Archive for the ‘history & provenance’ Category

The Voynich has no Provenance

April 19, 2020

There is no written evidence that can be used as provenance for the famous and enigmatic Voynich Manuscript. Although it is claimed that certain 17th century mentions of a manuscript are the Voynich, on close examination these fail to satisfy the most basic standards of proof that the work existed back then.

This claimed provenance is in a small selection of 17th century letters to and from the Jesuit Polymath, Athanasius Kircher. These include mentions of a mysterious, unintelligible manuscript. From them, we learn that a Georg Baresch is the first assumed owner of the manuscript they describe. But these descriptions do not actually come close to identifying it as the Voynich Manuscript, which is why I’ve long suggested that a more proper name for it would be the “Baresch Manuscript”.

But is the Baresch Manuscript also the Voynich? We cannot know, because the descriptions alone are very poor, as you will see. In fact, there is even good reason to believe that these descriptions work against it being the Voynich.

Let’s look critically at the actual wording of the sources, and what they tell us. Philip Neal’s excellent page, listing the letters, with transcriptions, translations and notes, is a valuable resource to understanding these issues. The letter portions describing the Baresch Manuscript, as translated by Philip are:

1639, Athanasius Kircher to Theodorus Moretus

As for the book filled with some sort of mysterious steganography which you enclosed with your letter, I have looked at it and have concluded that it requires application rather than insight in its solver. I can recall solving many writings of this kind when the occasion presented itself, and the itch of my mind working would have tried out some ideas on it if only many very urgent tasks did not call me away from unsuitable work of this kind. However, when I have more free time and can take advantage of a more suitable moment, I expect I shall try to solve it when the mood and inspiration take me.

This probably is referring to the Baresch Manuscript by context, but the only descriptive in it is “mysterious steganography”. Since Kircher was often tasked by many people, to resolve many different mysterious unknown languages and ciphers in his lifetime, this in no way points to the Voynich itself.

Finally, I can let you know that the other sheet which appeared to be written in the same unknown script is printed in the Illyrian language in the script commonly called St Jerome’s, and they use the same script here in Rome to print missals and other holy books in the Illyrian language.

This passage from the letter has, in the past, been used to infer that this is the Voynich, as that manuscript’s characters do share some vague similarities to Illyrian, or “Glagolitic”. However, it is not the “same unknown script”, but refers to another item entirely. That is “… the other sheet”, and not, “… the book filled with some sort of mysterious steganography” itself.



So even if the book mentioned here was the Voynich, the sheet is a different item, so any resemblance to “Illyrian” is irrelevant anyway.

1637, Georgius Barschius to Athanasius Kircher:

Using Philip’s entire translation is unnecessary, although interesting, and can be read here. But the only descriptive phrases are as follows, and constitute the majority of the descriptions often claimed to identify this work as the Voynich:

“Now since there was in my library, uselessly taking up space, a certain riddle of the Sphinx, a piece of writing in unknown characters…”

“From the pictures of herbs, of which there are a great many in the codex, and of varied images, stars and other things bearing the appearance of chemical symbolism, it is my guess that the whole thing is medical…”

“In fact it is easily conceivable that some man of quality went to oriental parts in quest of true medicine (he would have grasped that popular medicine here in Europe is of little value). He would have acquired the treasures of Egyptian medicine partly from the written literature and also from associating with experts in the art, brought them back with him and buried them in this book in the same script. This is all the more plausible because the volume contains pictures of exotic plants which have escaped observation here in Germany”

“… and bring forth the good (if any there is) buried in unknown characters in this book.”

“I here append a line or two of the unknown script to revive your memory of it, having previously sent a whole file of similar characters.”

First of all, there are the obvious omissions of many Voynich features which would better identify it. Where are the naked women, the zodiac, the pipes, tubes and “cylinders”, and so much more. Also, there is no mention of the “signature” of Tepencz, which was visible to Voynich in 1912, and therefore should have been even more visible to these men.

As for the phrase, “chemical symbolism”. It has been noted that the Voynich is particularly lacking of anything which would fit this description, at least that a 17th century polymath would ordinary recognize as such. So what possible content, in the Voynich we know today, would be described this way?

17c Alchemy Symbols

Actual “chemical symbols” to a 17c Polymath

Yet another problem is the statement, “unknown characters”. Yes, there are many which may have been unknown to our 17c writers. But the Voynich Ms. also has many “known” characters, such as the Latin letters a, c, m, o, and so on. Likewise, the common Latin plural shorthand suffix, the “9-like” figure, appended to the end of many words. There are also several numbers, such as the “4”, and possibly “4o”. But this may be a smaller point.

Nonetheless, for all the reasons above, I strongly disagree with the common claim that there is “no doubt” at all that this letter was referring to the Voynich manuscript. René Zandbergen uses this claim as the main pillar of written provenance, which I feel it in no way deserves. From Smolka, J. and R. Zandbergen: Athanasius Kircher und seine erste Prager Korrespondenz (Google translation),

His description of the manuscript, with numerous illustrations of herbs, and various other things, including constellations, leave no doubt that it is the Voynich manuscript.

For one thing, the actual term from the letter is “Astrorum”, which translates to “stars”, not “constellations”. Here is just one example in which the evidence is altered and adapted to better fit what we see in the Voynich, thus seeming to strengthen its value. In this case, because the Voynich does appear to show constellations, although there is argument as to the identity (Pleiades is the best match for one, though). But the point I am making is that the spare and almost universally applicable descriptions in the letters are tailor-fit to what we see in the Voynich, when they do not actually constitute anything close to an adequate description.

These meager and mostly inapplicable descriptions very much “leave doubt” that the Voynich was seen and described by these men, in the 17th century.

1640, Johannes Marcus Marci to Athanasius Kircher:

“The Sph*nx will understand from the attached sheet what my friend Mr Georg Barschius wanted to have written by me.”

This is the only reference to the manuscript in this letter, and does not describe it.

1665/66, Johannes Marcus Marci to Athanasius Kircher:

This letter is the one that Wilfrid Voynich claimed to have found in the manuscript itself. I personally find this letter highly suspect for many reasons, which may be found here:

But whether or not one considers the letter real or a forgery, this is the only description in it, and it relates to provenance:

“Doctor Raphael, the Czech language tutor of King Ferdinand III as they both then were, once told me that the said book belonged to Emperor Rudolph and that he presented 600 ducats to the messenger who brought him the book. He, Raphael, thought that the author was Roger Bacon the Englishman.”

Clearly, this letter does not offer any description of the referenced book, let alone any which could remotely identify it as the Voynich Manuscript. At best, even if this letter is real, it refers to the Baresch Manuscript, and we do not know if that is the Voynich.

1666, Godefridus Aloysius Kinner to Athanasius Kircher:

“You will be the occasion of even greater joy if your craft and skill can uncover the interpretation of that arcane book which he gave up to you, and I would dearly like to know myself.”

Again, this letter offers no useful description which would identify it as the Voynich Manuscript. A great many works would have seemed “arcane” to even the greatest minds of the time.

And the above comprises the full extent of all written provenance for the Voynich. Well, there is one other claim made, but of even lesser value, and I don’t feel it should be considered.

An additional point is that of the great many characters, languages, plants and sciences that were “unknown” to these men, most of them were well known by 1912, when Wilfrid “found” the Voynich. It is too much of a coincidence for me to accept that Wilfrid Voynich just happened to “find” a work, in 1912, which would be considered both unintelligible and unidentifiable to Baresch/Marci/Kinner and Kircher, and still would be the unknown, to a scholar, by 1912! Or for that matter, today.

For the remaining, unknown, still indecipherable scripts, in 1912 or even to this day, we have some idea about them. They fit in some historical context. We might know family origin, the age, geography, chronology or have an idea of the culture behind them. That is, they are explainable to some degree, although unknown. Scripts and languages such as Linear A, or Rongo Rongo. For the Voynich, it fits nowhere into our understanding of the entire history of human language.


So these men were describing some manuscript they could not interpret. That is not in dispute. But the descriptions in these letters do not come close to a level of proof that the manuscript being discussed is also the Voynich Manuscript. Yes, a few items loosely match lesser elements of the Voynich, such as the stars, the unknown script and plants. But this content would also describe a great many other works, and yet more important identifying features of the Voynich are not even mentioned. It also stretches credibility that of all the unknown works which confronted and confounded these men in their time, and considering that most of them were solved or at least understood, in the ensuing centuries, we just happen to have appear on the scene in 1912 the one work they (supposedly) saw, that would still be unidentifiable.

No, if one even believes there is any connection between the Voynich and these letters, it far more likely that they were an inspiration to create the Voynich as a forgery, and so create the impression of written provenance. If so, spare as that evidence is, it worked, and is inexplicably working even today. And my scenario would be far from rare, as forgers throughout history have created fakes which matched genuine descriptions of recorded, but missing items, and even created and inserted false provenance in catalogs and collections. I think both were done here, by using the genuine letters of the Kircher Carteggio for the former, and the forged 1665/66 Marci-Kircher letter for the latter.

