The First Voynich Photocopies?

Comparison Notes- Original Ms. Photostats/Modern Images

I became aware of the possibility that the New York Public Library had the original Photostats Wilfred Voynich made of his “Bacon Manuscript”, while reading the letters of Anne Nill on July 24th, 2012. She mentioned them starting about 1930, and how she and Ethel would send people to the NYPL to see the manuscript in this copy form, rather than over-handling the original- which they kept in a safe deposit box. Even so, they restricted the access to these copies, only allowing those who they felt might help them cement the attribution to Roger Bacon, or otherwise decipher the script or solve the mystery. They even discussed retrieving them from the library at one point, but then, a few years later, Nill further related that they decided to let the library keep them.

But they do not appear in the library’s catalogs today. It was through my request to the manuscript department that the library sought them out from their archives. It seems they have been somewhat forgotten by the outside Voynich community, although of course the library was quite aware they were there. It does not seem they have been examined in years, if not decades.

This set seems to be the very first set of photostats, or at least one of the earliest, made of the manuscript. Wilfred came to the USA at the outbreak of WWI, and set up shop here soon after. He was very interested in having the images available to researchers, and seems to have made this set by the late teens or early 20’s. They are unfortunately not dated. But included within the box they are in is a set of some pages from Voynich’s copy of Valturius’s “De Ri Militari”, and the head of the archives included a letter saying he prepared those copies in November of 1929. Perhaps these photostats of the Voynich Manuscript was prepared at that time, too, but I doubt it, as Newbold and others had seen photocopies by the early 20’s. I can’t say for certain without comparing these to Newbold’s set in Pennsylvania, but I would imagine these date to the time of his at least, and he already wrote of the Voynich by 1921.

Below are various observations I made while carefully comparing each and every page with the current, modern, JPEGs and SIDs offered by the Beinecke.

F1r- The chemical stains may be there, but they are faint and less apparent than on the JPG and SID. The “Signature” is moderately visible anyway. “E” at the end of “Tepence” seems to be a capital, or at least have a lower loop not presently visible. Other than that, it looks the same as we see today, if not a bit darker. Being small on this copy, and not having a means of enlarging it, it is hard to compare to what we have now.
Strings visible in binding, attached at top. Some sort of spine leather folded back.
The letter “column” down right side appears darker on the photostats than now seen.

F10v- tear on 9v is visible to exactly the same extent in the original photostats, as it is in the modern SID. This implies the state of the binding close to that of 80 years ago. However, more of f16r… the “1”, appears behind the shot of f11r in the modern JPG.

F13r- In this shot, there is inserted a blank scrap of paper behind it. In pencil notation is, “No page 12”.

Note: After this point, the maker of the PHOTOSTATS’s seems to have continued to insert paper behind the page, to avoid photographing the edges of ensuing pages beyond them. Not on all, but on many copies.

F14v & F15r- stains are apparent on the PHOTOSTATS, at the top of the pages, as they are on the modern SIDs. I did not find any stain on the modern copies that was not on these early photostats … that is, it does not seem to have suffered any staining since these photos were taken.

F17r- The “floral” image which overlaps the number 17 is surprisingly darker on the PHOTOSTATS. It appears to have faded quite a bit. The lines seem thinner now, too. The stain around it is also darker on the PHOTOSTATS. Why? The different photographic process can account for some difference in contrast, but the information does not seem to be there, anymore, whatever the method used. More importantly, the marginalia at the top of the page is much clearer on the PHOTOSTATS- for instance, although smaller than can be made by enlarging the SID, the “aw” at the end is dark, sharp, and clear. The “gallows” in the second to last word is light, but still darker than the SID, and more obvious. The marginalia letters have clearly faded, also, and under the stain most of all.

F38v- The “smudge” or stain on this page, which appears at near the top, and to the left of the plant, seems to be characters on the photostats, while too faded to discern on the modern SID. It seems to be “4an”

F40r- similar to the above case, the small smudge seen between the two lower right roots on the SID, is much darker, and appears to be either a cross, or a “4” voynichese character.

F58v- A penciled note, “f65 follows 58”- which it does, of course.

F67r- Smudge to the right of the page number “67” is darker and clearer on the PHOTOSTATS, and appears to be “67” with another small character after it (an “e”?), and all crossed out with one line. On the SID, this is illegible.

F67r3- wheel is “cut off” shorter on the JPG and SID. The photostats shows several words, and more of the wheel, that the modern versions do not. Whether this is due to a fold in the newer shots, or if a strip of the page became detached and went missing since the photostats were taken, I cannot tell without seeing the original. I’ve drawn the few words visible, if anyone is interested in seeing them.

F72v3- on the SID and JPG, the left side of the “lion zodiac” is not shown, whereas it is clearly photographed on the photostats. The flap was held back by a paperclip… does this flap still exist, or have modern copiers simply failed to unfold it? It shows that circle to the outer ring, and clearly shows four more women with stars, along with associated writing.

F73v- pencil notation, “75 follows 73”, which it does.

85v1- The PHOTOSTATS shows a paper behind the right side of this, as though it is detached on this edge- my understanding was that this is now attached/bound along this edge. I can’t make out why the difference… a fold? I do not know the actual construction well enough to equate the two possibles.

Note: The PHOTOSTATSs are separated here with a cardboard sheet, and the ensuing four pages are on one sheet, then the entire rosettes pages are on two more.

