Posts Tagged ‘forgery’

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.

Inking Pox Leber

May 31, 2015

There are several issues to address in this post, although they are intertwined: Certain characters in the Voynich which may read “pox leber”, the ink which was used to write them, and the various evidence behind both. But as is usual in many of these cases, the story of the inking of “pox leber” is, to me, more about the reaction to the evidence, than anything the evidence alone may be able to tell us. But still, the evidence itself is pretty cool.

Above you can see the characters referred to. They are the first “words” on the last page, f116v, of the Voynich Manuscript. That page only has a few lines, which use some Voynich characters, yet also intermingle them with Latin characters, and possibly Christian crosses meant to be word dividers… such as was commonly done in the distant past. I should interject here that I do not know what these words may be, or if they are words at all. On that, I’m pretty much sitting on the sidelines.

The reason it mattered little to me what this is, or when it was put there, is because the last page writing was long assumed by many to have been added at a later date, by a different person, than the main writing of the manuscript. It was considered be in a different style, or “hand”, with different content (which it does have), and also, for that matter, to be different than the other Voynich marginalia. So really who put it there, and when, and what it is, would have little bearing on any theories. Or so I thought.

First I’ll point out one of the more prevalent theories about this last page marginalia. At the Voynich 100 Anniversary Conference in Frascati, Italy in 2012, one Johannas Albus gave a lecture on his idea that this marginalia was a recipe,

“The present paper presents a new transcription and tentative reading of this text. It is written in a mixture of mostly Latin, some old German (and two unreadable words in Voynichese) representing the memorandum of a medieval medical recipe. The rather abbreviated style of the Latin words is typical for such a recipe. With the illustrations on the margin referring to the text, the recipe´s ingredients as well as the title point out to a wound plaster with a billy goat´s liver as its main remedy.”

And Albus is using “pox leber”, in the sense of “bocks leber”, or “billy goat’s liver”. I didn’t, and still don’t, necessarily have an opinion as to the plausibility Mr. Albus’s theory. Well maybe as far as to feel it loosely falls into the category I’ve often noted: Something looks a lot like something we know, but is just different enough to keep us guessing as to what it really is. But his claims did get him into the conference, and are interesting, and are accepted as plausible by many. And I was and I am fine with that. But then an interesting and unexpected thing happened.

The first inkling (pun) I had that something was up about pox leber was after I tried to track down the first use of the phrase. I was surprised to find that “pox leber” also grabbed the attention of at least one early 20th century scholar, who was studying the works of the poet Hans Sachs. In a discussion on the Voynich Mailing List in September 2014, a link to a blog post was suggested: The author of that blog wrote,

“In a philosophy thesis submitted to the University of Wisconsin in 1902, Charles H. Handschin references the phrase from a poet, “Ey, schendt sie pox leber und lung” and equates “pox” to “bock(s)” (buck/male animal/Billygoat) which, in turn, he equates to “teufel” (devil). It brings to mind the image of a man-goat (satyr).

“Handschin’s interpretation of a 16th century phrase might shed light on the meaning of pox leber, or it might be a stretch to assume similar meanings. Perhaps the VM is not “pox leber” at all, but “pox, leber, und lung” as in pox, liver, and lung but with minimal punctuation as is common to quickly written notes and many older manuscripts.”

So I looked up the reference… the work of Charles H. Handschin… and I wrote to the list,

“… it interests me that the form “pox leber”, which is so commonly assumed from the last page marginalia, actually exists in “… Handschin’s interpretation of a 16th century phrase.” I was curious to know where this paper is, and what poem he was referencing, and whom it might have been written by. Handshin probably got it from the 1883 “Neudrucke Deutscher Literaturwerke Des 16. und 17. Jahrhunderts”… …by Max Neimeyer: The line is on page 61, line 326…

“The play appears to be by Hans Sachs. However, a Walter Tauber gives some possible substitutes, which I think he means that Sachs may have derived “pox leber” from other forms…

“From page 123: “potz laus, botz mauss, botz corper, potz grind…”. Perhaps the work of these scholars, in trying themselves to determine the source of “pox leber” in literature, could give a clue as to what was meant by the Voynich marginalia author? I mean, that work seems to have been done already, long ago… and perhaps one of these forms mentioned could fit with some other phrases we think we see there.”

Innocent enough, right? I’m noting that 19th and 20th scholars were curious about the Hans Sach’s usage of “pox leber”, which they noted was first used in the 16th century, and I was wondering if this will help us understand where the phrase may have been derived. And also, since the “marginalia was added”, no one should care less that it was first used in the 16th century. Oh how wrong I was. The Vms-list erupted in a cacophony of varied objections, among them, “we don’t know how much earlier pox leber may have been used”, and the contrary, “it may not be pox leber”, and “google can’t find everything because everything has not been scanned”, and so on and so forth. In short, objections to when the phrase “pox leber” may have been inked on the last page of the Voynich.