I’ve often said that if the Voynich Manuscript, with Wilfrid’s implausible and contradictory tales of discovery, along with the sketchy “provenance” of the Letters, let alone the anomaly- and anachronism-riddled manuscript itself… if they all suddenly appeared for the first time today, they would be laughed off the stage of literary scholarship as a strikingly transparent hoax. Faith in this manuscript only survives because it is propped up by the unfortunate baggage of a more than a century of wishful thinking, along with an unfounded trust in, and reliance on, the word of Voynich. And this is all processed using long outdated, far lesser standards of acceptance and judgment than we would come close to accepting today.

By any rational, common sense standards, the Voynich Manuscript clearly has no provenance at all.


The Modern Forgery Hypothesis

March 23, 2016

Although I’ve mentioned various aspects of my Modern Forgery Hypothesis for the Voynich Manuscript over the last few years, both here and on the Voynich Mailing List, I have never posted a summary of it. This is an attempt at doing just that. But as a summary, it is necessarily incomplete. It is will not have a detailed explanation of, and supporting arguments for, much of the evidence within it.  All of that detail will all be addressed in a future and larger work.

The Hypothesis:

This hypothesis proposes that the Voynich Manuscript is a circa 1908 to 1910 work, created by or at the request of Wilfrid Voynich, using materials he found after the 1908 acquisition of the Libreria Francescini, in Florence, Italy. It is also proposed that the work may have been created there, and that it was possibly made from larger sheets of calfskin, cut down to serve this purpose. I further propose that is was created first as a Jacob Horcicky botanical, which was meant to appear as though it was created in the Court of Rudolf II in the early 17th century, and as such was falsely “signed” by him. At some later point (by about 1910/11?), the intended author and time was changed to Roger Bacon and the 13th century, probably by removing many of the now missing pages (which may have run counter to a Roger Bacon claim). Sometime later, the 1666 Marci to Kircher letter was forged, in order to strengthen this new, intended, Bacon authorship.

Among the possible sources used to create the Voynich Ms. were the 1904 Follies at the Court of Rudolf II by Bolton (practically a “primer” for perceived content), The Microscope and Its Revelations, 19th century, by William B. Carpenter, the 1909 Nature Through the Microscope, by Kerr, along with other specific books on microscopy and/or microscopes, certain herbals, botanicals, and more. I also believe that the forger used various known artifacts and works in collections available to Voynich, such as those in the nearby Museo Galileo in Florence, in Paris, Berlin, Rome and London, and other places he was known to have traveled to.

The Timeline:

A person’s life can be divided chronologically in many ways, but for the purposes of this hypothesis, I have done so based on Wilfrid’s business operations.

First phase, 1892 to 1902: During this period, Wilfrid built a successful book business, and developed a very positive reputation as a clever and knowledgeable bibliophile and businessman. At the end of this time, 1902, he sold 150 of rare incunabula to the British Library. They rejected several items, including a curious, and previously unknown, 1522 manuscript map related to Magellan’s voyage.

As for this “Magellan Map”, Wilfrid had said he found it in the binding of a 1536 book. I contend that map may be a fake, and that Voynich was aware it was a fake, and that this demonstrates that he had some connection to the world of forgery- at least, to the very active industry in manuscript map forgeries which existed at the time. I also believe it possible that, rather than the time honored claim of his possessing some incredible talent at “sniffing out” unknown manuscripts and incunabula, Voynich actually relied mostly on one source: The Florence Libreria Franceschini, the vast stacks of which provided a large number of his acquisitions during this time.


Second phase, 1902 to 1908: This was a bit of a dry spell for Voynich. He did all right as a dealer, but had no great successes. By now his wife Ethel was experiencing an increase in fame and popularity, as a well known author of several books, and as a translator, humorist, and composer. I consider the effect this may have had on Wilfrid as an important motivating force to the choices he subsequently made. The personal implications of “marital hegemony”, is a known cultural phenomenon, and a powerful incentive to push for success.

Also during this time, Voynich sold at least one (known) forgery, the Columbus Miniature. It is considered by some a “Spanish Forger” work, but is also sometimes attributed to another unknown forger or shop. From Wilfrid’s somewhat disingenuous sounding explanations as to where he acquired this work, I suspect he knew it was a forgery, and may have even known its true origin.


Third phase, 1908 to 1914: This is the era of Voynich’s greatest successes, both economically and popularly. During this time he claims to have found many previously unknown works of immense value, and managed to sell several of them. I feel it is more than coincidental that these successes came soon after his purchase of the vast repositories of the Libreria Francescini, which had mountains of untapped materials… one estimate puts the number at over half a million.

Of course Voynich claimed to have found the Cipher Ms. in a “castle in Southern Europe”, and an “Austrian Castle”, and later, the Villa Mondragone in Frascati. There were other works which were also later claimed purchased from the Villa, and several of these have various perturbing scholarly and art history anomalies. I feel these problems imply that some may be forgeries, or at least, have forged elements. I won’t go into a list of them, here, as this is an ongoing aspect of this work, and very involved. I even think it possible that the Libreria was a place where these forgeries were created, even before Voynich purchased it. Perhaps such operations continued after purchase, or maybe Voynich merely acquired these works along with the business. It is known that at least two “forgery factories” operated in Europe at the end of the 19th, and the beginning of the 20th century, producing maps, manuscripts, paintings, carvings in ivory and wood, castings, other metalwork and jewelry. The works of the famous but enigmatic “Spanish Forger”, mentioned above, are considered products of such a factory, of which the location has never been determined.

So during this time, and very possibly at the Libreria, I believe Voynich created his magnum opus of forgery, the Voynich Manuscript, using some blank folios he found there. I also think it may be the only work he personally had a hand in creating. And the claim that the use of early 15th century calfskin is evidence that it must be real, because, supposedly, “the experts got it right”, is incorrect: Most experts did not guess early 15th century, before the C14 radio carbon results of 1404 to 1438. In fact, when those results were revealed in the 2010 ORF documentary, they were billed as running counter to previous opinion on the matter. That is, I think the C14 results actually imply a forger’s random selection of a then untestable (for age) stock of calfskin.

Fourth phase, 1914 to death: By 1914 Voynich had opened his shop in New York, right across from the New York Public Library. It was during this time that he worked tirelessly to promote his Roger Bacon Cipher Manuscript, showing it, lecturing on it, and passing around photostats to various experts in botany, cryptography, herbals, and so on. By about 1921 the fame of his find was enormous, and it was generally accepted as a Roger Bacon work in the press and popular culture. This was due in no small part to the claims of Romaine Newbold, who famously claimed he could decipher much of it. He believed it contained amazing discoveries and inventions, such as advanced optics capable of seeing details of celestial bodies and microscopic organisms, previously thought discernible only by 19th century optics. This caused an understandable sensation, which in turn caused a scrutiny of not only the Voynich Manuscript, but also the life of Roger Bacon. This increased awareness of the known facts of Bacon’s life ended up resulting in string of unintended consequences, which eventually hurt Newbold’s reputation, and sent the Voynich spiraling, unidentified, into a scholarly limbo.

By 1928 Wilfrid Voynich was in poor health, and almost broke. He borrowed thousands of dollars, and was unable to sell the Voynich, or any of his greater remaining works. When he died in 1930 everything passed to his wife Ethel, who relied on her trusted friend and longtime employee, Anne Nill, to keep the business afloat. Herbert Garland continued to run the London shop, but the Florence Libreria seems to have been disposed of just after WWI.

Both Anne and Ethel never gave up hope they would be able to resurrect the reputation of “the Cipher Ms.”, and so, its value, and saleability, along with several other works they held. But of course, this never transpired, and the Voynich and other items were donated, sold and dispersed by the bookseller Hans P. Kraus, and are scattered in museums and collections around the world.

Damning Traits: In the 1948 book Fakes by Otto Kurz, the author outlines many features and “tells” of forgeries. From this book and others on the history and attributes of forgeries, and how they were reacted to by the scholarly establishment, it has become clear to me that the Voynich Manuscript is practically a model case of forgery: Multiple varied and diverse expert opinion as to origin, content, meaning, and era; anachronistic content, including but not limited to possible modern optical devices, sciences, use of foldouts, imagery, celestial observations, animals, plants, even people; and poor and/or missing and/or contradictory provenance.

f85v1 "Garland Girl", and Schott Engraving

f85v1 “Garland Girl”, and Schott Engraving

There are many other, more specific, points which call into question the work’s authenticity, one example of which I will single out here: The 2009 McCrone tests showed that the ink of the last page marginalia, and the ink of the main text, are the same. However, it was previously understood that the writing of the marginalia is in a different “hand”, with different content, and presumed therefore from a different time than the main text. But this cannot be, since the ink is the same. So one would have to rationalize either that the tests are wrong, or misinterpreted, or that the marginalia was done at the same time as the main text for an innocent reason, and variations and combinations of those arguments, in order to claim the Voynich is authentic. Rather, this scientific fact is powerful, damning evidence that the marginalia is there for “effect” only, added by the same forger who wrote the main text.

And there is even more, and more details to the above points, which support that this is simply a forgery… and in fact, not a very good one… and counter the claims that the work is any sort of genuine 15th century cipher-herbal, or any of the other similar claims from the time of the C14 dating to when Voynich claimed to have found it in 1912.

