite the tests.'...
"Others dismissed it as a modern forgery. 'I just didn't believe it when I saw it last spring,' said Westchester, New York businessman Michael Zinman, who...purchased the New Englands Jonas at Sotheby's...
" 'Hofmann has come up with too many remarkable documents in disparate areas,' said Zinman,...
" 'Even if you want to believe, how can you? You just don't find three Holy Grails in one year,' contends Zinman,...
"Charles Hamilton, the outspoken New York autograph dealer, vouched for Hofmann's abilities....
"But Hamilton went on to say he was skeptical about the Freeman's Oath, and he detailed how he would go about printing one so it would pass muster under critical eyes. 'First, I'd get a text, possibly from a similar document issued elsewhere. I'd get this from some book on early Massachusetts or about Stephen Daye.
" 'Next, I'd get some paper. This, I'd steal from a library after getting permission to use the rare book room. Preferably the paper should be the fly-leaf or any blank leaf from a book printed by Daye.
" 'Then, I'd get a copy of a facsimile edition of the Bay Psalm Bookvery easy to get, as they are worth only $5 or $10 each. I would cut the letters out, paste them together in order to make the text, and then I would add an ornamental border. This is not hard to do, and the very slight irregularity of the pasted-together letters would perfectly simulate the early type composition.
" 'I would photograph this, in reverse, then I'd have a slightly embossed text of the reverse made up. I would print the Freeman's Oath on the Stephen Daye paper, so that the raised letters would slightly impinge on the verso and give the impression that the actual type was used on an early press.
" 'This entire job could be done in less than a week. I'd print several so that I could later produce a 'damaged' one that I could sell at a lower price." (Maine Antique Digest, December 1985, page 26-A)
As I have already stated, when I first leaned of Hofmann's Oath of a Freeman, I felt that it must be a forgery. Like Charles Hamilton, I concluded that a wise forger would probably make a number of copies. If the paper was available, it would probably only take a few minutes more to make extra copies. On December 21, 1985, the Salt Lake Tribune printed the startling news that Hofmann did claim he had found two copies of the Oath:
"Shannon Patrick Flynn...said Friday that Mr. Hofmann claimed he found two copies of the oath, and that he was using the second copy of the oath as collateral in an attempt to raise money to tide him over financial problems until a buyer for the first copy of the oath was found.
"The Tribune Friday contacted Dickson D. 'Duke' Cowley in Phoenix, Ariz., who said he and another Arizona man were approached in September by Mr. Hofmann and Mr. Flynn, who represented that they were in possession of a second copy of the oath and wanted Mr. Cowley and co-investor Wilford Cardon to buy a 30 percent interest in that document for $175,000. The deal later fell through, he said."
At the preliminary hearing, Wilford Cardon was questioned concerning what Hofmann told him about the second Oath of a Freeman:
QYou were told what the status of the first Oath was?
QAnd Mark explained to you why it was important to him not to have revealed to you earlier that there were in fact two Oaths?
QAnd in fact he told you if he revealed to potential buyers that if anyone knows he had two of them, he would radically decrease the value of them both?
QAnd so, therefore, it was important to sell first the one and then put the second one on the market, but not to attempt to market them both simultaneously?
AThat...was explained to me.
According to Mr. Cardon's testimony, Mark Hofmann told him he had actually sold the first Oath for "a million five hundred thousand dollars; that he had received a down payment of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars and a note to be paid over the next twelve monthsthe amount of a million two hundred and fifty thousand dollars." The truth of the matter, of course, was that Hofmann had not received any money because the deal had fallen through. The Salt Lake Tribune, November 9, 1985, revealed that "Negotiations for the sale of 'The Oath of a Freeman' by bombing suspect Mark Hofmannfrom which money was promised to pay off a $185,000 loan from First Interstate Bankwere cut off two weeks before a Mormon church official contacted the bank to secure the loan....In an October prepared statement, Mr. Pinnock said Mr. Hofmann assured him that money to repay the loan would come from the sale of a document to the Library of Congress."
At the preliminary hearing, Thomas Wilding told how Mark Hofmann approached him with the idea of buying the second Oath: "He then said that 'I have an investment that is just phenomenal. I'd really like you to participate in it.' And it was the Oath of a Freeman." Mr. Wilding went on to testify:
QAnd so Mr. Hofmann was now offering a second Oath of a Freeman?
. . . . .
QAnd what did he tell you?
AWell, first of all, he told us that the first one had been sold. Second, of all he told us...that if the first Oath sold for over a million, that the second Oath had to be worth a million and a half because it was supposedly one of the first printed documents in the colonial United States.
Mr. Hofmann told Thomas Wilding and his investors that he was selling them a part interest in the second Oath. Wilding claimed that Hofmann later gave him a receipt which "reads like this: 'Received from Thomas R. Wilding a check to the amount of $173,870 for investment in Oath of Freeman manuscript.' Signed by Mark Hofmann, September 12, 1985."
As I have shown in an earlier chapter, Mark Hofmann told Wilding he was flying back east to obtain the Oath. When Wilding learned that Hofmann did not make the trip, he was very upset. Mr. Hofmann claimed, however, that one of his friends went back to pick up the document for him. After Thomas Wilding exerted a great deal of pressure on him, Hofmann finally turned the second Oath over to him. Mr. Wilding claimed that he put the Oath in his "deposit box." He said that when he put it in the vault, Hofmann cautioned him to keep the matter quiet: I don't want any of the other people involved to know you've got this.' This was the jest of the sentence."
As in the case of the Salamander letter, Mark Hofmann told Thomas Wilding that Lyn Jacobs was the owner of the second Oath:
QAnd where was it that he was going to get this second Oath?
AHe was going to purchase it from a collector in Bostona dealer by the name of Lyn Jacobs.
Mr. Wilding went on to give this testimony concerning Mark Hofmann's claim that Lyn Jacobs was the owner of the second Oath:
Q...what information did he [Hofmann] give you concerning the second Oath of a Freeman and the first Oath?
AThat the first one had been sold. And the second one, he was going to buy from Lyn Jacobs, who was supposedly in Boston, for a price of around $500,000, and that he would fly back to around the Boston-New York area to pick it up.
QNow, and you were with_____
AI further questioned him at that time....if it's worth over a million dollars, why would Mr. Jacobs sell it for 500,000?
QAnd his response?
AAnd his response was that he had owned it for a year and that he had a gain sufficient enough that he was willing to let it go.
Mr. Wilding claimed that Mark Hofmann showed him and the other investors "from a distance the back part of a cashier's check made out to Lyn Jacobs. He implied that it had gone to Lyn Jacobs." Although it is apparently true that Mark Hofmann originally had a cashier's check made out to Lyn Jacobs, he turned it back into the bank and Jacobs did not receive the money. Lyn Jacobs testified as follow:
QHave you ever heard of a second copy of the Oath of a Freeman?
