A recurring theme to many of the inquires which Voynich made, to various curators and expert scholars, was to ask questions which pointed them into certain directions, while at the same time professing to not know where that direction ultimately led. The result was that the answer he received would usually be “on target”, while the question would retain the impression… genuine or not… that Voynich himself did not already possess the answer he was seeking.
This effect is almost universal in Voynich’s dealings. And the archival remains of this process are almost indistinguishable from genuine inquiry, if not for the high number of really great, perfectly phrased, seemingly innocuous, questions, which actually contain most of the answer he was after. I feel the number of times I’ve observed this effect rises far above simple coincidence, or some sort of brilliant intuition, on his part. But there is to me a “smoking gun” in some of the inquiries, in that the question asked is just so close to the proper one, that it stretches credibility that he would not have already guessed it. One case I feel borders on the ludicrous, so I wanted to outline it, here.
I had written “A New Look at the Tepencz Signature”, after finding among the Voynich Papers at the Beinecke what seem to be the earliest images of the Tepencz name on f1r of the Voynich Manuscript. There is both a pre-chemical, and seemingly very early, and clear, post-chemical treatment images. Here is a close up of one of them (click for full size):
So Voynich saw this, and claimed to want to determine whose name this was. What would one think, though, on seeing this? What letter would one guess is between the capital “T” and the “p”? What do you see? And more importantly, what makes sense, in the context of the claimed provenance of the Voynich? Here is what Voynich wrote to the Director of the National State Archives of Bohemia, Prague, Czecho Slovakia, on February 9, 1921:
“I should be very much obliged to you if you could give me some information about a man who lived in Bohemia in the 17th century. His name appears on the first leaf of a very important manuscript in my possession, which he apparently owned at some time during the 17th century. As nearly as I can read the name it is Jacobij a Tspenecz or Topenecz, and I am enclosing [a] photograph of it.”
So whether or not one thinks that letter can be mistaken for an “o”, we have as his first guess, “s”. “Tspenecz”? Not only does that character look nothing like an “s”, but “Tspenecz” makes no sense… not as a name, nor as any word. We might allow “o”, though, as that makes some bit of linguistic sense. But then there is the problem that the letter, in that picture, actually does look somewhat like an “e”, with the downward points at the bottom, at the beginning and end of the “e” loop. So why no guess “Tepenecz”, when that makes so much more sense than Tspenencz, and also, looks pretty much like it?
Not to mention that Voynich got most of the other letters correct, when they are less visible. No, all in all, I find this a disingenuous request, meant to elicit a desired answer. The letter goes on:
“Through indirect evidence [1666 Marci letter?] I gather that he was a friend of the celebrated Prague professor, Joh. Marcus Marci, but although I have looked in every possible book in the British Museum and in the New York libraries I can find no reference to him. I also think he was personally acquainted with or at the Court of Ferdinand III, King of Bohemia, and that he knew a certain Dr. Raphael who taught Bohemian to the children of Ferdinand III [yep, the Marci letter…]. Incidentally I should be very grateful if you could give me some information about this Dr. Raphael, apart from ‘Jacobij a Tspenecz’.”
Well that is an awful lot of effort then, no doubt… but I might have suggested that while expending a search in “every possible book in the British Museum and in the New York libraries”, he might have wanted to try Tapenecz and Tepenecz, too.
Voynich ends the letter by saying he wanted the information to use in a talk that April 20th. That would be his famous lecture on the Voynich before the Philadelphia College of Physicians. I didn’t see the answer from Prague, but we we know it worked, because Voynich later thanked him for his answer, and mentions “Tepenecz”, who he says, “signed” his manuscript. But here is what Voynich had to say about it, in his lecture:
“Chemicals were applied to the margins and the autograph, Jacobus de Tepenecz, became visible, with some illegible figures below it”.
So now there is no mention of “s”, or “o”, only “e”. He goes on,
“Bohemian biographical dictionaries yielded the information that Jacobus Tepenecz was a Bohemian scientist, ennobled by Emperor Rudolf in 1608. He had the right only from that time to sign himself as ‘de Tepenecz.’ Earlier he was known as Horcicky, or, in the Latinized form, Sinapius.”
After this, he outlines in more detail the story of Tepenecz, and then gives credit to the source, “The director of the Bohemian State Archives has very kindly supplied me with a copy of Emperor Rudolf’s patent of nobility to Horicicky.”
Well at least the answer from the Archives cleared up the name, but without seeing the whole response from them, I am unclear just how much of the biography of Tepenecz was imparted by them, to Voynich, and how much of the “Bohemian biographical dictionaries” were used, by Prague in its answer, or found by Voynich, by other means. However, on May 27th, 1921, Wilfrid finally gets around to thanking him.. one “Dr. L. Kicman”,
“I feel under great obligation to you for sending me the information about Horcicky and Raphael Missowski, and also for the trouble you took to send me photographs of these men.
I am glad to say that all the material which you sent to me arrived in time for my paper before the College of Physicians, Philadelphia, in connection with the history of a Roger Bacon MS. in cipher which I possess.
“You are quite right in supposing that the MS. is connected with Bohemian history for to all practical purposes this remarkable MS. is preserved to the world thanks to the keen interest in it manifested by several seventeenth century Bohemian scholars.”
Do we see what happened there? Now it is the official director of the Prague Archives who was “… quite right in supposing that the MS. is connected with Bohemian history…”, not Wilfrid Voynich, who actually outlined the answer, before he received it!
In any case, make of it what you will, as I do. But with all these types of inquiries that Voynich made, and the wording and inconsistencies to the claims of provenance for this, and other works he owned, sold or not, I really have my doubts that many of these requests were little more than fishing for official opinions, which he could later append to future descriptions, signed by the provider. And each was was constructed with built-in, automatic disclaimers, in the somewhat parsed wording, hiding the reality that he was simply writing his own answers from the beginning.
UPDATE: A fellow researcher recently posted an excerpt from a letter Voynich sent from New York, to his London office manager, Herbert Garland, on February 25th, 1921:
“My Dear Mr Garland,
I most sincerely thank you and congratulate you upon the information you found about Tepenecz. Without your help I should have been unable here to discover that Sinapius was Tepenecz. I had all the details about Sinapius as I have the details of everyone connected with the court of Rudolph. In fact I even have the names of the lovers of his daughter, but I never connected Sinapius with Tepenecz.”
So it seems that Wilfrid Voynich had at least two people helping him on this, the Prague historian, and Garland, in London. But what this passage does is reinforce the possibly disingenuous nature of Wilfrid’s claim that he could not find anything on Tepenecz… because Garland had no problem. Whether Garland had a copy of the photograph, and thought that it read “Tepenecz” on his own; or whether he took it on himself to try “Tepenecz” in additions to Voynich’s suggested “Tspenecz” and “Topenecz”, without seeing the photograph… or lastly, whether Voynich himself suggested “Tepenecz” to Garland, when he did not, to Prague, we don’t know. But the fact that Garland was able to find the information, in London, when Voynich claims he could not, supports the idea that Voynich knew very well that this was Tepenecz, and only pretended to be confused, in order to elicit an answer from others, that he could then use to support his claim of provenance… while effectively insulating himself from any claim that he was in fact, simply inventing that provenance.