Counter arguments: The idea that Wilfrid may have forged the Voynich Manuscript has long been one of great controversy. I had thought it impossible until about 2012, when various events and discoveries caused me to begin to consider it possible. Ironically, one major factor is because my critics pointed out that the optics I noted as comparisons were often “too new” for my early 17th century theories. I eventually agreed… they are too new, and I moved forward in time. In doing so, I began to see that all of the previously, seemingly, insurmountable “walls” to modern forgery were actually built on very shaky, and sometimes, non-existent, grounds. That is, much of what was known and claimed of the Voynich Manuscript, and of Voynich himself, turned out to be so mere speculation, and hopeful thinking. I list many of these in another post.

It has also been claimed this hypothesis is too complex. Far from it, this is easily the simplest theory of all: Voynich found a stack of old calfskin, and penned a varied and enigmatic herbal of questionable quality and origin, using his wide ranging knowledge of literature as a rough source. He later used a scrap of blank paper to pen a supporting letter in imperfect Latin. After those simple facts, everything else fits. He had the materials, the access to knowledge, the ability and the motivation to do so.

Conclusion: Although this was only a brief summary of my investigation, and resulting hypothesis, I hope it gives a good baseline of my arguments. Perhaps it will be “food for thought”, for those interested, and with an open mind, who are exploring this mystery for themselves.

f88 CAD

The 1665 Marci Letter: A Forgery?

September 11, 2015

One of the keystone items of evidence used to support the claims that the Voynich Manuscript is a genuine, ancient work, is the 1665 Marci-to-Kircher letter which Wilfrid Voynich said he found in the book. But does this letter deserve the  important, foundational aspect it has been imbued with? Or is it rather a somewhat shaky document, with numerous troubling anomalies, which deserves to be questioned?

I will below list some of the letter’s problems. But first, let us look at what the letter tells us, and the claimed circumstances surrounding its discovery.

Wilfrid Voynich claimed he purchased his “Roger Bacon Cipher Manuscript” from the Jesuits at the Villa Mondragone about 1911/12. This was the story he privately imparted to his wife, Ethel, but only to be revealed after her death. Before that, he claimed that the book was found, alternatively,  in “A castle in Southern Europe”, and “An Austrian Castle”. By the time Wilfrid exhibited his Cipher Ms. at the 1915 Chicago Exhibition, he was telling people that he had noticed the letter… sometime after purchase of the ms…. either attached to the inside cover of the book, and/or folded within it. The letter now resides in the Yale Beinecke Library, as part of the Voynich collection there.

This letter is the source of information for the rumor that the Voynich Manuscript was written by Roger Bacon, and also that it was brought to the Court of Rudolf II by a “bearer” who was given the enormous sum of 600 ducats.

Here are the issues and concerns I have:

1. Voynich said he paid little attention to it, at first: His claim is somewhat implausible, considering how stunning and mysterious the Voynich Ms. is, and seemed to be to him. So of course any included documents would have also been of tremendous interest. This, especially, considering that an even cursory scanning of the letter would reveal the phrase, “Rogerium Bacconem Anglum” (“Roger Bacon, the Englishman”, Philip Neal translation). I think his claim would actually suggest that this letter actually did not exist earlier, and so he needed to also claim he only noticed it at a later date… or how else would he explain not mentioning it earlier, to whomever he may have described, or shown, the ms.?

2: He walked out of the Villa with it: The Villa Mondragone was the repository of the Jesuit’s precious Kircher Carteggio, a 2,000+ item collection of correspondence, in 12 to 14 packages, between various individuals and their esteemed and iconic Athanasius Kircher. So we must believe that not only did Voynich not notice that letter inside his stunning find, but also that no Jesuit took the time to examine the work he was offering to purchase from them. At least, well enough to notice one of their precious Kircher letters was inside. On the contrary, I think this also suggests this letter was forged later, by Wilfrid (or someone else), to create, change, add and/or cement his desired provenance.

3: Marci held back information?: When reading the other letters to Kircher which are presumed by many to describe the Voynich Ms. (I would contend they are probably describing some other work, NOT the Voynich Ms.), i.e., the Baresch, Kinner and other Marci letters, it is clear that these men are very interested in getting an opinion from Kircher about this work. So then why would they not mention, and why would Marci wait to mention until his last, dying years, and only in his last request to Kircher, the important clues contained in that letter? Voynich’s 1665 Marci letter first mentions the rumor of Rudolf II buying it from a bearer, or otherwise paying that bearer, 600 ducats. And it mentions the guess that Roger Bacon wrote it! But confoundedly, Baresch, Kinner and a younger Marci fail to mention any of this to Kircher, for decades.

I would contend this implies that this information was made up, for a forged letter… and further, that that forged letter had to be dated much later than the others, because it would have been even more incomprehensible that the included information was not a part of earlier (and genuine) missives in the Carteggio.

4: That Latin: Many who are proficient in Latin have had difficulty with various aspects of the Latin phrasing and/or grammar in the letter. I know little about Latin, and cannot intelligently contribute to any translation. But I can point out that others have had trouble making heads-or-tails of it. This is not to say any of these people suspect the letter as I do, but of course I consider this an important observation. For instance, in the list of Philip Neal translations, this letter is the only one that demands “extra notes”, in some attempt to better understand the problematic logic of the Latin phrasing. Neal calls it “vexing”, in fact. I would suggest the logistical problems with this Latin phrasing are a result of a modern forger who was not proficient enough to create a trouble-free version.

5: The Folding: There were two basic ways a letter was prepared for delivery in the times before manufactured envelopes became available: One, the letter itself was folded into an envelope, with the writing to the inside and the address on the outside. Then this was usually secured with a “wax” seal, impressed while hot with the emblem of the sender. Another way was to fold the letter, but then place it in a dedicated envelope made from another sheet of paper or vellum, which was then addressed and sealed. The second way seems to have usually been used when the letter had writing on both sides, or one had multiple sheets. I have seen images of all the letters of the Kircher Carteggio, and the fold lines and seals make sense for one of these two uses. There are small variations in the size of the sections folded, or whether or not a flap is made for the seal, and so on, but they still make sense.

The 1665 Voynich/Marci letter seems different, and odd, in this area. So I printed out the 1666 Marci letter, and tried to fold it on its apparent fold lines. There are ways to fold it, but they do not make sense. It is as though the letter was trimmed down from a larger source, that was previously folded, with new fold lines added. The fact that the Beinecke lists the letter as being blank on the reverse (hence no address) does imply this was meant to be included in another sheet, folded as an envelope… but then, why are there seals on it? It has been suggested that the seals were used to attach this letter inside the cover, or some pages, of the Voynich… but this is also not a usual practice, and then, since the cover is considered newer than the book, and newer than the letter for that matter, why do the seals and their marks line up as though they were part of the letter itself, when folded?

I think these anomalies suggest that the 1666 Marci letter was created from another source sheet, which was possibly trimmed down. This source may have had seals on it for some purpose, perhaps as an unmarked envelope. Perhaps an original address was trimmed off, or erased. This source had some folds, but others may have been added to create what we see today… an odd format with seals and folds that cannot be made sense of. Related to this is the known fact that Voynich had access to a tremendous amount of blank paper from the end-sheets of books, and possibly other sources. In fact it is related both by James McBey, the famous etching artist, and Millicent Sowerby, a Voynich staff member and biographer, that Voynich sold ancient, blank paper to McBey.

6: The “Signature” & Date: It has long been known that the “signature” of Marcus Marci is not by him, as it seems to be different on his other, earlier letters. This has been explained by the fact that Marci was very old, and ill at this point, and some scribe wrote and signed the letter for him. But interesting to me is the almost pantographic ability of this scribe… because in the Kircher Carteggio is one, later, Marci letter, dated September 10, 1665, seemingly by this same scribe… but if so, why are the signatures an exact overlay?

Further, the year overlays perfectly, bringing to mind the consternating problem of old difficulty in determining if the Voynich-Marci letter was dated 1665 or 1666. This, because the last “5” lines up, but then it seems a small loop-closing line was made to this “5”, turning it into a pseudo-6. Could this be because a second-thought caused someone to think 1666 would be better? In a similar manner, the “10” of September 10th also lines up perfectly, but the Voynich-Marci letter has a tail, seemingly added to turn the “0” into a “9”.

1665 Voynich/Marci Letter

Opinions & Interpretations: Whether or not the Voynich Manuscript is a genuine 15th century cipher-herbal, I think the above problems and anomalies suggest that the 1665 Voynich/Marci letter was created to either change or cement a provenance and authorship which Wilfrid Voynich desired: To imply that his Cipher Manuscript was in the Court of Rudolf II, and that it was possibly a lost manuscript of the great polymath Roger Bacon. A motive could have been the tremendous potential increase in value, because while an interesting herbal of the time might have been worth as much as, say 1,000 pounds, Voynich wanted over $100,000 for his lost “Roger Bacon Cipher Manuscript”. Helping feed his hopes may have been the excitement of the upcoming 700th birth anniversary of Roger Bacon, in 1914, and the surrounding media attention.