AI have heard of people talking about it and rumors about it, yes.
QHave you ever seen that copy or that second Oath of a Freeman?
AI have not.
QHave you ever had possession of it?
AI have not.
QWas that document ever yours?
QDid Mark Hofmann obtain that document from you?
AHe did not.
QOr through you?
AHe did not.
QDid there ever come a time that you received any money from Mr. Mark Hofmann, specifically $142,000 or whatever, in payment for that item?
AI have never received any money in conjunction with that document or any other entitled, The Oath of a Freeman.
QYou never had a proprietary interest in any Oath of a Freeman?
AI haven't. It was all his business.
After the bombings, the investors in the second Oath took it back to New York and showed it to Schiller and Wapnerthe men who were selling the first Oath for Hofmann. Thomas Wilding testified that they were shocked:
AWe pulled the Oath out and showed it to Justin [Schiller] and Raymond Wapner.
QWhen you showed them, Mr. Schiller and Mr. Wapner, the second Oath for the first time, what was their reaction?
ATotally overwhelmed, dumbfounded, astounded.
At the preliminary hearing it was revealed that the Oath of a Freeman was a forgery which was made from an engraved plate Mark Hofmannusing the alias "Mike Hansen"ordered from DeBouzek Engraving Company. Jack Smith testified: "This is another one. It is the 'Oath of a Freeman' that we made a plate for and approved for a Mike Hansen." Mr. Smith said the plate was ordered "March 25, 1985." Although Schiller and Wapner fought the subpoena for their copy of the Oath (they claimed that it was too valuable to risk damage by investigators), the second Oath was compared with the negative from the printing plate and was declared a forgery: "Prosecutor Stott then showed him [William Flyn] a copy of the purported second 'Oath of a Freeman' and a printing negative. Flyn testified that microscopic details in both indicate the 'Oath of a Freeman' was made from the master negative." (Deseret News, May 8, 1986) In his testimony, Mr. Flyn said that the "negative that's before me was used as the master from which a plate was produced which ultimately produced the Oath of a Freeman that I have before me." Mr. Flyn insisted that the printed Oath had to come from the negative: "The anomaly is the emulsion on the negative itself...this is something that can be seen quite clearly under the microscope. The anomaly on the final documentthat is the positive Oath of a Freemanthose anomalies are printed onto that document because part of the emulsion of that...negative did not wash off at the time it was washed and fixed. Those anomalies transferred to the metallic platethe zinc plate, which then transferred to the positive....My contention is that it's a one-way street. It could not have occurred the other way. We could not have started out with the Oath of a Freeman and then created that negative as a result."
George Throckmorton gave the following testimony at the preliminary hearing:
QWhat within the negative did you find as a distinguishing feature of which you were able to make the actual comparison to the printed words on the Oath itself?
AWell, there was one part particularly that was noticeable. On the negative itself, I can't remember, it was one of the small letter m's, as I recall, there appeared to have been some type of a hair or a small hairline crack that was evident on the negative. It was, actually appeared to be...a lack of proper washing where the emulsion on the film itself remained intact, and I was able through microscopic examination to find this same discrepancy on the Oath of a Freeman, and that was one particular point that was observed in this examination. There were also several other class characteristics, that we call them, that was observed between the negative and the printed material.
QAnd did you have occasion to formulate an opinion with respect to a natural relationship between the negative, The Oath of a Freeman, and the document printed in Exhibit #137?
AYes, sir, I did.
QCould you please tell us your conclusion or opinion?
AThe negative in Exhibit 125 was used to make a printing plate. This plate was used to print The Oath of a Freeman, which is exhibit #137.
. . . . .
QAnd you have, again looking at this document as...an authentic 17th century document from approximately 1653 [sic], do you have an opinion as to the authenticity of that document, the actual oath, as relates to that time frame?
QWhat is it?
AIt couldn't possibly be authentic because it was made from this negative or from a plate...that this negative made.
The reader will remember that we gave Mark Hofmann and Lyn Jacobs a very difficult time because they refused to show a provenance on the Salamander letteri.e., they would not reveal where it came from. With regard to the Oath of a Freeman, Mr. Hofmann was faced with a similar problem. There was no way that he could furnish a convincing pedigree for the document. Nevertheless, he tried to offset criticism to some extent by obtaining a receipt which showed he had acquired a document entitled, The Oath of a Freeman, from Argosy Book of New York City for $25. According to Detective Jim Bell's testimony at the preliminary hearing, this receipt is dated "3-13 of 85." The receipt could be taken as evidence for the authenticity of the Oath if it were not for the fact that detectives discovered that five days earlier (March 8, 1985) Mr. Hofmann ordered a metal plate from DeBouzek Engraving. The plate was ordered under the alias "Mike Harris," but the phone number given (484-5444) was at that time Mark Hofmann's unlisted number! This plate is not to be confused with the one Hofmann ordered under the date of March 25, 1985. David Hewett gives this interesting information concerning the plate ordered on March 8, 1985:
"Examination of the negative used to make that plate shows it to be of a piece of sheet music titled The President's Hymn, a work dedicated to President Lincoln and issued on November 26, 1863. The Library of Congress number for the piece is #107003.
"The text at the top of the page bearing the lyrics has been removed and the words 'The Oath of a Freeman' inserted in type that is definitely out of style for the rest of the piece. Anyone with the smallest amount of knowledge of 17th-century documents would have no trouble identifying anything made by this plate as out of period.
"What does it prove? One of the investigators appearing at the preliminary hearing smiled when he was asked that. 'See what it proves when you compare it to the date of the next event,' he said. That was in a private conversation, one conducted off the witness stand, with reporters.
"The next event happened on March 13, 1985, but proof of it never surfaced until October 25, 1985. On that latter date, a search of Mark Hofmann's van turned up a receipt from Argosy Books of New York City. Among several other items listed on that receipt was The Oath of a Freeman at $25. "What those two events seem to prove is that Mike Harris (who happened to have the same telephone number as Mark Hofmann) had a printing plate of a bogus Oath made five days before Mark Hofmann bought something also listed as an Oath in New York City." (Maine Antique Digest, July 1986, pages 4C-5C)
On page 8-C of the same publication, we find the following:
"Some of the Hofmann prosecution team contend that this is what happened:
"On March 8, 1985, Hofmann had a printing plate for an obviously bogus Oath made in Salt Lake.
"On March 13, he slipped an Oath made from that plate into a folder at New York City's Argosy Books, pretended to find it there, took it to the cashier, bought it for $25, and received a receipt.
"On March 25, he had another, better, printing plate made back in Salt Lake.
"On March 26, he took an Oath made from the second printing plate to Schiller and Wapner in New York City, where he consigned it for eventual sale."
