Joseph Smith was born in 1805. His father was a “visionary” man and participated in a local practice of hunting after buried treasures. Special rocks or seer stones (also known as peep stones) were placed in top hats and the “seer” would look at the stone in order to see where missing objects or treasures could be found. These treasures were said to have been left by Spanish treasure ships, the native people, or pirates and generally believed to contain large quantities of brass, silver, or gold.
Ideas regarding seer stones were likely taken from The Magus, written by Francis Barrett first published in 1801. Between about 1815 and 1840, the use of seer stones was popular in New York, Pennsylvania, and some surrounding areas. By the 1850s, usage had become less common and after 1880 they had virtually disappeared from the public conscience.
There are three early stones that were probably all obtained by Smith between about 1819 and 1822. One of the stones is said to have been obtained by borrowing a seer stone from a neighbor, Sally Chase, also skilled in the art and using it to see where he should find his own stone. One of the early stones (the green stone) was probably purchased. A third stone was found when a well was being dug on Willard Chase’s property between 1819 and 1822. This was probably the “chocolate colored stone”. Chase described it as a “singular” and “curious” stone and was intent to keep it, but agreed to loan it to Joseph Smith. This stone was likely iron banded jasper. After two years, Joseph Smith returned the stone, but shortly thereafter it was loaned again, this time by Hyrum Smith, Joseph’s brother. The stone was never returned.
The first/primary use for the stone was to find buried treasure, and Joseph used the brown stone for this purpose. This stone was used by placing it at the bottom of a white top hat and using ones hands to block light from coming in around the sides of the rim. When used in this manner, Joseph claimed that he could see things on the stone. Between about 1822 and 1827, Joseph working in the company of several different groups dug on about 18 different properties in search of gold, silver, a chest of watches, and other treasures. There were no fewer than 6 self-proclaimed seers living within a 2 mile radius of his house. Joseph however was considered particularly skilled at the art, and received a relatively high wage for his skill. He was employed by among others by Josiah Stowell. Although no treasure was found, Josiah was a believer in Joseph Smith and his abilities and testified on his behalf when J.S. was brought to trial for these activities (by Josiah’s sons who felt that their father was being defrauded). The use of stones and other magical objects to find missing items was against state laws in New York. According to the court records in 1826 (when he was brought to trial for his usage of the seer stones to try to find buried treasure) he often “knew all too well” where these objects were located.
Between about 1828-1829, Joseph used the brown stone to dictate the Book of Mormon. He claimed that when placed in the hat, words would appear which he would then read off to the transcriber. When Joseph claimed to know where to go to find the plates, it was probably because he claimed to see the spot in his seer stone. After he claimed to have found the gold plates on Cumorah, some of his fellow treasure seekers searched the hill for fresh holes, but found none. There were earlier contracts in place regarding how treasures were to be split, and some of these people may have felt defrauded. Joseph claimed that all of the hills in the area were built by hand by the ancient inhabitants and that many of them had caves with treasures.
Joseph was arrested for the use of his stone and brought to trial first in 1826 and then later in June of 1830. By 1832, there were large numbers of converts from Ohio who did not believe in seer stones in the same way that the earlier New York followers did, so their usage was “deemphasized” in the written record. The use of seer stones is not mentioned in the more than 2000 page History of the Church first published in the 1850s.
So strong was the belief among the New York members in Joseph Smiths ability to use these stones to receive revelation, that when he stopped using them in about 1831, David Whitmer concluded that all of the revelations received without them were of the devil. Nevertheless, after about 1831, the brown stone was no longer used by Joseph Smith, at least in an official capacity. It was given to Oliver Cowdrey, and later given and sold to others until it was donated to the LDS church in the late 19th century. Brigham Young acquired the stone no later than 1853.
Even though Joseph stopped using the chocolate colored stone in the early 1830s, he had other stones which he continued to obtain and use throughout his life, with at least two of them being found in Nauvoo. Joseph used a seer stone (probably the white one) in the translation of the book of Abraham.
Brigham Young quoted Joseph saying that he had five stones and that there was a seer stone for every person on earth.
The stones important to Joseph Smith include:
- The white or cream colored stone (translucent).
- The “very large” stone.
- The peyote stone.
- The second small stone
- BELCHER-SMITH-DIBBLE-PIERCE STONE or green stone:
The LDS church has released pictures of the brown stone, which is one of the 3 or more “seer stones” in their possession. Stone #4 can be viewed in a museum. There may be additional stones.
 Mark Ashurst-McGee, “A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet” (M.A. thesis, Utah State University, 2000), 204.
 It can be argued that they were not digging a well at all, but rather digging for buried treasure.
 Dan Vogel, “The Locations of Joseph Smith’s early Treasure Quests”, Dialogue, a journal of Mormon thought Vol 12, No 3 pp 197-233 (esp pg 229-230). See http://undergroundnotes.com/graphics7/Dialogue_V27N03_211.pdf
 The hills in the area were formed by glaciers, and have a peculiar form. Many locals believed that they were formed by Native Americans.
 Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ…(Richmond, Mo.: David Whitmer, 1887), 54.
 Oliver was a believer in the stones and their magical power. At the same time, he penned the most convincing story of the Urim and Thummim (aka the magical spectacles or stones on a breastplate), which were not used.
 “The question is asked many times, ‘Has brother Brigham got the Urim and Thummim?’ Yes, he has got everything; everything that is necessary for him to receive the will and mind of God to this people.”. Heber C. Kimball, in General Conference, 1853.
 “According to Brigham Young, ‘Joseph found two small ones on the beach in Nauvoo—a little larger than a black walnut without the shock on.'” – Quinn, D. Michael (1998), Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (2nd ed.), Salt Lake City: Signature Books, pp. 171–173, ISBN 1-56085-089-2
 “Oliver sent me Joseph’s first seer stone; Oliver always kept it until he sent it to me – the second seer stone Dr. Williams had – the third one was a very large – and Joseph found two small ones on the beach in Nauvoo – a little larger than a black walnut without the shock on – Joseph said there is a stone for every person on the earth – I don’t know that I have ever had a desire to have one.” The Complete Discourses of Brigham Young, Ed. Richard S. Van Wagoner, Smith-Pettit Foundation, Salt Lake City (2009), http://bit.ly/BY-discourses
 See http://www.fullerconsideration.com/sources.php?cat=GP-SS for primary sources and quotes regarding the seer stones.
 This stone was used to attempt to find treasure and to find and dictate the book of Mormon. It appears to have seen extensive use between 1824-1830. It was then given to Oliver Cowdrey, who kept it until he gave it Phineas Young near the time of his death. It was given to Brigham Young, and later sold to one of his wives as part of this estate. By the late 19th century, it was in the possession of the LDS church. It is currently owned by the LDS church and stored in the First Presidency’s vault.
 Image Copyright Intellectual Reserve (LDS). See: https://www.lds.org/ensign/2015/10/joseph-the-seer?lang=eng
 Brigham Young describes the 3rd stone as being very large. This may be the same one that was described by Grant Palmer, who claims to have seen this stone along with the previous two in the possession of the LDS church in the late 1960s. Palmer described it as made of hardened mud or clay based on the appearance, being roughly the size of a softball with some sort of a handle to carry it around. https://redd.it/2usqe8 Alternatively, the 3rd stone may have been the green stone (BELCHER-SMITH-DIBBLE-PIERCE STONE) listed as #6. Regardless, it is believed to be in possession of the LDS church.
 See D. Michael Quinn. 1998a p. 246-247. Joseph Smith found this stone, possibly in its rough unshaped form, along the Mississippi River’s shore between 1839 and 1844. After Joseph’s death, the stone was kept by Emma Smith and inherited by her second husband, Lewis Bidamon. It eventually made its way to the Wilford Wood Museum in Woods Cross, Utah. It is the size of a U.S. quarter dollar and “is the most intricate of those attributed to Smith. It has a hole through the center surrounded by eight smaller indentations, with tooled ridges around the edge” This is probably one of the two stones that Brigham Young referred to that was found during the Nahvoo period. See also http://www.mormonthink.com/files/restoration-sacred-mushroom.pdf pg 24.
 This stone was found during the Nauvoo period is not described in the literature apart from the reference from Brigham Young. It is described as being the size of a black walnut without its shell.
 See http://www.rickgrunder.com/HistoricalArchive/belchersmithdibble.htm. This stone may have been sold in the early to mid 1820s to Joseph Smith. After his death, it was given to Dibble and later given to family members. When an older owner passed away in the early 1990s, it was sold at auction to allow for family members to share the inheritance. The buyer was Jay Mitton, a wealthy lawyer in Utah. It was said to have been examined by the BYU Geology department prior to being donated to the LDS church.
[i] Fate of the Green Seer Stone
(personal account from the MTC around 1999-2001, confirmed from 2 anonymous sources):
Jay Mitton (a retired attorney from SLC) told various missionaries in the MTC the story of acquiring the seer stone . He also stated that he knew President Hinckley. Some details related
- The sellers did not want to sell the stone to the member of the LDS church (his words). Jay Mitton had to pretend to be just a random collector of mormon history items. He made it sound like he pulled the wool over his eyes.
- The people he bought it from had it in the family for generations, but they all seemed to run into financial problems at the same time. He insinuated that God had made that happen to force them to sell. (editors note: The seller indicated a slightly different version as follows: Often stones are inherited by a number of children. Because of the value, the family generally sells the item rather than the inheriting child having to pay the other siblings what may be thousands of dollars).
- The stone was placed in a vault in the first presidency’s office beside the brown and white seer stones