But if this is correct, I would contend it further undermines the case for authenticity of the Voynich Manuscript itself. It would not only further impugn the already shaky word of Voynich, so often relied upon for the little we know of his famous manuscript, but it would also leave the other letters, genuine and still in the Carteggio, supposedly describing the Voynich, as little isolated islands, barely describing anything close to the Voynich manuscript we see today. In fact, if we did not have this 1665 Voynich/Marci letter, no one would ever suspect the genuine Baresch, Kinner and other Marci letters would have anything at all to do with the Voynich Manuscript.


The Three Quire Theory

August 4, 2015

Over the last year or so I’ve begun to wonder if the bifolios of the Voynich Manuscript may actually be cut from some larger folio stock, which was originally in the form of three or four large, blank quires. If I am correct, I personally think the implications of it, and the opportunities afforded by it, are enormous.

The seed of this idea was in wondering just what form the blank vellum stock might have been in, if found by a 20th century forger. Somehow, finding a pre-bound, blank quarto-size book with 18 quires, and over 200 pages (as the Voynich is, today), not to mention fold outs, did not seem so likely. So I thought, perhaps the maker found a large, blank roll, or a stack of vellum. But after studying the problem, and noting various observations by others, I think the source may have simply been three or four blank quires, of 4 or 5 bifolios each. Here is a list of the observations which led me to this theory:

1) Odd Quire Numbers: The quire numbers of the Voynich have some notable problems. Nick Pelling, in his book, The Curse of the Voynich, has an excellent and very complete description of these numbers, and why they are somewhat unusual. He feels that some seem to be original, but some may have been added later, in different hands, and in an odd mix of styles. Nick even feels some were written with a steel nib pen, making them quite modern. But then one might ask, why would the Voynich have needed quire numbers added? That is, it is composed of 18 quires, so why didn’t the original creator originally use quire numbers on all quires? I began to wonder if this was because the source of the calfskin was from a limited number of quires… larger quires, cut down, but with some original quire numbers still being used. And then, there simply were not enough of them to number all of the Voynich’s 18 quires.

Also, the quire numbers are in an odd place on the Voynich, in the lower corner of the pages. According to the book Introduction to Manuscript Studies (Clemens & Graham, 2007), quire numbers are normally centered at the bottom of the first or last page of a quire. But in the Voynich, on the side, they are about where they would be if an existing, folio-size quire was cut into quarters, and folded. These resulting, smaller bifolios could be folded next to the original quire numbers, and they would end up near the edge or a fold of a page.

2) The size: A usual folio page, it turns out, can range from between about 12 inches to 16 inches wide, or even more, and be 18 to 24 inches high. The bifolios can be, therefore, 24 to more than 32 inches wide, and taller than two Voynich pages are high. This would mean that one could easily cut four Voynich’s quarto bifolios from one full size bifolio. Since one bifolio is two leaves and four pages, 16 pages could be got from one large bifolio. This then means that a five bifolio large quire could produce 80 Voynich pages, and so only three such quires would be needed to make the whole manuscript, as it originally consisted of 240 pages.

3) Fold outs: The somewhat anachronistic use of fold out pages, and folded “rosettes” map of the Voynich, have been noted by various scholars. It is either rare, or unheard of, to see such fold outs used in the 15th century. And so, for me, it has been one of those “Nagging Signs of Newness”, which I feel point to a modern origin of the Voynich. But beyond that, they make sense with my Three Quire Theory: Large folios would offer enough material, of the correct dimensions, to cut these from. Below see the rosettes fold out, laid against a (very) approximate large folio.

Was the Rosettes page cut from an existing, large, Bifolio?

Was the Rosettes page cut from an existing, large, Bifolio?

4) White edges: While I was mulling all of this over, Dana Scott related an interesting observation he made when he examined the Voynich Manuscript years ago: That some edges of the pages seemed to be much “whiter” than others, as though they were cut more recently than other edges, and therefore showing the cleaner inside of the animal skin. My thought was that perhaps this meant that the sheets were more recently cut along those edges, from larger stock, as per this theory. Dana did not note which edges looked lighter, but of course I would now be curious to know. And furthermore, if this theory is correct, it might be an aid to “reassembling” all the Voynich’s bifolios into the state they were before being cut.

5)  Repairs & Scars: A few days ago I was wondering at this theory again, and went back to read Mr. Pelling’s book again. I wanted to see what other clues it may offer… especially as I remembered that he had “virtually” lined up various scars and repairs, hoping they might be a clue as to the placement of the bifolios on the original skins they were cut from. Of course Nick and I have entirely different conclusions based on his observations, as we do on many issues. To make it clear, Nick does not support my forgery theories in any way. But his observation that certain repairs and scars on some bifolios seem to imply their being from the same source, and show their original relationship, as the repairs line up across them, supports not only his idea that some bifolios are from the same skin, but also, my idea they may be from the same, original, larger folios: Because Nick’s alignment not only allowed for the placement of some bifolios on the same skins, but even placed them both next to, and below and above one another! You can see this on his illustration on page 54, in Chapter 4, “Jumbled Jigsaws”, in which the bifolios f16r/f9r and f10v/f15r have tear repairs that line up, as thought they were originally next to one another. Then, on the ensuing pages, he shows how the f38v/f35r and f36v/f37r bifolios line up in a similar way, this time, on top of one another. Below I show the first example, with the approximate alignment of the repairs marked, as Nick notes. But rather than use Nick’s skin outline, I’ve placed these two Voynich bifolios on my speculative, larger, blank bifolio.

Conclusions, testing, and implications: Given the above points, I think it is plausible that the original source of the Voynich material may have been a few blank quires. I further think it possible they were found by Wilfrid Voynich when he purchased the Libreria Franceschini in Florence, in 1908. It was a vast repository of over a half a million items, from useless scrap, to valuable treasures, which were accumulated by the previous owner over a four decade span. It is not at all unreasonable to consider, I think, that a few unused quires might have been found among these mountains of materials.

"Dark Room" of the Libraria Franceschini

“Dark Room” of the Libraria Franceschini

And very importantly, if the Voynich was cut from larger, blank stock, originally in the form of blank quires, I think it can be proven to a reasonable extent. This can be done by the alignment of repairs, the position of the whiter (newer) cut edges, the relative thickness of the skin along those edges, the positions of the original quire numbers, and possibly other clues which would occur to one during such an attempt. And then, if this theory is found correct, I feel there is no reasonable alternative explanation to this having been done, other than that old, existing blank stock was used to create the Voynich as a modern forgery.

The Origins of the Dee Myth

July 22, 2015

A commonly recurring element of the Voynich provenance story is that the famous astrologer, alchemical and seer, John Dee, probably owned the manuscript, and brought it to the Court of Rudolf II in the late 16th century. This anecdote is not only related in just about every article on the subject of the Voynich, but it is also used as a supporting argument for the rumor in the 1665 Marci letter, which states that a “bearer” was given 600 ducats when they brought the book to the Court. So in effect, the Dee story is also used as a supporting argument for the speculative provenance from the time of Rudolf and later. But where did the Dee rumor originate? What is its basis? Are we correct to place any weight on it at all? It is true that Dee owned a vast library, kept at his home at Mortlake, but do we know the Voynich Manuscript was among the books there?

John Dee, From Bolton, 1904

John Dee, From Bolton, 1904

The earliest reference to the Dee ownership can be found in Wilfrid Voynich’s lecture, A Preliminary Sketch of the History of the Roger Bacon Cipher Manuscript. He presented it to the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, on April 20th, 1921. And not just this Dee reference, but almost the entire skeleton of the manuscript’s provenance was laid down by Voynich on that day. Much of what he said there is still regarded as a solid starting point for any understanding of what the Voynich is, and where it came from. I don’t believe that the trust in this source is at all warranted, and the Dee portion of it is just one good example. In the lecture, Voynich relates that Dee owned various Bacon works in his library, and adds,

“It is, I think, also reasonable to deduce from these facts that in the collection of Bacon manuscripts, which unquestionably came into his possession as early as 1547, he found the cipher manuscript.* The sequence of events which suggest themselves is that, having failed to decode it, he carried the manuscript to Prague, where he parted with it as a “present” to Emperor Rudolf.”

The footnote in the transcription explains the evidence Voynich uses to support this contention,

” * Perhaps it is to this cipher manuscript that Dr. Arthur Dee (John Dee’s son) refers in the following: Sir Thomas Brown relates in 1675 to Ashmole, “That Dr. Arthur Dee (speaking about his father’s life in Prague) told about . . . book containing nothing but heiroglyphicks, which book his father bestowed much time upon, but I could not hear that he could make it out,” Fell-Smith (Charlotte), John Dee, pp. 311-312″

That is Voynich’s interpretation of the Brown statement to Ashmole, and which has been repeated hundreds of times. It is the core of early belief that the Cipher Ms. may have been Dee’s, then went to the Court of Rudolf II with him, and so on. But I wanted to read the quote by Brown, exactly, so I downloaded a copy of Fell-Smith’s 1909 book, John Dee, (1527-1608). Here is the entire statement written by Brown, to Ashmole,

“I was very well acquainted with Dr. Arthur Dee [John Dee’s son], and at one time or other he has given me some account of the whole course of his life. I have heard the doctor say that he lived in Bohemia with his father, both at Prague and other parts. That Prince or Count Rosenberg was their great patron, who delighted much in alchemie. I have often heard him affirme, and sometimes with oaths, that he had seen projection made, and transmutation of pewter dishes and flaggons into silver, which the goldsmiths at Prague bought of them. And that Count Rosenberg played at quoits with silver quoits, made by projection as before. That this transmutation was made by a powder they had, which was found in some old place, and a book lying by it containing nothing but hieroglyphicks ; which book his father bestowed much time upon, but I could not hear that he could make it out.”