DOCUMENTS ON MONEY-DIGGING
I have already shown that Mark Hofmann brought forth two extremely important letters relating to Joseph Smith's money-digging activities. Both of these documentsthe Salamander letter and the letter of Joseph Smith to Stowellhave been declared fraudulent by investigators. When the Mormon Church finally published the list of documents it had acquired from Mark Hofmann, I learned that another highly significant letter concerning Joseph Smith's money-digging practices was questionable because it came through Hofmann'shbands: "23. A document, dated May 25, to Hyram Smith asking him to come to Far West. No signature. Purportedly originating with Joseph Smith." (Deseret News, April 12, 1986) I had been aware of this letter since 1984 when it was published in Dean Jessee's book, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, page 358-59. The text of the letter reads as follows:
"Verily thus Saith the Lord unto Hyram Smith if he will come strateaway to Far West and inquire of his brother it Shall be Shown him how that he may be freed from de[b]t and obtain a grate treasure in the earth even so Amen"
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A photograph of a letter concerning money-digging which Joseph Smith was supposed to have written to his brother, Hyrum. The photograph is taken from The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, p. 359. The postmark is questionable.
When Dean Jessee published the letter, he listed the source as "LDS Church Archives." Since nothing was said concerning the fact that the letter came through Mark Hofmann, I felt that there was a possibility that it could be an authentic letter the Church had preserved since the time of Joseph Smith. Now that I know that it came through Hofmann, I have no confidence in its authenticity. Since some of the Mormon historians must have been aware that the letter's source was Hofmann, it is strange that they did not begin to question the improbability of one person turning up three highly significant letters concerning Joseph Smith's money-digging practicestwo of them purported to be in the very handwriting of Joseph Smith.
At any rate, the reader will notice that the 1838 letter from Far West is actually a revelation to Joseph Smith's brother. This is clear because it begins with the words, "Verily thus Saith the Lord..." This letter appears to be patterned after another revelation given by Joseph Smith concerning the location of buried treasures in Salem, Massachusetts. This revelation is actually canonized in the Mormon Church's Doctrine and Covenantsone of the four standard works of the Church. In Section 111, verses 1, 2, 4 and 5, we read:
"I, the Lord your God, am not displeased with your coming this journey,...I have much treasure in this city for you,...I will give this city into your hands...and its wealth pertaining to gold and silver shall be yours. Concern not yourselves about your debts, for I will give you power to pay them."
Ebenezer Robinson sadly commented, "It is needless to say they failed to find that treasure, or the gold and silver spoken of in the revelation." (The Return, vol. 1, page 106) For a more complete treatment of the Salem affair see our book MormonismShadow or Reality? page 49.
The idea for an 1838 revelation concerning buried treasures may have also come from Joseph Smith's History. The letter purports to be written just after Joseph Smith explored some mounds. His History of the Church, vol. 3, page 37, indicates that he believed these mounds contained treasures:
"...I returned to camp...We discovered some antiquities about one mile west of the camp, consisting of stone mounds,...These mounds were probably erected by the aborigines of the land, to secrete treasures."
The "Scriptory Book of Joseph Smith" reported that "valuable treasures" were deposited in these mounds (see the text in our publication Joseph Smith's 1838-39 Diaries, page 10).
Although investigators have not declared the Far West letter to be a forgery, the Mormon writer Richard Anderson has given some information which throws a cloud of doubt on its authenticity:
"With the help of the LDS Historical Department staff, six Far West postmarks have been located, all of which match in the orange-brown color of ink used in 1838 and 1839, years which do not appear on the handstamps but are indicated within each letter. However, the disputed treasure revelation has an irregular dark red postmark. This Hofmann document is also out of sequence in its type face....The 1838 marks of 3 February, 3 June, 18 June, and 15 July have a common block-letter design that is symmetrical, with the 'Mo.' abbreviation using the lower case o and period. But after mid-July a different stamp appears, with more stylized narrow and wide strokes to form unbalanced letters, ending with the 'MO' abbreviation in upper case without the period. This face appears in the handstamps of 3 October 1838 and 1 May 1839. Although the letters in the Hofmann stamp are badly formed, they clearly resemble the broad-narrow strokes of the later postmark, including the capital 'MO' abbreviation. But since the revelation's handstamp of 25 May should fit that used in the first half of 1838, available postmarks indicate anachronism, not confirmation.
"Moreover, a careful examination of the lettering raises the question of whether the treasure revelation merely imitates a postmark. The six authentic impressions are generally more solid than the Hofmann document because of ink saturation of the paper....No other handstamp shows heavy dots and lines alternating with even spaces, and every other handstamp shows ink flow and other evidence of the pressure of the printing stroke. But every letter in the disputed 25 May 1838 postmark has characteristics of a freehand sketch. Art designer Carma de Jong Anderson feels strongly that this apparent stamp was 'drawn painstakingly by an unskilled person.' The straight edges and geometric clarity of authentic engraving are lacking here....the handwritten postage of six cents adds a location difficulty, for it was the statutory amount for a letter sent within thirty miles of origin. But after careful searches of place names, I have been unable to find a 'Plattesgrove' in upper Missouri, or even in the state....Since the 1838 treasure revelation fails too many of the checks that historians can make, it should not be classed as an authentic Joseph Smith document." (Brigham Young University Studies, vol. 24, no. 4, pages 508, 509 and 515)
Besides the three letters concerning Joseph Smith's money-digging activities, Mark Hofmann also claimed that he rediscovered a money-digging agreement Joseph Smith signed in 1825. The Salt Lake Tribune reported the following on October 16, 1985: "Friends said Mr. [Steven] Christensen was trying to buy first rights to another Mormon historical document signed by church founder Joseph Smith and his father, Joseph Smith, Sr. In this document, the two men were given shares in a money-digging enterprise."
