Visions were actually quite commonplace in the early 19th Century, especially in America. I can even think of a number of claims of the Virgin Mary appearing to people throughout the world in the late 18th and early 19th century.
Take a look through the BYU-I devotional archives for Nov 1998. Richard L Bushman, the author of that cultural biography of Joseph Smith gave a talk on how Joseph Smith was not alone in claiming visions of God, and how he set himslef apart from the rest as a true Prophet. He takes the idea that "If Jospeh Smith saw God the Father, then that guarantees that he was a prophet" (That the truth/falacy of his prophetic calling depends exclusively on that singular event) and examines it against the culture in which Joseph grew up.
When placed in that a historical context, that doesn't make any sense. Joseph Smith said little about the first vision, and we didn't even have a written version until 1831 or 1832, or even to 1838. Even the 1st Edition of the Book of Mormon says nothing about the visions of Moroni leading him to the plates. Bushman hypothesizes that is because visions were so commonplace in the early 19th century.
Between 1783 ane 1815 32 published accounts of visions were quickly found when he searched the internet. Many dealt with "the end of the world," or heavenly journeys. 10 accounts of these were visions of God, Christ, or both in human form. For Joseph Smith to publish one more, would make it tougher for Joseph Smith to really gain any ground, as he would have been "just another visionary." All the visions would have been 'static' around the real message of the Lord. One such was Charles Grandison Finney who is called by some as one of the greatest evangelists since Paul. He was born in new england, concerned about the welfare of his soul, he went into the woods and prayed. He recieved a vision of Christ.
The difference between Finney and Joseph Smith was that Finney did the "natural" thing, becoming a preacher, and creating religious revivals. He became the leader of Oberlin College. Many other great preachers and visionaries emerged during this time. They received a vision, felt called to preach of Christ, took the Bible, and taught others from it.
Joseph Smith stands out from the rest as he took a step that no other visionary of the day took. He became a translator, and not of the Bible, as other men were doing. And few of the most learned men with years of training dealt with translating egyptian, as the Rosetta Stone had just been discovered. Josepth Smith took on the role of translator of reformed egyptian without much education. Critics spoke not of the Book of Mormon's content, but that an unlearned boy was translating something. Later, he went on to translate the Bible, and the Pearl of Great Price. Other visionaries only stayed on the path of the world and its churches. They preached the Bible under their interpretations that came from their visions. It was the first of many steps that would define him as the true prophet of the Restoration. The fruits of his translation are a physical proof of his prophetic calling. For me personally, it is how I know that Joseph Smith did in fact have the first vision.