What jumped out at me was that the portion of the quote which Voynich left out of his footnote, “That this transmutation was made by a powder they had, which was found in some old place, and a book lying by it…”. Why was that important point omitted by Voynich?

A telling problem with Voynich’s hopeful claim is that the book referenced by Brown is the same book described in Bolton’s 1904 Follies at the Court of Rudolf II,  which is a book Voynich admits to being intimately familiar with. On pages 6 & 7,

“The fame of Dee and Kelley as magicians spread rapidly, and was enhanced by their claims to success in the manufacture of gold from base metals, a claim that ill-accorded with the chronic poverty in Dee’s household. The Philosophers’ stone used in transmutation had been found by digging in the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey [Arthur Dee’s “some old place”], together with a book explaining the process, written by St. Dunstan, the same:— ‘who in his cell’s repose; Plucked the devil by the nose.'”

This ridiculous story then seems to stem from the various legends associated with the ruins of Glastonbury, combined with the background of Saint Dunstan, “As a young boy, Dunstan studied under the Irish monks who then occupied the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey. Accounts tell of his youthful optimism and of his vision of the abbey being restored.” This, combined with the fact that, “He functions as the patron saint of goldsmiths and silversmiths, as he worked as a blacksmith, painter, and jeweller.”

I’ve no interest or need to track down how this legend morphed into an interest for the nefarious alchemists of the Court of Rudolf II, or into someone’s attributing some old book and bit of red powder to Saint Dunstan, supposedly found in the ruins of Glastonbury. Rather, suffice it to say that Voynich would have known the Dunstan book was the same one inaccurately referenced by Brown, to Ashmole, in 1675; that his knowing this is backed up by his conveniently leaving out the parts which showed that this reference was actually to an alchemical transmutation text and NOT his cipher ms.; or that it was a book claimed to be by Saint Dunstan, and clearly not by Roger Bacon. Voynich obviously knew all this, from what he says he read (Bolton, Fell-Smith), so hinting that the book Arthur Dee referred to could be Wilfrid’s Roger Bacon Cipher Manuscript was a purposefully disingenuous reference. But doing so was probably considered safe by Voynich, based on the hope that the Thomas Brown book, and the Dunstan book, would not be correlated. He was right: it was not connected, to my knowledge, until I noted it several years ago, so his faith in doing so was borne out.

Glastonbury Abbey, but no Voynich Ms.

Now knowing that the source of the John Dee ownership rumor was simply invented by Voynich, and backed up by an purposely incorrect reference, leads us to the question, “Why should we think John Dee may have owned the Voynich Manuscript, and possibly brought it to the Court of Rudolf II?”. It turns out there is no reason at all. Well, unless one would like to say it is because Dee owned a library, or “might” have been interested in such a book, or visited the Court. But that is a very thin nail to hang one’s heavy coat of provenance on, as there were many libraries, many interested in the occult, and certainly very many book owners went to the Court. So really, knowing the clever misdirection of Voynich in that 1921 lecture was the only reason at all to look to John Dee, there is actually no reason to leave “Dee’s ownership” in the slim thread of Voynich provenance.

Sowerby’s Philippovitch

June 2, 2015

In E. Millicent Sowerby’s 1967 autobiography, Rare People and Rare Books, she gives us a wonderful insight into the world of bookselling in the 20th century. We are lucky that she includes a vivid description of her time with Wilfrid Voynich, his personality, and the workings of his concern just before WWI. Such descriptions are scarce, and when found, are often sketchy and inaccurate- such as Orioli’s (of Davis & Orioli, Booksellers) description of Voynich in his 1938 work, Adventures of a Bookseller. In contrast to this unfortunate case, Ms. Sowerby has done a great job in coloring out a seemingly accurate portrayal of Wilfrid, Ethel, and the many friends and associates who passed through the London offices.

And Sowerby is an impressive figure in her own right. She prepared the bibliography of the Thomas Jefferson collection for the Library of Congress, and before that, became the first woman in an expert workforce of an auction house, Sotheby’s. Her career in books spanned 30 years, including her stint with Voynich, Birkbeck College, Sotheby’s, The American Art Association, The New York Public Libary, the prestigious A. S. W. Rosenbach booksellers, and finally her magnum opus, the Jefferson Catalog for the LOC. She knows the field, and was a fortunate witness and recorder of what it was to live a life in this world. So it is with great interest that I read her chapter on Voynich, over and over again, to see what clues to his life and activities I can glean from it. And thanks to the modern internet, it becomes possible to fit Sowerby’s view of events against what we now know happened at her time, if maybe just out of reach of her understanding.

One such case is that of a mysterious “Mr. Philippovitch”. Sowerby relates that many different associates of the Voynich’s passed through the London office… various outcasts and possible revolutionary compatriots of Wilfrid, but this Philippovitch was a bit different: He was described by Voynich as the manager of his Florence branch, the Libraria Franceschini. This interested me most of all, because Voynich’s operations in that branch are somewhat clouded. He purchased it in 1908, left it by WWI, and it is unclear when he sold it (one account says about 1921). Considering it had over 500,000 items, for which we have no description, let alone any catalog, and the ultimate dispersal of which is unclear, I have been trying to find out anything I can about it. Certainly I was interested in finding out more about the branch manager, if I could.

My most recent attempt paid off: It turned out that Mr. Philippowitch is actually Tytus Filipowicz, a Polish national, and one of Voynich’s fellow anti-Tsarist revolutionaries. It was the version of his name that confused me, and as you will see, may have confused Ms. Sowerby also, who seems unaware of the man’s other accomplishments outside of bookstore manager and Revolutionary foot soldier. In fact, he became the first Polish ambassador to the United States.

But Sowerby’s knowledge of the man was reliant on what Wilfrid was willing to share with her. He was understandably secretive about his associates from that part of his life… the underground Revolutionary side of his life… and Filipowicz was a case in point. When Millicent had asked Wilfrid if she could go to Florence and catalog the Libraria’s books, considering it a potentially fantastic adventure, he refused her. And the excuse he used was Filiopwicz, “… he gave me as his chief reason that I should inevitably fall in love with his manager, and he with me!”. What Wilfrid failed to mention was that Filipowicz was actually married at the time (about 1911), and had been since 1908, and that his wife was actually in Florence during this time! But it seems, to poor innocent Ms. Sowerby, as she says “As I was young and unmarried, I could not see any objection to this, but Mr. Voynich was adamant”, the idea that anyone would suggest the possibility that a married man might become her love-interest had not occurred to her.

And when she did meet Tytus, she was somewhat wowed by him. She tells us, “When I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Philippovitch I quite saw the point. He was definitely one of the most fascinating men I have ever met. Tall, handsome, with charming manners, and moreover the Manager of a rare book shop in Florence– what more could anyone want.” Well, if she knew, I would guess she would have wanted a single man.

Years later, by my estimate about 1914/15, Millicent was at a party in London. She had not been an employ of Voynich’s for a couple of years, but at the party were Mr. & Mrs. Garland. Herbert Garland was manager of the London office, while Wilfrid was in New York City. She still had Filiopowicz on her mind, and asked Mrs. Garland about him, “After talking about him for some time, she took me aback somewhat by saying, ‘I wonder how she is and the baby'”. It was explained to her that Filipowicz had married “a Polish girl who in a burst of enthusiasm had shot a high Russian official. She had been rescued from the resulting predicament by an Austrian gentleman, who had made a ‘white marriage’ with her, thus giving her Austrian citizenship.”

Of course now it was possible to learn who this “Polish girl” was, and I was even more impressed by her story than Millicent was: She was Wanda Krahelska-Filipowicz, code name “Alinka”: Polish revolutionary fighter, would-be assassin, writer, editor, entrepreneurial publisher, and later a hero of WWII, as a pivotal member of Zagota, assisting in the escape of many Jews from Warsaw. After the War, she was active in the Warsaw reconstruction efforts.

Millicent got a few things wrong in relating these stories, and part of my interest was in trying to determine why that was. There can be many such reasons for this, in cases like this: Reluctance of the relater’s sources to reveal details, for one reason or another; a long passage of time between their being told the story to when they finally put it down on paper; and possibly, in some cases, a personal reason on the part of the relator to omit or embellish facts on their own. I get the sense from her book, though, that Millicent was not the type to shape an account to her own purposes. She seemed a very sincere, forthright narrator to her understanding of events. So I looked at the discrepancies, and tried to determine how they may have happened.

As for the belief that Wanda Filipowicz “… in a burst of enthusiasm had shot a high Russian official”, she was wrong with the “shot” part. Wanda, along with two associates, had actually dropped three bombs from a balcony onto the motorcade of one Georgi Skalon, who survived. No doubt she was “enthusiastic”, however: She was of course filled with hatred for the Russians, for both patriotic and personal reasons, not the least of which her previous husband had been tortured at their hands. And once released, he committed suicide. And one can imagine that while being told of her attempting an assassination, by Mrs. Garland, Millicent may have assumed a gun, and not bombs, were used.