The Salt Lake Tribune had published the agreement between Joseph Smith and the other money-diggers on April 23, 1880. We had reprinted it in our book, Joseph Smith and Money Digging in 1970 (see pages 5-6). Although I accepted this as a genuine document, I felt that the original copy had been lost. In late 1982, however, Mark Hofmann began to talk of the discovery of the handwritten document. I had a discussion with him concerning the matter, and he informed me that he knew where the original was and that it would soon come to light. He stated, in fact, that it would probably be published. I later learned that Mr. Hofmann had turned over the "literary rights" to Steven Christensenthe man who was killed in the first bombing incident. I feel that in this transaction Mark Hofmann may have been using Steven Christensen's ignorance of the copyright laws to his own advantage. Mr. Hofmann claimed that he made a typescript of the original copy of the money-digging agreement Joseph Smith signed in 1825. He then conveyed "all literary and property rights" that he "may have" in the typescript to Steven Christensen. Although I cannot prove it, I assume that Mr. Hofmann received some compensation for this transaction. The strange thing about this matter is that Hofmann would have known he had no literary rights in the manuscript. As I have already shown, when we originally published the Anthon transcript, Mark Hofmann felt that he had manuscript rights in it and that we should have sought his permission before printing it. We told him, however, that he did not have any manuscript rights in the document. Later he said that he had verified that our interpretation concerning manuscript rights was correct. Although I feel that Mr. Hofmann had a right to sell a typescript of the money-digging agreement for any amount of money Steven Christensen was willing to pay, he should have informed him that he had no "literary rights" to convey. In any case, in the Salt Lake City Messenger I reported a statement by a Mormon scholar which indicated that Mr. Christensen may have obtained a photocopy of the original money-digging agreement from Hofmann. Brent Metcalfe, however, informed me this was incorrect. He claimed that Christensen only had a typescript of the document. There is now, in fact, a serious question as to whether Mr. Hofmann ever saw the original document at all. Investigators have apparently been unable to find any evidence he had access to the original, and it may very well be that what he gave Mr. Christensen was only a work of his own imagination which was based upon a printing of the document done in the 19th century.
Of the four documents Mark Hofmann claimed to find on Joseph Smith's involvement in money-digging, I feel that the money-digging agreement would be the most likely to be authentic. That he apparently had no photograph to turn over to Mr. Christensen makes me very suspicious concerning the existence of this document. It would actually be very dangerous to try to forge the money-digging agreement. This document would require eight different signaturessome of which would probably be very difficult to locate. Unless a forger could be absolutely certain of all eight signatures, he would be in constant fear that someone like Wesley P. Walters, who was very interested in these signatures, would overthrow his work.
One of Mark Hofmann's greatest interests was old Mormon money. As I have shown earlier, when Hofmann was "about 12" he bought his "first Mormon item: a $5 Kirtland Safety Society note...signed by Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon." (Sunstone Review, September 1982, page 16) When he was "about 15 or 16" he "picked up a $50 Kirtland note at an antique shop." (Ibid.) Lyn Jacobs claims that when he first met Mark Hofmann in 1979 or 1980, Hofmann was peddling "some Kirtland bills or something like that" at the Church's Deseret Book. (Sunstone, vol. 10, no. 8, p. 10)
Mark Hofmann soon became a recognized authority on old Mormon money. In the Preface to his definitive work, Mormon and Utah Coin and Currency, Alvin Rust thanked Hofmann for his help. On pages 58 and 59 of his book, Mr. Rust has "Table 7. Serial Numbers of Kirtland Re-signed Notes." Rust acknowledges that the table was "compiled by Mark Hofmann." At the preliminary hearing, Alvin Rust testified that Hofmann had given him a good deal of help when he prepared his book.
In August 1980, Mark Hofmann published an article in TAMS Journal, the Official Organ of the Token and Medal Society. In this article, page 152, Mr. Hofmann told of "a small copper token promoting Smith's candidacy. Presumably struck in Nauvoo, the piece bears the date 1844 and the words GEN. JOSEPH SMITH on one side. On the other side, encircling a five-pointed star, are the words FOR U.S. PRESIDENT. The existence of such a token certainly attests to the fact the members of the Mormon Church at the time took Joseph Smith's candidacy seriously."
The Mormon Church allowed Mark Hofmann access to a manuscript entitled, "Brigham Young's Daily Transactions in Gold Dust." From this manuscript, Mr. Hofmann compiled some important information concerning a type of currency used in early Utah known as "gold notes," "valley notes" or "white notes." According to Alvin Rust, these "paper notes...were backed 80 percent by the gold dust in the local treasury." (Mormon and Utah Coin and Currency, page 47) Harry F. Campbell utilized Mark Hofmann's work in his book, Campbells Tokens of Utah. On page 312 of this book, Mr. Campbell stated: "The above information, 'Mormon Currency Table' was prepared by Mark W. Hofmann and is shown courtesy of the L.D.S. Church."
After it became apparent that some white notes which Mark Hofmann sold were questionable, Jerry Urban pointed out to me that the "Mormon Currency Table" prepared by Hofmann could have been used in a counterfeiting operation. Mr. Hofmann's table lists the "DENOMINATIONS," "NUMBER ISSUED," "NUMBER KNOWN," "NUMBER OUTSTANDING" and "SERIAL NUMBERS OF OUTSTANDING NOTES." In The State of Utah v. Mark W. Hofmann, page 5, Hofmann was charged with selling the Mormon Church bogus white notes:
"Your affiant has been informed by Donald Schmidt to the following: That on or about March, 1981, Mark W. Hofmann completed an agreement to trade to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, four handwritten white notes supposedly signed by Brigham Young and others in exchange for property valued at over $1,000.00."
It would appear that Mr. Hofmann used the very information the Church supplied him with to create the white notes and then turned right around and sold the notes to the Church. In his testimony, former Church Archivist Donald Schmidt was asked if there was any description of the white notes:
QIn what sources?
ABrigham Young's journal called "Gold Account Book."
Q...Could you tell us roughly what that...description is...in that document?
A[It] describes the exact size or the approximate size that they were, the type of paper that they used and the fact that they cut them by scissors, really.
Although printed valley notes were known before Mark Hofmann came on the scene, Donald Schmidt testified that he "had not seen any" of the handwritten kind which Hofmann offered to him. He also testified that to his knowledge "no one" had seen the handwritten white notes before Hofmann's discovery. He said that the four notes were worth "at least $20,000." When Mr. Schmidt was asked the source from which Mr. Hofmann obtained the white notes, he replied that it was the "same source as the Joseph Smith III Blessing"i.e., Allen Bullock, the mysterious individual who cannot be located.
Alvin Rust gave some very interesting testimony with regard to the white notes:
QPrior to March of 1981 had you ever come across a handwritten valley note?
AI had never seen a handwritten valley note.
. . . . .
QHow was _____ first you came across some some white notes in March of 81?
AMark Hofmann came into my store and we were in the back office, and he handed me these eight notes and I looked at them and...well, to be honest it really shock me up because I had never seen them....It really blew my mind.
Mr. Rust testified that he bought four of the notes for "$12,000." Later, however, Mark Hofmann told Mr. Rust there were nine more notes available:
QNow, at that time with the original eight were you informed by Mr. Hofmann that that was all he had or if there were any more?
AAt that time...only eight were known, or that's all that he told me there was.
QLater on was you aware that there [were] more than eight?
AA few months later...he came back in the store and told me that he had located nine more of these notes, and that these nine notes had come from the same source....