The Rosettes pages: Very nice, surprisingly clear copy. Those privy to examine these photostats pages really were not at much of a loss. The sharpness and clarity of them is really on par with the SIDs, and actually surpasses them in some ways. The rosettes are a good example… the recent “volcano” image from Beinecke is seen here, almost in its entirety. The second “tower in hole” tower foundation is likewise here, whereas it was only recently seen again in the very newest image released.

F90r- pencil note, “p 93 follows p 90”, which it does.
F93r- pencil note, “p 93 follows 90”, ditto.
F94v foldout- The first two sheets are pencil labeled, “95 1 + 2”.
F95v- penciled note, “p 99 follows 96”, which it does.

101v2- this is labeled “101 4” on the photostats. There also happens to be a note, “Room 319” penciled on this- perhaps the NYPL room this was originally kept, or produced?

F103r- The “blur” in the lower right corner of the modern SID seems to be more distinct in the PHOTOSTATS, and appears to be several voynichese characters, including an “8”… but these are hard to make out.

F107v through f111r, have penciled notes, “p. 111 follows 108”, which they do.

Further notes: Box marked with printed, bright orange label, “RESTRICTED. DO NOT SERVE TO READERS”. It looks fairly modern, although the box is old. On the paper wrapping, in magic marker, is “VOYNICH- Roger Bacon Ms.”, twice, then in thick pencil:
“Voynich Ms. of Roger Bacon- Restricted” (“Restricted” underlined twice).

Summary: There is nothing of great surprise, and no missing pages found, in this very early… possibly the earliest… set of photostats of the Voynich Ms. Well, perhaps if the unseen part of f67r3 (see above) is really missing now, then that is one portion that was preserved by these copies. But what is actually most surprising to me is that at this early date, there was this set of images which were so clear and complete. They are far better than what we had only a few years ago, before the JPGs and SIDs. I’m not sure where the images in D’Imperio’s book, and various articles, came from… but if they were from this master set, then whoever made the copies  from them did a very poor job. They are even better than the B&W later offered by the Beinecke.

But also of note is just how little, if at all, the manuscript has changed in 80 years… almost one-third more of its life has been added, and it has been handled far more in this time, probably, than in its missing 300 or so years in between Marci and Voynich. And if the few seemingly faded characters can be accounted for by differences in the photo process, or even by application of chemicals, or undue handling in those places, then the manuscript has held up well under all its modern scrutiny.

But still, despite being so close to today’s condition, there are small differences. There are possibly more differences which I did not notice, in fact there must be. For that reason these photostats become of interest in their own right. They were once simply a tool to avoid handling the original, but now they freeze in time the manuscript as it was first seen in modern times. I’m certain many researchers will find different areas to compare, and in more detail, than I have in my 5 hour overview.

Another consideration is that there is some damage to the photostats themselves, due to the photochemicals used… some sepia and stains, possibly from the fixer. They are on paper, which I am not sure is of archival quality, and wrapped in brown paper, which also cannot be good. Perhaps the NYPL would consider investing in some good microfilm or digital copies of these photostats,  so that they can be better preserved as they are. This would also allow them to be made more widely available, and possibly for download. They have a great value as a landmark in the life of the Voynich- a literal snapshot of what many who first wrote about the Voynich actually saw when they came to their conclusions.

Rich SantaColoma, August, 2012.


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5 Responses to “The First Voynich Photocopies?”

  1. proto57 Says:

    Funny Bunny and Ernest wrote with information and other images of the pages with possible missing portions. For one thing, the Leo zodiac is seen here, in completeness: (thanks, Bunny)

    As for f67r, Ernest gave me this link:

    You can see much of the detail I noted on the old photostats, in the shadow of this image. For those interest, however, I uploaded a paper about this page. It is 7MB:

  2. Ernest Lillie Says:

    I checked Funny Bunny’s link and with a little manipulation found that all 12 of the Voynich zodiac images were available here. Simply substitute the image numbers into the URL as follows:

    z3610559.jpg — Aries
    z3610560.jpg — Pisces
    z3610561.jpg — Taurus ( white )
    z3610562.jpg — Taurus ( black )
    z3610563.jpg — Leo
    z3610564.jpg — Cancer
    z3610565.jpg — Gemini
    z3610566.jpg — Virgo
    z3610567.jpg — Libra
    z3610568.jpg — Scorpio
    z3610569.jpg — Sagitarius

    There are also other images on both sides of these ( keep adding or subtracting 1 from the URL number ).

    These zodiac pages are pretty good. Most of the creases are straightened out and the text is pretty legible. The images are black and white, but that is of little consequence.

    • proto57 Says:

      Excellent, Ernest. Funny how I thought that newer was better in all ways… well the SIDs are far better in many ways, but now we know all these black and whites are still also valuable.

  3. nickpelling Says:

    Hi Rich, there’s a set of positive rotographs in Newbold’s papers at the University of Pennsylvania archives, which I examined in 2006. Possibly the earliest ones still around?

    • proto57 Says:

      Hi Nick: You did describe those to me at one time. As for being the first, I wouldn’t know. Maybe if they could be compared side-by-side it would be possible to tell if they were from the same source or not, or if not, which came first.

      But I would suspect the NYPL photostats are the source for all of the existing ones. When you read the correspondence of Wilfred, Ethel and Nill, it seems copy requests were filled from the NYPL photostats.

      There are apparently several early (circa 1955) UV shots of f1r, also. But I don’t know what became of them. Do you?

      Ironically I only just came across a hint that yet another, and “unauthorized” (by the Voynichs) complete set of photostats may exist. I’m going to try and track those down.

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