[Work in very early stages of progress]
Various witnesses described the process of Joseph translating the plates. The accounts often use different terms or describe the process differently. This is a collection of the major discrepancies between accounts. The discrepancies may be resolved in various ways (i.e., ambiguity of language, different processes used in different time and place), but it is useful to realize that no single, straightforward translation method is attested to.
Required the seer stone and not another
Martin Harris 1886, Edward Stevenson interview:
… When they became weary, as it was confining work to translate from the plates of gold, they would go down to the river and throw stones into the water for exercise. Martin on one occasion picked up a stone resembling the one with which they were translating, and on resuming their work Martin placed the false stone in the hat. He said that the Prophet looked quietly for a long time, when he raised his head and said: “Martin, what on earth is the matter, all is dark as Egypt.” Martin smiled and the seer discovered that the wrong stone was placed in the hat. When he asked Martin why he had done so he replied, to stop the mouths of fools who had declared that the Prophet knew by heart all that he told him to write, and did not see by the seer stone; when the true stone was placed in the hat, the translation was resumed, as usual.
Face into the hat or away from hat?
Pressed into the hat
David Whitmer 1881, Kansas City Journal
My statement was and now is that in translating he put the stone in his hat and putting his face in his hat so as to excluded the light and that then the light and characters appeared in the hat together with the interpretation which he uttered and was written by the scribe and which was tested at the time as stated.
David Whitmer 1884, as interviewed by George Q. Cannon
In speaking of the translating he [David Whitmer] said that Joseph had the stone in a hat from which all light was excluded. In the stone the charac- ters appeared and under that the translation in English and they remained until the scribe had copied it correctly. If he had made a mistake the words still remained and were not replaced by any other.
David Whitmer 1885, as interviewed by Zenas H. Gurley
but he was allowed to go on and translate by the use of a “Seers stone” which he had, and which he placed in a hat into which he buried his face, stating to me and others that the original Character appeared upon parchment and under it the translation in english which [enabled him?] to read it readily.
David Whitmer 1885, as interviewed by the Chicago Tribune
This seer’s stone he was instructed to place in his hat, and on covering his face with the hat the character and translation would appear on the stone.
William Smith (1883)
The manner in which this was done was by looking into the Urim and Thummim, which was placed in a hat to exclude the light, (the plates lying near by covered up), and reading off the translation, which appeared in the stone by the power of God.
William Smith (1884)
When Joseph received the plates he a[l]so received the Urim and Thummim, which he would place in a hat to exclude all light, and with the plates by his side he translated the characters
Close to the hat
[Search Welch for “close to” for Whitmer’s statement]