Alvin Rust said that he bought the additional nine notes from Hofmann: "...I purchased the rest of the notes for $27,000." Mr. Rust did not actually see these notes, and when he pressed Mr. Hofmann to turn them over to him, Hofmann said he wanted to buy them back: "Without ever seeing the notes, I sold them back to Mark Hofmann for $40,000." Although we may never know the truth about this matter, it is possible that Mr. Hofmann had found another buyer who was willing to pay more money for the notes. However this may be, Mr. Rust testified that no one besides Hofmann had ever found a handwritten white note:
QTo your understanding and knowledge have any white notes...come to light independent of Mr. Mark Hofmann?
ANot that I know of.
In his testimony at the preliminary hearing, document expert George Throckmorton claimed that he found evidence of cracked ink in the notes: "There were signatures that were contained on those white notes, and many of these signatures contained that cracking effect also." William Flyn also examined the white notes and noted the cracked ink:
A...There were actually two different inks that were used to produce the white notes. One of the inks had gum or sugar as a constituent part. The other did not. There was extensive cracking on the gold note number, serial number 18. That was cracked throughout the document and I believe it was even, yes, it was even cracked on the one-half. It is written on the back of that document. On white note number 143
. . . . .
AOn 143, the signature Heber Kimball is extensively cracked. On white note number 15, the cracking takes place except for the phrase "Whitney." The Whitney name on the document is not cracked. And on number 97, there was little cracking on that document at all. The cracking was around...the edges of the writing only.
QDo you have an opinion as to whether or not those four white notes are authentic documents of the time period they're purported to be from?
QWhat is that opinion?
AI don't believe those are genuine documents from that time period.
It is interesting to notice that the serial numbers on the notes Mr. Flyn questioned seem to match the numbers which appear under the "SERIAL NUMBERS OF OUTSTANDING NOTES" in Mark Hofmann's "Mormon Currency Table."
While Mark Hofmann also sold some of the printed white notes, I have no evidence that they were counterfeit. He apparently obtained some genuine printed white notes in trade with the Church Archives. This, of course, would not preclude the possibility that he could have made plates from the original printed notes and circulated bogus copies.
The Deseret News for April 22, 1986, reported the following:
"Rust...detailed his dealings with Hofmann beginning in early 1982, when Hofmann sold him a set of four 'Spanish Fork Co-op' notes for $2,500.
"Rust said he had seen Spanish Fork scrip before, but the set Hofmann offered was of a type and series he had never seen before. He said Hofmann returned a few months later with a different series of Spanish Fork notes, which Rust purchased for $1,500. 'I would call them very rare items,' he said."
The Spanish Fork notes also turned out to be counterfeits. Jan Thompson and Jerry Spangler wrote:
"George Throckmorton, forensic documents examiner with the Utah attorney general's office, detailed a variety of methods he and prosecutors believe Hofmann used...
"Rub-on letters commonly available at art supply stores were used by Hofmann to create phony 19th century notes, Throckmorton testified.
"Holding up sheets of rub-on black letters, Throckmorton said the missing letters exactly matched size and style of the printing found on early Utah currency purported to be Spanish Fork Cooperative Notes. The rub-on letters had all been removed and then applied to the forged notes with a purple pencil, he said." (Deseret News, May 13, 1986)
Mark Hofmann not only used rub-on lettering to create these notes, but he also obtained rubber stamps to stamp on the denominations. David Hewett wrote the following: "Edwin Cannon III was the manager of Salt Lake Stamp Company. On January 11, a man giving his name as Mark Hofmann and his address as 266 East, 9585 South, in Sandy (a suburb of Salt Lake and the former home of Hofmann) ordered from Cannon four rubber stamps: one each for the denominations of ten cents, twenty-five cents, fifty cents, and one dollar. The order was picked up and paid for on January 13, 1982." (Maine Antique Digest, July 1986, page 2-C)
George Throckmorton discovered that rubber stamps Hofmann had purchased were used to stamp the Spanish Fork notes:
QAnd what was your conclusion with respect to any relationship?
AThe rubber stamp that made the 10 cent and the 50 cent impressions was the same rubber stamp that was used to make the 10 cent and the 50 cent impressions on Exhibit #155. The 25 cent stamped impression was indistinguishable from the 25 cent impression on Exhibit #155, but due to the color of ink, which is a very light colored yellow ink, I was unable to make a positive identification. And on the $1 rubber stamp on Exhibit 155, I was not furnished any exemplars to compare with that.
Mr. Throckmorton also testified concerning the age of the ink on Hofmann's Spanish Fork notes:
QNow, did you have any opportunity to make an ink comparison from the colored red, green, yellow and blue inks on those Spanish Fork notes with any known inks that you_____?
QWhat kind...of ink was it that you had in your possession that you made the comparison with?
AI obtained several modern day inks from local stores.
QAny brand names associated with them?
AYes. Particularly the Carter brand ink that is used for rubber stamp pads and re-inking of the pads.
QNow, these inks that you used for comparison, how would they be termed with respect to as to when they were produced, the state of the inks and when they were produced opposed to ancient, old, modern, whatever the case may be?
AAlthough it was not possible to give it an exact date as to when these inks were produced or manufactured, there were many areas in the history of ink production which caused changes and these inks that are manufactured also have a rotation on the shelf of the individual store and the ink manufacturing companies change their chemical formulation periodically, which means these inks theoretically that I obtained, they would probably have been just a matter of a few months old, maybe five, six years old maximum.
The Deseret News, May 13, 1986, summed the matter up: "Another type of Spanish Fork Cooperative Notes were printed in multiple colors. Throckmorton said he discovered through intricate testing that the red, green and blue inks used on these notes were only four to five years old." Mr. Throckmorton said he looked for "optical whiteners or any illuminescent pigments" that were used in the paper. On all 12 notes he detected "fluorescence" under "ultraviolet light." This indicated to Throckmorton that one of the above had been used in the paper. He said that "Optical brightners and illuminescent pigments were first introduced into the fiber of paper between the years 1940 and 1950..." Mr. Throckmorton, therefore, claimed that the paper could not have been manufactured prior to that time. He also testified that the notes could not have come from a time period between 1870 and 1915i.e., the time frame they would have to fall into to be genuine.
In his book, Mormon and Utah Coin and Currency, page 74, Alvin Rust gives this information concerning the Deseret Currency Association:
"During the years 1857, 1858, 1859, and to 4 October 1960, the Mormon Church spent $70,204 in excess of U.S. money which they had received...Brigham constantly reminded the Mormons to pay their tithes in U.S. coin, yet it was nearly impossible to obtain. It was during these four years, when there was a lack of U.S. coin, that the Deseret Currency Association provided the medium of exchange necessary for growth, survival, and development in the valley."
On April 22, 1986, the Deseret News reported concerning what was going on at Mark Hofmann's preliminary hearing. In this report we find the following:
"In 1984, Hofmann sold Rust a complete set of 'Deseret currency scrip, paper money issued in 1858 to finance the Utah War. Rust said he paid $35,000 for the set, which included denominations [of] two series, one of $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100, and the other of $1, $2, $3 and $20.