As for Tytus Filipowicz, there are to me more troubling implications to her errors, but not with the fine Ms. Sowerby herself. Well, in the case of an earlier story about Tytus, that he had to be spirited away to the Continent by Mr. Garland and Mr. Voynich, in order to avoid extradition from England by the Russian police, she told of his joining the “Austrian Legion”. In point of fact, he, “In 1914–1915, he fought in the Polish Fifth Infantry Regiment of the Polish Legions.” I wrote to my friend Greg Stachowski, who is well-versed in the military history of Europe, to see why there might be this discrepancy. His explanation clears it up,

“… the Polish Legions were established by Pilsudski in 1914 in the Austrian-controlled partition of Poland. Nominally they were an independent unit of the Austrian army, hence Sowerby’s mistake (she probably wasn’t all that aware of the details, and in the 60s in the Cold War it was not something the Soviets particularly publicized).”

But then I come to the difficult problem of Voynich telling Sowerby she could not go to Florence, because she and Filiopwicz would fall in love, and not, apparently, telling her that he was married. And, also not informing her that this unnamed wife was actually in Florence, while he was supposedly the manager of his bookstore there. Wanda Filipowicz was, “… since 1911 in the Florentine Academy of Fine Arts. 30 May in Florence in 1913 was godmother Monica , the daughter of Stefan Żeromski. In Florence, she and her husband representative of the Temporary Confederated Independence.”

But there is more to the story than this simplistic admonition from Wilfrid, and so in understanding the situation, I can speculate on a possible motivation to the deceit on his part. First of all, in calling Mr. Filiopwicz his “manager” of his Libraria, I think is downplaying the man’s larger roles. For one thing, before, during and after the time Filipowicz was in Florence, supposedly “managing a bookstore”, he was actually writing. He wrote, “Poland and Autonomy” in 1907; “Political Dreams” in 1909; “The Problems of Progress” in 1910; “Confidential Documents of the British Government concerning the Insurrection in Poland 1863” in 1914. But Millicent, it seems, did not know this. She did not know much about Filiopowicz, trusting Voynich and Garland for her sources, and, I think, not making a connection between her “Philippovitch” and “Filipowicz” by herself, or she would have colored out her description with his other, many, accomplishments. Certainly she would have been interested to learn that “her man” had become the Polish Ambassador, and may have been in Washington D.C. while she was working at the Library of Congress.

Polish Ambassador Tytus Filipowicz, right of center

Polish Ambassador Tytus Filipowicz, right of center

In my opinion, these anomalies are because of an attempt to keep her from poking around Florence, and have more to do with the possible, actual, role of the Libraria, than with any worries Voynich would have had about Tytus Filipowicz himself. The thing is, before Voynich purchased the store in 1908, it had been a working enterprise for decades, under its founder, Franceschini. And as such, it was not simply a quirky little bookstore (as Helen Zimmern attempted to portray it, and its founder, in her article), but a meeting place for left-wing activists and intellectuals. I have to wonder if its role as such continued under the auspices of Wilfrid Voynich, and that his reluctance to allow his unknowing Millicent Sowerby to be privy to such operations… which she surely would have been, working long hours there, digging through the mountains of interesting items.

That is, I think his ruse was to protect the Libraria as a Revolutionary operations center, a meeting house for activists, and maybe, a safe-house of sorts. And I do muse on an even darker, more secret use of this establishment, which is so far only the loosest of theoretical germs in my mind. This is of course all speculation on my part, and part of a much larger story I’ve been accumulating information for, and for which I think this little innocent and interesting anecdote our wonderful and trusting Millicent Sowerby has preserved for us. It is, to me, a “toe in the door” of what was really going on there. If not for her, that is, we would have no clue about Voynich, nor his relationship with Tytus and Wanda Filipowicz, nor their relationship with the Libraria. And I think Wilfrid Voynich would have liked it to stay that way.

Palazzo Borghese in 1822

Palazzo Borghese in 1822

Modern Voynich Myths

May 8, 2015

When I first learned of the Voynich Manuscript back in 2006, there was a certain, accepted baseline understanding of what it might be. This foundation was supported by many different factors, both real and assumed, or some combination of both. As my theories progressed, and as I examined the theories of others, part of the process of doing so was to examine that foundation, and the reasons it existed.

But over time I came to realize that many of the commonly accepted, and widely repeated, claims about the Voynich… often stated as facts… were not facts at all. In some cases they were simply wrong. In other cases, they turned out to be assumptions, and the assumptions were either based on errors, or simply guesses, based on the preconceptions of those stating them. Nonetheless, many of these errors are still “in print” on the internet, remain uncorrected, and are therefore a serious impediment to anyone trying to learn about the Voynich ms.. This is not to say that many of them are not still possible, only that the importance of them, and any belief in them as fact, is largely unwarranted. I call these, “Modern Voynich Myths”, and list them, here. I may still add to this list, as more of them occur to me and others.

1) Athanasius Kircher described the Voynich script as “Illyrian” in his 1639 letter to Th. Moretus: Not true, he was describing another work in this way, and possibly a printed sheet at that. In a 2014 translation of the letter by André Szabolcs Szelp, agreed upon by others, this is now clear. However, this untruth is continually repeated to support the fact that Kircher actually did see the Voynich, as many have thought the script shows a similarity to Illyrian, or Glagolitic.

2) That vellum/parchment was very expensive: It can be shown that vellum and parchment has, throughout history, often been rather inexpensive. Using the cost of vellum to create one of the first Gutenberg bibles, the material for the Voynich may have cost only a dozen shillings or so.

3) Vellum/Parchment was always used soon after preparation: Not true. I and others have been able to find dozens of cases of blank parchment being unused for centuries…. up to 400 years, and used up to 350 years after creation. When C14 tested in the 1970’s, several works were found to be made as many as 153 years after material creation.

4) The Kircher Carteggio (letters) was under “lock and seal”, so Wilfrid could not have seen it: Not known, in any case. There is no evidence that the Jesuits did, or would have, treated the Letters any differently than the Voynich (if they ever owned it, which is also not known), or the other books they sold to Voynich in 1911. In fact, the Villa Mondragone… where both the Voynich and the letters were stored… was a popular and respected college, which took students from the general (even non-Jesuit) population. In the summer it was a retreat for high ranking Jesuits, and even, a tourist attraction. Really anyone could get permission to visit. The photographer who took pictures of it for a 1912 tourist book was the same photographer who took pictures of Voynich’s bookstore in 1908. And Voynich was close friends with Father Joseph Strickland, the head of the Mondragone. And also, considering the great importance of Kircher to the Jesuits, it is implausible to consider they did not have some interest, and probably studied, his letters… while in their care.

5) Arthur Dee described the Voynich, which his father, John Dee, owned: Voynich posited this theory in his 1921 Philadelphia talk, and it has lingered ever since. But Voynich was well aware… as we know from his own notes on the transcript of the talk, because he cited the works that explain this… that Dee was describing an entirely different work, and even, what that work was. This “Dee Myth” took root way back then, becoming the basis for the idea that Rudolf II bought the Voynich from Dee as early as 1586. The thing is, even though a false claim, with no basis whatsoever, it has a life of its own. That is, although many do not realize the origin of the myth was in a purposeful error in a 1921 speech, the “idea” that Dee owned the Voynich continues to this day.

6) The Letters of the Carteggio describe the Voynich: The 1639 Baresch letter describes a manuscript, but it is too incomplete and poor a description to be known that he meant the Voynich. The other letters to not make a physical description at all, while are describing whatever Baresch saw. But the Baresch description only mentions “plants unknown to the Germans”, “stars”, “unknown script” or language, and possible chemical symbolism. This would describe many other herbals and pharmas of the time, in many of the languages unknown to these men, at the time. Left out are the Zodiac, the baths, the nude women, the weird animals, the strange cylinders, and really hundreds of other features that would have been of great interest and importance to anyone trying to impart even a hint of what the nature of the Voynich is. Could the Baresch Manuscript be the Voynich? Yes. But stating it is the Voynich is incorrect, and based on poor evidence.

7) The Voynich was owned by Tepenencz, or Horcicky, botanist and physician to Rudolf II: This is based on the name of Tepenencz written on the first page of the Voynich. But this is not provably a signature at all, and of course easily copied by anyone with minimal skills who may have seen one of the several copies of the true signature. And there is reason to believe it was not actually there at one point, since Baresch/Kinner/Marci/Kircher did not mention it, and Voynich himself says it was not visible… when it was. But today we still read, over and over, “Tepenenz owned it”, and, “Tepenencz was the first known author”. Read Jan Hurych’s excellent analysis before making up your own mind:

8) The C14 dating shows the vellum/parchment is from 1420-1438: The published range is actually a conclusion determined by combining the very different results of the four samples tested. But when looked at separately, as would have been done if not found bound together, nor assumed to be made as the same time, the results show they could be 50 to 60 years apart. And taking into account the extremes of the error range of the samples, they actually could date to as much as 132 years apart:

Folio 8: 490±37, which works out to 1423 to 1497
Folio 26: 514±35, which works out to 1401 to 1471
Folio 47: 506±35, which works out to 1409 to 1479
Folio 68 (cleaned): 550±35, which works out to 1365 to 1435

The assumptions used to combine the results were clearly explained by Rene Zandbergen:

“A combined dating of the Voynich MS

The dating of each folio doesn’t allow a very precise dating of the MS. The uncertainty in age for each folio is some 50-60 years, and in the case of fol.68 even spans two centuries due to the above-mentioned inversions of the calibration curve. The book production process is likely to have taken considerably less time than these 50-60 years. Under the assumptions that:

– The MS was indeed created over a time span not exceeding (e.g.) 10 years
– It was not using parchment that was prepared many years ago

each sheet provides a measurement or ‘observation’ of the MS creation. Since they are likely to be from different animal hides, these are indeed independent observations. Combining these observations leads to a combined un-calibrated age of 1435 ± 26 years (1 sigma).”

