An indisputable truth of historical research is that any conclusions drawn from the source material is inevitably shaped by subjective reasoning. This is why every researcher should always go back to the source to form their own opinion. Luckily we live in an age when a wealth of source material magically appears on our computer screens, only a click or two away… but far from all of it. The Voynich papers at the Beinecke library at Yale have not yet been digitized, and only have a cursory description at the website. Much of the current understanding of the provenance of the ms. is based on these papers, so I wanted to see them in person. This last June, I was able to spend almost two full days looking through them. And, also as expected, my impression was very different from that of others.
I will soon write up my findings, and opinions on them, in what will possibly be three or four blog posts. But as also often happens when searching for information in archives, you find more than you were looking for. In this case, I found two images of the f1r “signature” of Jacobus de Tepencz, which I thought I had not seen before. Although I am no expert on the signature, I felt I had enough of an understanding of it, and the stories and controversies around it, to believe these images were of importance. So I took a couple of pictures of them, and sent them to Jan Hurych- who wrote several articles about the VMs signature- and is also someone whose opinion I respect and admire. He affirmed my suspicion that these images may be previously unpublished, and possibly of importance to Voynich research. That was enough for me, and I told him I would write them up.
The first image, shown above (click on image for full size), first appeared to be a below average image of the familiar first page of the Voynich Manuscript, f1r. But the penciled note on the photo reads, “To be kept- Rotograph without autograph before it was chemically restored”. This is what caught my attention, because the “chemical treatment” of the signature- why and when it was done by Voynich- has been a long running controversy. For one thing, it has been surmised that Voynich treated this area to see IF there was a signature. Another claim was that he “accidentally” spilled photo developer on it, revealing the unseen signature.
However, as you will see in the full size version of my photograph of the “Rotograph”, the signature is at least partly visible. It is even more prevalent on the original, as I only shot this with a hand held camera under room and window light. In fact, almost all the letters are visible. So that begs the question, “Why?” would Wilfred apply chemicals to this? One clue may be in the penciled note, which I believe is by Anne Nill: Perhaps “chemically restored” then means that Wilfred was trying to “enhance” the signature.
Another issue is that it has been claimed the signature was originally “erased”. Perhaps erasure was attempted, and caused the signature to be in the lightened state seen above- but still, it is there, and visible, so it was not at least, totally erased.
As I said, I asked Jan Hurych for his opinion on this. He responded,
“The signature is apparently genuine and was not fabricated by Voynich. How could Voynich overlook it originally I do not know. But considering he claimed he even “originally overlooked the Marci’s letter” :-), everything is possible. Neither Baresch nor Marci mentioned the signature or the erasure in their letters, after all. As we can see, the original erasure leaves only light imprint of the signature but no other traces of the erasure itself.”
I agree with Jan that this find begs the question, “How could Voynich overlook it originally”, and also that it is possible that one interpretation is that it original- that is, not forged. I feel another interpretation of Wilfred’s claiming to having overlooked it is that it is forged, too, and that he or someone added it to give the mysterious manuscript needed and missing provenance. Also, it is important to remember that Voynich did not share this Rotograph, nor any description of it, as seen. It sat, hidden, in his papers, until his death. Why? There is no way to know of course.
Another consideration is that even if this signature was erased at some point, it is visible: so why didn’t Baresch, Marci, or Kinner mention it? That had not occurred to me, and yet is a very important point. I would add that the 1666 Marci letter is all about the possible provenance of the Voynich, and so it seems it would have been of great importance to mention the faded (if it was at the time, faded, or partly erased), but visible, signature. Yet, he did not.
Jan also wrote,
“Why Voynich had to use the chemicals on the original is still a mystery. True, it may have enhanced the signature but that could have been done on the copy or even by using colored filters or the negative as I did. The longtime result of that chemical treatment is that the signature is now less visible than it was right after the treatment. It is even less understandable since Voynich was originally a chemist.”
Absolutely. When one considers that from the very start, this was obviously a rare and dazzling manuscript find, combined with this untreated Rotograph image which shows the signature was readable, why would he risk smearing chemicals all over the first page? OK, I didn’t claim this image would solve the issues surrounding the signature, but I do think it alters the landscape a bit.
The second image, shown above, veritably leapt off the table at me when I uncovered it. I thought I had never seen such a good, crisp “signature” of our friend Tepencz, and Jan concurred, and feels this image,
“…shows the signature quite clearly… …there are also some traces of liquid there, maybe it is the oldest picture “after treatment”. There were probably several chemicals used subsequently (as can be judged by contemporary colored scan) and probably several experiments were made directly on the original. That would explain the extensive damage we can see today. The chemicals are apparently still working, activated probably by light and other factors”.
Jan also helpfully provided a negative of the above signature, which helps to reveal further details:
Very striking, I think most Voynich researchers will agree. But what it all means, if anything, will be seen. As Jan says,
It looks like the whole signature business is only a superficial problem, however it is not. It is a VERY important problem. True, Horczicky himself did not add anything to the VM story, we even do not know if he ever tried to solve it. However his name was for Voynich the MISSING LINK between Baresh (or Marci) and Rudolph II (and from him to Bacon). Originally, Voynich claimed the writing was the dedication to Horczicky by Rudolph – he was of course only following Mnishowsky’s rumor, passed on by Marci. Now we know the writing is not in Rudolph’s hand and that Bacon is not the author (carbon dating). As far as we know now, Rudolph might not even have the VM at all, Horczicky could have got it elsewhere. As for Dee, he was first brought in the game by Voynich himself.
So we are stuck with Horczicky being the first directly proven owner of the VM. His name “Tepenec” gives us the temporary location of the VM (Prague) and the earliest date he possibly got it – his nobilization (1608), provided he wrote that immediately afterwards :-). It is actually the earliest date of the VM which is really DIRECTLY documented (by such signature). Then again, if it is not in his hand it could have been written there in any time later by anybody.
If however the signature is a hoax, we are left only with the letter by Baresch (1639, or 1637 if we consider the first, now lost letter) and we do not know where HE got it. There would be rather difficult to go then further back in time, the way back to the author.
And so it is, we have a very small fire, with very little fuel- and perhaps each little twig of information will cause it to swell up a bit, and help in some small way to further illuminate this very intractable mystery.