"Rust, who is the author of a book on early Mormon currency, described the set as 'extremely rare,' and said he had never before seen other Deseret currency notes in denominations of $5 or above.
"A short time later, Hofmann approached Rust about purchasing another set of Deseret currency."
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At the top of the image is a photograph of a handwritten white note which the Mormon Church obtained from Hofmann. It is taken from Campbells Tokens of Utah, page 308. Below it is a photograph of a Deseret Currency note from Mormon and Utah Coin and Currency, page 77.
Curt Bench, of the Church's Deseret Book, testified that he bought a complete set of Deseret Currency from Hofmann for $18,000." He later resold this set to Richard Marks for "[$]35,000." In his testimony, Alvin Rust commented: "At the time I purchased these I had never seen any other Deseret Currency in those denominations." Mr. Rust was questioned further concerning the larger Deseret Currency notes:
QNow, at that time, I believe you told me, you...were not aware of any of the notes of five and above. Is that correct?
QYou had never seen [them] before then?
ANo, I had never seen any.
Mr. Rust testified that he would not have paid the price he did if he had known that there were more than two sets of the Deseret Currency in existence:
QNow, at that time when you purchased these were you informed that there were any others?
AI was informed of one other set by Lyn Jacobs that he was going to be selling to [the] LDS Church, and he enquired if I would not let the Church know that I was buying a set at the same time because he felt if the Church knew I had a set and they had a set, they wouldn't pay the price that he was asking. And I told him I wouldn't do that, and I called Don Schmidt and told him...that I had a set and he was going to be offered a set as well.
QOther than that other set, were you ever informed by Mr. Hofmann that there were any other sets of Deseret Currency existing or available?
ANo, when I bought these, paying that enormous price, I questioned how many sets or how many notes and I was under the impression that these were all the notes that were in existence.
. . . . .
QIs that something that you have been interested in is the number of series?
AVery much so. If there was a lot of them in existence, I certainly wouldn't have wanted to pay the price I did.
Alvin Rust also testified that Mark Hofmann told him that Lyn Jacobs had located the Deseret Currency in the eastern part of the country:
QDid Mr. Hofmann tell you where he obtained the series and a half that he sold to you?
AYes. He told me that a gentleman in the east by the name of Lyn Jacobs had located an elderly lady back there that [had] this collection and that she would be willing to sell it through Lyn Jacobs.
Mr. Rust said Mark Hofmann told him he went back there and made negotiations with Lyn Jacobs and this lady to purchase them." When Lyn Jacobs was called to the witness stand, he absolutely denied the story Mark Hofmann had told Alvin Rust:
QNow, sometime near the end of 1982, where you involved with Mark in obtaining Deseret Currency Association notes?
AI have never been specifically involved in obtaining any. I have been involved in the transactions in which these notes were sold or traded to other individuals, but never in obtaining them. No.
QMr. Hofmann sold a series to Mr. Al Rust during that time. Are you aware of that?
AHe may have sold several. I'm not aware of a specific number.
QIn that time, you sold a series to the Church, the LDS Church. Is that correct?
AI took some in on Mark's behalf, yes, one day, when he was quite busy.
QAnd you sold them. Is that correct?
AI traded them.
QYou traded them, and it was a series. Is that correct? A full series of notes?
AI do not remember it being a full series. I do remember, however, that a hundred and a fifty were in it, but I don't remember it being a complete series. It might have been.
QAnd where did you get the notes that he traded to the Church for?
AWell, Mark gave them to me and said, "would you take these in for me today?"
QPrior to that time, had you ever seen those notes, prior to Mark giving them to you?
ANot the specific ones that he'd given me, no.
QWere you involved in obtaining those particular notes?
AI have never been involved in obtaining any of them.
QDidn't you have a source back east?
ANo. Mark Hofmann had a source back east.
QDid he come back east with you and there was a little old lady or something and you were the one who had the source and he had to work through you and you had to go get them?
AThat is not correct.
QDo you know, at all, where Mr. Hofmann got those notes?
AMark said that they were somewhere in the state of New York. He had talked about an individual before that had some Kirtland notes and some other Mormon currency and said that this individual also had some Deseret Currency in printed form and in engraved form.
QDid he tell you how many series he had?
AHe didn't, but he said there were several. Not the specific number, no.
QSo, you had nothing to do with that acquisition. Is that correct?
AI did not. I just simply knew what he told me about it.
As I have shown earlier in this book, detectives discovered that Mark Hofmann had ordered plates to counterfeit the Deseret Currency from the Cox-Clark Engraving Co. in Denver. The Deseret News, April 20, 1986, gave this information concerning the plates:
"Barbara Zellner, office manager with a Denver engraving company, then testified that in May and June of 1984 a man named Mike Hansen placed two orders for zinc printing plates.
"One order was for 'Deseret Currency Association' notes in denominations of $1, $2, $3, $5 and $10. The second order was for 'Deseret Currency Association' notes in denominations of $20, $50 and $100."
Document examiner George Throckmorton compared Hofmann's currency with negatives provided by Cox-Clark Engraving Co. Speaking specifically concerning the Deseret Currency notes obtained by Mr. Marks, Throckmorton testified:
"All of the eight Deseret Currency notes in Exhibit 98 and 99 were made from a plate which was made from one of the negatives...I could find none of these eight notes that were authentic."
Mr. Throckmorton also compared five genuine notes with those printed by Mark Hofmann: "The five genuine notes, that I believe are authentic, are made of a paper different than the paper found on all of the other notes examined."
It is interesting to note that when Alvin Rust published his book in 1984, he knew that there was some kind of a problem with a surplus of Deseret Currency notes:
"The typeset and engraved Deseret Currency totaled $95,170. Omitting what McKenzie burned...and accepting the burning on 1 December 1867 of $93,544, the most Deseret Currency that still could be outstanding is $1,626.
"In 1984 just at publication time a large number of engraved Deseret Currency scrip notes in $1, $2, and $3 denominations surfaced. This find proved that the $1,626 in outstanding notes is probably not an accurate figure. Since the scribes for Deseret Currency Association were meticulous in preparing their ledger sheets of currency issued, the author stands behind table 10 and believes the figures to be accurate. The only explanation seems to be that a bundle of each of the three denominations was held back at the burning on 1 December 1867." (Mormon and Utah Coin and Currency, pages 85-86)
Although Mr. Rust knew something was wrong, he apparently never suspected that there was a counterfeiting operation going on.
