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Joseph Smith Descendants Believe They’ve Discovered a Photograph of the Prophet

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Descendants of the prophet Joseph Smith, along with some historians, believe they have found a daguerreotype of Joseph Smith. The announcement was made on Thursday in the Spring/Summer 2022 issue of the John Whitmer Historical Association Journal.

Daniel Larsen inherited a number of family heirlooms after the death of his mother in 1992. He is the great-great-grandson of Joseph Smith. Among them was a watch that he was unable to open. In 2020, Larsen found the watch he had set aside and forgotten about and tried again to open it. When he did, he felt he had found an image of Joseph Smith. Daguerreotypes were made on iodine-sensitized metal plates and used mercury vapors to develop the images, captured with light.

The daguerreotype process. Courtesy of miro.medium.com

“In my opinion, there’s absolutely no question that it’s Joseph,” Larsen said, as reported by Deseret News. “I looked at it and I looked at it and saw those eyes. I told my wife to come in and look at this. We looked at it and … almost at the same time said, ‘This is a photo of Joseph Smith.’”

The pocket watch locket containing the image some believe to be of Joseph Smith, first prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Courtesy of Dan Larsen and Jim Mathis

For the last two years, Larsen and Lachlan Mackay, a member of the Community of Christ’s Council of the Twelve Apostles and Larsen’s nephew, have sought to verify the daguerreotype’s authenticity. They worked with Ronald Romig, an archivist for the Community of Christ who has over 30 years of experience researching visual materials relating to Joseph Smith and the greater Smith family.

Both Larsen and Mackay now believe the daguerreotype is of Joseph Smith. They also believe the photo was taken by Lucian Foster, a convert to the Church who lived with the Smith family before the martyrdom. Mackay shared that Joseph Smith III repeatedly claimed Foster had made a daguerreotype of his father.

“ The family believed that there was one made, and there have been historians from both traditions (Community of Christ and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) who believe that there was one somewhere in the Joseph Smith III family,” he said.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released the following statement regarding the daguerreotype.

“Every few years, potential donors bring artifacts to the Church History Library for review, including alleged photographs of the prophet Joseph Smith. Such artifacts are, of course, of great interest to the church. Though it was not mentioned specifically in the article, church historians, archivists and artifact experts were provided — by the item’s owner and the article’s authors — the opportunity to analyze the locket and photo and to review their findings prior to publication. We concur that the daguerreotype and locket were created of the materials and methods appropriate to the 1840s. However, as nothing is definitively known about the locket’s history before 1992, we cannot draw a conclusion about who is pictured in the daguerreotype. We welcome the recent publication of the image and hope it will prompt the discovery of additional information helpful to determining its authenticity.”

A closer view of the daguerreotype discovered in the locket.

Multiple daguerreotypes over the years have been discovered and debunked as the long sought-after image of the prophet.

In the autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, the Apostle shared this description of Joseph Smith:

President Joseph Smith was in person tall and well built, strong and active; of a light complexion, light hair, blue eyes, very little beard, and of an expression peculiar to himself. … His countenance was ever mild, affable, beaming with intelligence and benevolence; mingled with a look of interest and an unconscious smile, or cheerfulness, and entirely free from all restraint or affectation of gravity; and there was something connected with the serene and steady penetrating glance of his eye, as if he would penetrate the deepest abyss of the human heart, gaze into eternity, penetrate the heavens, and comprehend all worlds. He possessed a noble boldness and independence of character; his manner was easy and familiar; his rebuke terrible as the lion; his benevolence unbounded as the ocean; his intelligence universal.

Below are a number of paintings of Joseph Smith. How do you feel they measure up against the found daguerreotype?

Joseph and Hyrum Death Masks
The death masks of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. Joseph’s is on the left. Courtesy of the Church History Museum.
Joseph Smith | National Portrait Gallery
Courtesy of the Community of Christ

 

Joseph Smith Jr. (The Prophet Joseph Smith)
Courtesy of ChurchofJesusChrist.org
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Aleah Ingram
Aleah Ingram
Aleah is a graduate of Southern Virginia University, where she studied English, Creative Writing, and Dance. She now works full time as a marketing and product manager, writer, and editor. Aleah served a mission in California and loves baking, Lang Leav poetry, Gaynor Minden pointe shoes, and Bollywood movies.

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