From (explanation since removed). From the above, it is clear that various unknowns were “assumed”, in order to “combine” the results into one, palatable range. These assumptions included a short range of creation time, and the use of fresh vellum… both things we may or may not assume, at our discretion, and which are in any case, not known (see points #2 and #3, above).

9) When the dates were revealed, it showed that the experts were correct about the age of the Voynich: Incorrect. Tallying the expert opinions, pre-C14, the majority of experts… I think it works out to about 14 out of 16 of them, by D’Imperio’s book, were dead wrong. In fact this was noted soon after the C14 was announced, in the 2009 ORF documentary, and its surrounding promotions: the results were touted as toppling the previous expert opinion, and being a total surprise. It was a surprise. But in a very short time, this reality morphed into “The experts got it right”, by using the two or so experts who did happen to have opinions near or in the C14 range, and ignoring the majority that were wrong. This new mythology is often used to support the false premise, “It cannot be a forgery, because how could a pre-C14 forger have happened to choose the ‘right parchment’?”. The thing is, they did not choose “the right parchment” for the work they laid on it, if forged.

10) Voynich found the book in the Villa Mondragone: This is still stated as fact, when most mainstream researchers understand this is not known, and, at best, based on shaky ground. Voynich himself claimed several, mutually exclusive places of origin for the ms., including “Castle in Southern Europe” and “Austrian Castle”. “Villa Mondragone” was to Ethel, in private, and only to be revealed after her death.

11) It was part of the Beckx library: There is no Beckx reference in or about the Voynich Manuscript, nor any written, descriptive tag assuring this. Only a printed Beclx “ex libris” tag, claimed by Voynich to be with the Voynich when he found it. The problem is, he owned many of these printed tags, known because a pile of them were found loose in his papers after his death. And, for that matter, also found were many of the written tags for other Beckx books… but none for the Voynich. That is, there is absolutely no evidence that the Voynich was part of this collection, yet it continues to be repeated as a known fact.

12) The Voynich contains structure of language: Well, it may… but we don’t know if the structure found… by Dr Marcelo A Montemurro, Tucker & Talbot, and others, cannot also be attributable to random written human output (RWHO). This, because RWHO has never been tested for its possible structure, and/or to see it is resembles actual language structure in any way. It may, it may not, contain said structucture. But evidence that it could is found in the compelling observations by different researchers interested in Glossolalia, such as the one of Hélène Smith, who believed she was channeling Martian in the late 19th century. There are other cases… but in short, it has been noted that the random spoken outputs resemble language structure to some degree. That is a hint it may be so, for RWHO. But the point is, we don’t know, and therefore immediately renders any claim that the Voynich must have an underlying meaning, because of any language structure found, moot.

13) The Voynich Ms. Cover was added in the 17th Century: While generally accepted that the cover supposedly found on the Voynich ms. does not date to the time of calfskin manufacture of the leaves, just how old, or when and where this cover was added is not known. It was never tested, and so any statements about any age of the cover, or when it was added… often claimed as known… simply are not known (thanks Berj Ensanian).

14) It is not a palimpsest: It may not be one. But I have been having trouble determining the basis for this claim, except for the observation that the signs of scraping of the surface, usual in palimpsests, are not there. However, there were various later chemical processes used to “bleach”, or erase writing on documents, and I worry that these were assumed to not be applicable, based on the preconceptions that the writing was applied long ago. Whether or not it is possible to test for the chemicals, I do not know.

15) Wilfrid Voynich never tried to sell the Voynich: In the strictest sense, that he did not list the ms. in his catalogs, nor otherwise publicly advertise the ms., this is true. But this becomes a myth in the way in which it is used: To imply that he did not intend to sell it eventually, nor intend to profit from it, and so stated so as to imply that he could not have forged it, because he didn’t want any money for it. But this is incorrect: Wilfrid wanted as much as $160,000 for it. And in a letter, he promised Romaine Newbold that if he, Newbold, could make a case for Roger Bacon as author, Wilfrid would pay him 10% of the first $100,000 realized, and 50% of any amount over that.

16) The ink was dated to the time of the calfskin: The McCrone report on the ink composition does not date the ink. There were no radiocarbon dating tests performed on the ink samples, perhaps because of their inorganic composition makes this impossible. So although it is frequently reported that the ink tests dated the ink to the 15th century, this is based on the fact that reviewers of the McCrone report have noted that the compositions found are consistent with ink formulas used during that time, and determined that no modern substances were found. However, such ink could have been produced at any time since the manufacture of the Voynich calfskin, up until the announced discovery, by Voynich himself. In fact, such inks were normally used for centuries after the C14 date ranges of the calfskin leaves. Furthermore, the report does include various tantalizing suggestions, such as the discovery of “copper and zinc” which are “a little unusual”, and an unidentified “titanium compound”. These are not explained, either by McCrone (and I have written to them about both, and not received a reply), or any reviewer of the report.

17) The Voynich would be time consuming and/or difficult to pen: (added to the list, May 25, 2015) In the few attempts I and others have made, it is clear that this it incorrect. Gordon Rugg took under two hours to make a fairly complex “botanical” page. I drew a much cruder, simpler, page in 13 minutes. When we were up in Toronto, helping with the Shatner “Weird or What?” episode on the Voynich, the professional calligraphers all blazed through a very good simulation of Voynichese, using Gordon’s grille method. And just this morning, I made the below practice sheet in under 15 minutes… coloring and all. And that is a short time, considering I was trying to emulate the style of the Voynich author… they didn’t have to, as it was their style. I made this with the intent to continue practicing, and eventually make a large, rosettes fold-out size complex page in the style of the Voynich.

First, fast, practice sheet: 15 minutes

First, fast, practice sheet: 15 minutes

There are many other beliefs and misconceptions about the Voynich, some unique and some related to the above, which may not rise to the level of outright myths. Perhaps they could be deemed “opinions misstated as certainties”. But many of those opinions are based on the above, not knowing they are formulating opinions based on chimeras. Eventually, blog posts, articles, and even documentaries and books state these falsehoods and opinions as known, true facts. I feel it does a grave disservice to present and future researchers by forcing them to expend untold hours, and even years, never realizing that the foundation they are basing their hard work on may not be as sturdy as long presented to them.

You Say “Tspenencz”, I say “Topenencz”

November 14, 2014

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):

Pretty Crisp Looking, No?

Pretty Crisp Looking, No?

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.

Voynich’s Forgery

September 22, 2014

Well that got your attention! But my title does not refer to the famous Voynich Manuscript, which a handful of people… myself included… have suspected of being a forgery. Nor is it one of the half dozen items which Voynich owned, and sold, or tried to sell, which I personally feel could be called under question.

I’m referring to a lesser known work which Voynich owned, and sold, which happens to be a forgery. So far it is the only known forgery which passed through his hands, as far as I’ve been able to determine. And I would point out here that this is a really wonderful record, because the world at the time of Voynich was rife with forgeries. For such a prolific dealer as he, one would naturally expect a few examples to be, even mistakenly, sold by him… but he seems to have an indisputably good record in that regard. And so, I don’t imply that this is any indication that Voynich would willingly deal in a forgery… there is no evidence he would have. That being said, there are a few questions I would raise, relating to the way he explained owning this work, which are not easily answerable. But first, the work itself…


This miniature is in the British Museum, to whom Voynich sold it in 1905 for £75. Curiously, the museum description does not state that this is a forgery… but gives a description as though it is genuine,

“A MINIATURE in colours apparently representing the landing of Hernando Cortés in Mexico in 1519; with a foliated border on two sides, containing a second portrait of Cortés to the shoulders, within a medallion. The actual miniature measures 6 1/8 in. by 4 1/4 in., and it was probably, prefixed to some nearly contemporary account of the Spanish conquest of Mexico. The style is Spanish, and the artist must either have personally seen natives of the country and its forms of vegetation or have had before him some picture painted on the spot.”

The BL needs to seriously update that. It seems to be based on Voynich’s original description of the work, and ignores that this has long since been identified as fake. But it is. It was originally identified as a work by the Spanish Forger, a very prolific artist… or more than likely, a group of artists, who worked somewhere in Europe from the late 19th through the early 20th century. I’m unclear who originally identified this as forgery, or a work by the Spanish Forger, but even in Voynich’s time it was questioned… in fact, he was questioned about it.