BITHEL TODD LETTER
In The State of Utah v. Mark W. Hofmann, page 6, we find the following:
"Your affiant has spoken with Glenn Rowe and has been told the following: That on or about April 16, 1985 Mark Hofmann completed an agreement to sell to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints a document identified as a letter from David and Peter Whitmer to Bithell Todd dated August 12, 1828. The church agreent [sic] to exchange property valued in excess of $1,000.00."
Although I have never seen a copy of this letter, its value probably lies in the claim that it came from "David and Peter Whitmer." David Whitmer, of course, was one of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon. The "Peter Whitmer" mentioned could be either the Book of Mormon witness, Peter Whitmer, Jr., or his father. In any case, at the preliminary hearing, the document experts testified that this letter is a modern forgery. George Throckmorton stated: "Yes, there was minor cracking on that." William Flyn testified: "...on this particular exhibit...the cracking of ink is apparent throughout the document, and this also exhibits that one-directional running, as if the document had been wet and held up and the running took place in one direction only." Mr Flyn gave this opinion with regard to the authenticity of the letter: "I don't believe that's a genuine document either."
CALL OF THE WILD
One of Mark Hofmann's attempts to deceive involved both an engraved plate and a rubber stamp. Jan Thompson wrote the following concerning the preliminary hearing:
"Ralph Bailey, a Salt Lake orthodontist, then testified that he loaned Hofmann $90,000 in the spring of 1985. For collateral, Hofmann gave him a first-edition copy of 'Call of the Wild' by Jack London.
"Inside the front page of the book is an inscription allegedly signed by London in 1903, reading, 'To Buck and his human friend, Austin Lewis...' Austin's address is stamped inside the book also.
"Bailey's testimony ties in evidence presented earlier in the preliminary hearing.
"Printer Jack Smith of DeBouzek Engraving...said he took orders for a Mike Hansen, an alias prosecutors allege was used by Hofmann in December 1984. The orders included plates for the reproduction of a Jack London signature, an inscription...
"Employees of the Salt Lake Stamp Co. testified that a man named Mike Hansen placed an order for a rubber stamp in December 1984. The man emphasized that the stamp, which he wanted printed with the address of an Austin Lewis in Berkeley, Calif., must be exactly like the sample he presented.
"The Jack London book with the personalized inscription was valued at about $9,000, Bailey testified. The signature and inscription greatly enhance the book's value, he said." (Deseret News, April 19, 1986)
Speaking of the inscription in the Jack London book, George Throckmorton testified: "That is not handwriting. It is not written with a writing instrument." Mr. Throckmorton went on to say that the inscription came from the plate which was ordered under the alias "Mike Hansen": "The negative I examined in Exhibit #69 was used to make a plate, and this plate in turn was used to print the inscription in the front of this book..." Throckmorton, therefore, reached this conclusion: "The date...and the entire inscription having come from this negative means it could not possibly have been done in 1903." Mr. Throckmorton also compared the rubber stampmade by Salt Lake Stamp Co.with the name and address of Austin Lewis on the front fly leaf of the book and also on the title page and found that "the rubber stamp that was used to make this impression from Salt Lake Stamp was the same rubber stamp that was used to make the impression on Exhibit No. 91, The Call of the Wild Book...."
In MormonismShadow or Reality? pages 111-115, 125G-125I, we told a story concerning a set of bogus metal plates which Joseph Smith's enemies made for the express purpose of proving he was a false prophet. As one early critic of the Mormon Church expressed it, "Only a bogus prophet translates bogus plates." In any case, Joseph Smith fell for the hoax. The History of the Church for May 1, 1843, attributed the following statement to Joseph Smith:
"Monday, May 1....I insert fac-similes of the six brass plates found near Kinderhook....
"I have translated a portion of them, and find they contain the history of the person with whom they were found. He was a descendant of Ham, through the loins of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the Ruler of heaven and earth." (History of the Church, vol. 5, page 372)
Although this statement originally came from the diary of Joseph Smith's private secretary, William Clayton, and was added into the History after Smith's death, there can be no doubt that Joseph Smith did pretend to translate at least a portion of the plates. On May 7, 1843, Mormon Apostle Orson Pratt wrote a letter containing the following: "Six plates having the appearance of Brass have lately been dug out of a mound by a gentleman in Pike Co. Illinois. They are small and filled with engravings in Egyptian language and contain the genealogy of one of the ancient Jaredites back to Ham the son of Noah." (The Ensign, August 1981, p. 73)
In MormonismShadow or Reality? page 125-H, we pointed out that "if Joseph Smith had not been murdered in June 1844, it is very possible he might have published a complete 'translation' of the Kinderhook plates. Just a month before his death it was reported that he was "busy in translating them. The new work which Jo, is about to issue as a translation of these plates will be nothing more nor less than a sequel to the Book of Mormon;..." (Warsaw Signal, May 22, 1844)
In September 1962, the Mormon Church publication, The Improvement Era, reported that one of the Kinderhook plates had been rediscovered. On page 125-G of MormonismShadow or Reality? we included a photograph of this plate. Before the Salamander letter was brought to light, I had a discussion with Mark Hofmann concerning the possibility that the remaining plates might be located. It now appears that Mr. Hofmann actually claimed to have the missing plates. Some people have gone so far as to claim that Mr. Hofmann sold the plates and/or Joseph Smith's purported translation of them to the Mormon Church. Although I can not prove this to be a fact, there is evidence that he had approached Church leader Gordon B. Hinckley about the matter. At the Church's press conference, President Hinckley revealed:
"More recently, Mr. Hofmann called and asked my secretary if he could see me. I was under pressure for time, but agreed that I would see him for a few minutes. He came in. I have no recollection of discussing the so-called McLellin papers with him. This time the subject was the so-called Kinderhook Plates. He said he had access to some of these and asked whether we would be interested in purchasing them. My recollection of this episode of history was dim. But I saw no reason why we should have them and so indicated to him. That is the last time I saw Mark W. Hofmann." (Salt Lake Tribune, October 27,1985)
While I do believe that Joseph Smith could have made a translation of the Kinderhook plates, I find it very hard to believe that Mr. Hofmann could have found the manuscript. Furthermore, if Hofmann actually had plates, I would suspect that they are merely bogus copies of the original bogus plates.
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Photograph of surviving Kinderhook plate which Joseph Smith attempted to translate. The plates have been conclusively proven forgeries. For more information on the Kinderhook plates click here.
