He dictated the narrative to various scribes, including schoolteacher Oliver Cowdery, who took down the LDS leader's words in longhand. Cowdery then painstakingly copied the original manuscript for the printer to set in type. More than 70 percent of that original document suffered water damage. The LDS Church History Library in Salt Lake City has most of what's left.
The "printer's copy," however, remained with Smith's followers who stayed in the Midwest rather than trekking to Utah, and, in 1903, it was purchased by the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, now the Community of Christ.
Through the years, tensions simmered between those two wings of Mormonism. But, during the past couple of decades, historians have built scholarly bridges between the Community of Christ and the much-larger, Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Community of Christ officials have been "careful stewards of the manuscript," Snow said Tuesday. "Both faiths are trying to move forward in sharing their collections."
Community of Christ minister and Seventy Robin Linkhart, who was at the news conference, praised her Utah colleagues for their part in the joint project.
The two-volume work, Linkhart said, "truly is an exceptional contribution to the study of LDS history and culture, representing decades of research."
Begun by Mormon scholar Royal Skousen in 1988, she said, "it's been a long, long journey to the finish line."
The Community of Christ long ago accepted the notion that "revelation includes a human component," said Lachlan Mackay, coordinator of the denomination's historic sites.
The Independence, Mo.-based faith published articles about the seer stone as early as the 1960s, he said, but "it might still be news to some people."
"I'm incredibly excited," Mackay said Tuesday. "These efforts have served to unite us."
Both he and Richard E. Turley Jr., assistant LDS historian, said physical objects "help us connect to the past, make it more realistic, more tangible."
In a recent essay, the LDS Church explained how Smith, according to some accounts, used the seer stone. He peered into a hat, to block out exterior light, and "read aloud the English words that appeared on the instrument."
"As a young man during the 1820s, Joseph Smith, like others in his day, used a seer stone to look for lost objects and buried treasure," the essay said. "As Joseph grew to understand his prophetic calling, he learned that he could use this stone for the higher purpose of translating scripture."
Smith also used two bound stones — known as the Urim and Thummim — as "interpreters."
"Some accounts indicate that Joseph studied the characters on the plates," the essay added. "Most of the accounts speak of Joseph's use of the Urim and Thummim (either the interpreters or the seer stone)."