At least by 1948 it was listed as a fake by Otto Kurz, in his book, Fakes (London, 1948). And by 1968, Janet Backhouse in her article, “The Spanish Forger” (The British Museum Quarterly, XXXIII, 1-2, 1968, 65-71), uses it as a good example of the work of that forger. However, by the time William Voelkle compiled the book, “The Spanish Forger” for the Pierpoint Morgan Library in 1978,  the attribution of this work was not so clear: It is pictured, and listed in that work as “OL4”, for “Other [forger than the Spanish Forger] Leaf 4”. However I’m not myself adequately prepared to judge exactly which forger this is by, although I have my lay opinions on the subject. Suffice it to say that the consensus is that this is a forgery.

Forged Map on Reverse

Forged Map on Reverse

While the Spanish Forger, and the mystery of their identity (or identities), their nationality, and the location of operation, are all interesting historical questions, I am mostly focused on our Wilfred, and how he described the work, and explained its provenance. From the 1968 Backhouse article, Voynich,

“… said that he had bought it from another bookseller, at a high price, as a picture of the landing of Columbus. He himself suggested that it might in fact be meant for Cortéz, probably on account of the rather eccentric coat-of-arms on the flag, which appears to quarter the arms of Castile, Aragon, Granada, and Navarre. Navarre was not in Spanish hands until 1512… … Voynich thought that the miniature might have been a frontispiece to Cortés’s official report to the King of Spain”.

But this minature of “Cortéz” was questionable from the start, apparently, as the Art Historian G.F. Warner had some problems with it. He inquired of Voynich further, as to its provenance. According to Backhouse again,

“Voynich wrote again to say that it had come to England from a dealer in the south of France. He seemed to have it either from a Basque or from a ‘Polish Count’, but the English bookseller who sold it to Voynich had said that the transaction was so long ago that the French dealer’s name and address were no longer available. This provenance, particularly the reference to a Polish count, is not very convincing.”

I agree with Ms. Backhouse, it is not at all convincing. Note the broken chain of ownership, which isolates Voynich from any possible blame. I would go further than that… I think that fuzzy and bizarre provenance is so sketchy that I sense Voynich also knew it was very poor… or, dare I say, he knew it was a lie?

The phrase “Polish Count” struck me in much the same way as it did the author, but it goes further than that. Very early in Voynich’s bookselling career, which started about 1892, he seems to have been promoting himself as a “Polish Count”. As an example, in the Anaconda Standard, September 11, 1899 edition, there is a review of Ethel Voynich’s The Gadfly. The reviewer states,

“Mrs. Voynich is an English woman and is married to a Polish Count”.

Such references seem too fade out by the early years of the 20th century, however. They are soon replaced by the more exciting reality of Wilfrid’s revolutionary background, and his extraordinary success as a renowned book dealer and collector. So then I find it doubly odd that he was suggesting that this forgery may have been sold to the (by then nameless) French dealer (who sold it to the nameless British dealer) by a “Polish Count”. Go figure.

In any case, this is a forgery, and really… like most Spanish Forger works, and associated works, not really that good a representation of what was real. And of course I can’t, and don’t, say this is a clear smoking gun in Voynich’s hands. But in light of the questions about it and its provenance, and the really poor answers that Voynich gave in response, when seen in the back drop of his other vague, and ever-changing stories of provenance for other works, are for me, all serious causes for concern. He is even caught in a provenance lie or two… think, “Castle in Southern Europe”. So for me, this example adds to the question of just how much Voynich really knew about the sources, and authenticity, of what he was willing to sell… and what he was willing to say to do so.

One assumed model for the Voynich/Cortéz forgery: De Bry, America, 1594

One assumed model for the Voynich/Cortéz forgery: De Bry, America, 1594

The Timing of the “Rumor”

May 27, 2014

In the August 19, 1665 letter from Johannes Marcus Marci to Athanasius Kircher (claimed to have been found by Wilfrid M. Voynich in the famous “Voynich Manuscript”), Marci relates the rumor that he had heard about the authorship and previous ownership of the work. Although I contend that there are many reasonable concerns about the authenticity of the letter itself: its contents, and its back-story by Voynich… I wanted to focus on this one aspect, the rumor, in this post (well, I will also add some points about the De Tepencz signature, which coincide with these observations).

September 10, 1665 Letter from Marci to Kircher

September 10, 1665 Letter from Marci to Kircher

Here is the story in the letter:

“Doctor Raphael, the Czech language tutor of King Ferdinand III as they both then were, once told me that the said book belonged to Emperor Rudolph and that he presented 600 ducats to the messenger who brought him the book. He, Raphael, thought that the author was Roger Bacon the Englishman. I suspend my judgement on the matter.” [Philip Neal translation].

On his site, Rene Zandbergen elaborates on the players, and the timing of this quote:

“The source of the acquisition by Rudolf is Dr. Raphael Mnišovský, once teacher to the young Ferdinand III, who later also was emperor of the holy roman empire. Mnišovský died in 1644, so this piece of information was more than 20 years old when Marci wrote his letter to Kircher. Furthermore, Mnišovský was referring back to events that took place at least 55 years before Marci’s letter, possibly even significantly longer. There are, however, reasons to believe that both men would remember the essential details correctly. Mnišovský was long interested in the manuscripts of Rudolf and the Voynich MS was something that deeply interested Marci since many decades. Still, it is certainly possible that the amount of 600 ducats is not based on fact, but possibly an exaggeration to interest Kircher”.

Now consider this against the timeline of all the letters of inquiry to Kircher which relate to the manuscript: Beginning with the (now lost but loosely described) 1636/37 letter, and the surviving 1639 letter, of Barschius to Kircher, we know that Barschius, Marci, and later, Kinner, were greatly interested in having Kircher identify the language, characters, illustrations and meaning of the book “uselessly taking up space” in Barschius’s library. It is conceivable that at the time he wrote his first two letters, Barschius did not know of the Roger Bacon/Rudolf II/600 ducats rumors, and so, did not include them. But I contend he most certainly would have included the rumors, had he known of them, as they would have certainly been deemed very helpful to Kircher in solving his riddle.

I will also point out here that Barschius made no mention of the De Tepencz “signature”, in the letter which survived. This should have been visible… as it was pre-1919 still visible… and it also would have been of great importance to the identification of the manuscript.

Now moving ahead to 1640, look at Marcus Marci’s letter to Kircher,

“The Sph*nx will understand from the attached sheet what my friend Mr Georg Barschius wanted to have written by me. Though he is undoubtedly a man of the highest quality and greatly skilled in chemical matters, he has not in fact achieved the real goal he longs for. He seeks it for the sake not of money but of medicine. [Philip Neal translation]”.

In this, we see that Marci has now taken up the cause of goading Kircher to solve the mystery of the Barschius (Voynich?) manuscript. However, he again does not mention the Roger Bacon/Rudolf II/600 ducats rumors to Kircher. This makes no sense, unless one wants to assume that Marci had not yet been told these rumors, by Mnišovský. The doctor was to live another four or so years, and perhaps only told Marci some time later, up to his death in 1644.

But Marci again does not write of the De Tepencz signature, which is inexplicable. Kircher had not yet seen the manuscript, and so anyone would consider this a valuable clue that Kircher should know.

A year later, in Marci’s 1641 letter to Kircher, Barschius is mentioned in passing, but the mysterious manuscript is not mentioned at all. No “rumors” mentioned, either, nor “signature”.

In fact, Marci does not again write of the Barschius Manuscript until the 1665 letter that Voynich claims to have found. But we know he would have heard the rumors at least by Dr. Raphael Mnišovský’s death in 1644. So why, on finding out the rumor, did Marci not immediately write Kircher and tell him? This very valuable information, so even if heard between 1641 and 1644, it should have… probably would have… been told to Kircher, to help him solve the riddle. It makes no logical sense that this was not shared. The most likely explanation is that this 1665 letter is a forgery, made up to add a valuable authorship and believable provenance to the manuscript.

From letter W. M. Voynich claims to have found in the Voynich Manuscript

From letter W. M. Voynich claims to have found in the Voynich Manuscript

Countering my suspicions, it has been recently (May, 2014) suggested on the Voynich-net mailing list, that the 1665 letter would have been “more convincing” as a forgery if the information in it was not stated as a rumor, but more directly. Meaning, if a hypothetical forger would have been more specific in their description of the authorship and provenance, perhaps description, while they had the chance, they would have done a better job of cementing the authenticity of the manuscript.

But this could not be done, and the chief reason is readily apparent: While sharing the Roger Bacon/Rudolf II/600 ducats rumors so late is somewhat damning to the authenticity of the 1665 Marci/Kircher letter, any direct claim of authorship and ownership, as fact, when not related earlier, would have been completely illogical, and revealed the letter as a fake. It would not be done if real, and could not be done, as a fake.

So told as a rumor only, years after Marci knew it, was the only way to even barely insulate the fact that this important news was held back so long. Stating it as rumor was the only way to get away with it at all. And it has worked, so far. But looking at it more closely, against the known timeline of letters: inclusion in this letter to Kircher, this useful and valuable information so late- casts serious doubts on the letter’s authenticity.