In the complaint for his lawsuit against Mark Hofmann, Brent Ashworth has a list of fifteen items he believes are worthless forgeries that Hofmann sold to him. Only five of these appear to be listed in the criminal charges the County Attorney filed against Hofmann. Ashworth alleges that he has suffered a loss of $225,100 because of these transactions. His list indicates that be paid $140,000 for the five items for which Hofmann is facing criminal charges. He paid $85,100 for the other ten items. As I have indicated earlier, it would be very foolish for Brent Ashworth to list a document as a forgery unless he had good reason to doubt its authenticity. In making the charge that these items are forgeries, Ashworth stands to lose a great deal of money. At any rate, the following is a list of the ten additional documents Ashworth claims are forgeries:
(click to enlarge)
A photograph of a letter Joseph Smith was supposed to have written in 1833. In his suit against Mark Hofmann, Brent Ashworth lists it as a forgery. Notice that the letter speaks of Isaac Morely. A descendant of Morely by the name of Kerry Ross Boren has copies of fake documents attributed to both Smith and Morley. In Appendix B we discuss the possibility of a link between Boren and Hofmann.
One item on Brent Ashworth's list that is very interesting is the poem of "Eliza R. Snow." Mark Hofmann's associate Lyn Jacobs claimed that one of his friends was selling "an Eliza R. Snow manuscript...for $20,000 because it represents a Snow holograph of 'Oh My Father,' the most famous production she ever penned." (Sunstone, vol. 10, no. 8, page 18) Although this manuscript could be authentic, anyone thinking of purchasing it would be wise to enquire concerning its provenance and have some tests made on the ink.
Brent Ashworth's list does not include all of the documents which came to him directly or indirectly through Mark Hofmann. For instance, in a list of "MORMON MANUSCRIPTS" Hofmann had for sale in 1982, we find the following: "2. JOSEPH SMITH JR. LETTER...November 8, 1839 to James Mulholland..." This letter is photographically reproduced in the Church's Ensign, Jan. 1984, p. 40. The caption for this letter reads: "A letter from Joseph Smith to James Mulholland, dated November 8, 1839,... (Photography by Eldon K. Linschoten; shown courtesy of Brent Ashworth.)" Perhaps the reason Mr. Ashworth did not list this item in the complaint is because he had sold it, or it could be that he has some reason to believe it was authentic.
In the first edition of this book, I indicated that I was concerned about the authenticity of John Taylor's Nauvoo Diary which is owned by Brent Ashworth. This diary begins Dec. 26, 1844 and ends with the entry of Sept. 17, 1845. An entire issue of BYU Studies (Summer 1983) is dedicated to the diary. A scholar, who was acquainted with Mark Hofmann, had told me that he believed Mark Hofmann was the one who sold the John Taylor Diary to Brent Ashworth and Hofmann had said that Ashworth did not really know where the diary came from. Although I stated in the first edition that I was "not aware of any forensic evidence against the diary" and that it "seemed unlikely that someone would forge a diary of 133 pages," I felt that if it came from Hofmann it should be carefully examined. While looking through the diary, I noted one entry that made me very suspicious: "Speaking a few days since with a man of the name of Solomon Chamberlin, he related some particulars that I thought interesting... I will relate it in his own words:" (BYU Studies, Summer 1983, page 44) Hundreds of words attributed to Mr. Chamberlain follow this introduction. While the entry was recorded in the diary in the spring of 1845, it seemed to be too similar to a sketch of his life that Solomon Chamberlain wrote some thirteen years later (see BYU Studies, Spring 1972, pages 315-17). I reasoned that it would be highly unlikely that Mr. Chamberlain could record hundreds of words on paper in 1858 that were almost identical to his oral report given to John Taylor thirteen years before. Brent Ashworth, however, has proposed a theory that could explain the relationship between the two documents. He feels that Mr. Chamberlain may have had some type of a written document in 1845 which he allowed John Taylor to use. According to this theory, when Chamberlain wrote "A Short Sketch of the Life of Solomon Chamberlain" in 1858, he used the earlier version. This, of course, would explain the many parallels. After considering Mr. Ashworth's theory carefully, I must admit that a preliminary manuscript is certainly a possibility, and although the John Taylor Diary does not specifically mention such a document, this idea may very well provide a good solution to the problem.
As to the provenance of the diary, there has been some confusion. Some printed sources claimed that it came from the John Taylor family, while others said that it was derived from the B.H. Roberts family. The Church Section of the Deseret News for Jan. 30, 1983, reported that Brent Ashworth obtained it from the Roberts family. On Feb. 24, 1983, Mark Hofmann commented to an associate that Brent Ashworth did not know the true provenance of the diary. Hofmann claimed that it had actually been obtained from the John Taylor family. Where Mr. Hofmann got his information from is not known; however, when BYU Studies published the diary, Dean Jessee also said that it was "acquired from members of the Taylor family by Brent Ashworth,." (vol. 23, no. 3, p. 6).
Fortunately, Brent Ashworth was very helpful and we were able to learn that the diary came from the Roberts family. Mr. Ashworth claimed that he received it from a man by the name of Lee Snarr. Mr. Snarr informed us that he had acted as an intermediary between Ashworth and Robert Decker of Salem, Oregon. Mr. Decker informed us that when his grandfather, Harold Roberts, passed away, the diary was discovered in his closet. Richard Roberts, of Weber State College, confirmed this story and claimed that it was discovered in 1982. As far as we could determine, Mark Hofmann was not involved in any way. The belief that he was apparently stemmed from his claim that Mr. Ashworth did not know the real origin of the diary. While at first glance it would appear that the diary should have come through the Taylor family as Mr. Hofmann maintained, further study shows that B. H. Roberts had access to it. Dean Jessee says that Roberts used it for "his The Life of John Taylor, his Comprehensive History of the Church, and volume 7 of the History of the Church." (Ibid.) B. H. Roberts seems to have kept the volume after he completed his work and it came down through his family. At this point I am inclined to believe that Brent Ashworth is correct in his belief that the John Taylor Diary is authentic, and I apologize to him for adding to the problems he already has with the documents he did acquire from Mark Hofmann.
Besides the many questionable documents I have mentioned in this chapter, detectives are looking into printed forgeries of old books. Investigators have apparently found a forged copy of The Latter-Day Saints' Emigrants' guide, by William Clayton. In most cases it would not be worth the expense and time to reprint rare books on old paper. With the Emigrants' Guide, however, we have an entirely different situation. It has only 24 pages and is worth thousands of dollars. Any small item which has a high monetary value would be worth counterfeiting with printing plates. While such forgeries could cause a great monetary loss to those who obtained them, they do not really affect our understanding of Mormon history. It is obvious that they would have to be exact reproductions of original editions. If the contents varied in any way, it would give the whole scheme away.
It is certainly unfortunate that so many letters, manuscripts and books passed through the hands of Mark Hofmann. One dealer estimated that Hofmann sold thousands of items. Although his most sensational finds are probably forgeries, we know that Mr. Hofmann did obtain authentic material from the Mormon Church Archives and collectors like Brent Ashworth. While it is true that everything that passed through his hands is now considered tainted, he undoubtedly sold a great deal of authentic material. It may take a long time to separate the wheat from the chaff, and in some cases we may never know the answer.
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