This confused me for a time. I was trying to figure out why it suddenly mattered when this marginalia was applied. What difference did it make if the phrase came in the mid to late 16th century? Why was there this argument against this, against this seemingly useful and solid previous scholarship, from experts no less? I thought that everyone would be happy. But the negative reaction made me realize there must be something to this… if now the argument, mostly among “15 century genuine herbal” theorists, were adamant that this phrase might date to the Voynich radiocarbon date range (1404-1438), that this meant there was clue somewhere that they were aware of, but that I had missed. It was as though the protagonist in Poe’s “The Telltale Heart” kept telling me to go away, but also kept staring at the floorboards. So I pried up the floorboards.

I went back to the McCrone report for the Voynich ink, and re-read it with this curious concern in mind: What exactly did Joseph Barabe conclude about the marginalia ink, which may have caused such a radically new view on the marginalia? After matching up the sample numbers with the pages they were taken from, it turned out that sample 16, from the marginalia’s “black ink on text”, was included in the reports conclusion,

“All of the inks used for text or drawing were identified as iron gall inks. The variability of the amounts of iron present is not unusual in iron gall inks. We found no significant differences between the writing inks and the drawing inks used throughout the document and tentatively conclude that the text and drawings were most likely created contemporaneously.”

And Barabe also concluded that certain quire and page numbers were different than the main text inks, telling us that if the f166v ink were different, we would have been so informed. In effect, the conclusion tells us that the marginalia was applied “contemporaneously” with the main text ink! And there was my “smoking gun”, and the root cause of the paradigm shift from “marginalia added sometime later, by some later person”, to “marginalia added by the Voynich author, or from his/her inkwell”. And then, of course, anyone (me) pointing out that “pox leber” is about 130 years “too new” for the main text, if applied near the C14 dates range of 1404 to 1438, will be starting a fire.

In any case, I soon poured gasoline on that fire: By now pointing out that the ink of the main text and the “pox leber” marginalia are the same, according to the well-respected scholarship of McCrone, I found a new wave of objections. But as I also note, and have noted in the past, many of those objections are mutually, logically, exclusive of one another. That is, if person A believes in “pox leber” existing earlier than the scholarship tells us it did, but person B believes it does probably date from the 16th century, then A attacks “pox leber”, and B attacks the McCrone report, while they both claim the Voynich is a genuine, 15th century herbal. That is, something has to “give” in order for it all to make sense, and that something might be different for multiple genuine theorists. A list of some of the various arguments I met with, used against this uncomfortable conclusion:

  1. It’s not “pox leber”
  2. It is “pox leber”, but the phrase may have existed early enough for the C14 range
  3. I’m reading the ink report of McCrone wrong
  4. McCrone must have information they did not reveal, which will show the ink is not the same
  5. I’m reading it right, but ink always looks similar enough to be deemed the same
  6. “So what?” if the Voynich author also penned the f166v marginalia? They just decided to use a different style and characters
  7. Nobody ever said the marginalia was added later, anyway, and don’t look…

And remember, it really does not matter to me whether or not “pox leber” was written, nor when it was inked there. I was happy as a clam to accept that someone may have added the marginalia later, even, much later. Well almost, but there is another point I have made, which did make me suspicious of the marginalia: It is unreadable. It is as confounding, if in a different way, as the bulk Voynich text. And normally, in other cases, marginalia is usually understood to some extent: If not what it means exactly, then at least why it is there, or what it is referencing. But in the Voynich, we have at least three examples of marginalia, in different hands, claimed applied by different persons at different times… all as unreadable as the text. This is very odd, and so, has long suggested to me that the marginalia is there for a look, an effect, only… to make the Voynich look like other medieval or Renaissance manuscripts, poured over and marked on by centuries of subsequent scholars… but to not be readable. Readable text is a danger to all forgeries. If a forger does not copy verbatim, an existing example, they run the risk, a risk which only increases the more they add, of introducing a “tell” to their deceit. It is a toe in the door. It is key to many forgery reveals, and something a good forger would avoid.

So is “pox leber” one such “tell”, that crept through the normally careful attempt to hide the crime? Is the use of the same ink as the text a tell? Is it making the marginalia unreadable? In a purposefully different style and content? That is, are all of the above valuable evidence to forgery, our “tell tale hearts”, beating under the floorboards? I hear them, do you?

Harry Clarke, “Tell-Tale Heart”, 1919

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.

The Grolier Codex Forgery

February 10, 2014

In a recent discussion on the VMs-net List, a concept emerged that I’m only just beginning to explore. The premise was used that Wilfrid Voynich was not an expert in ancient manuscripts, therefore he could not have forged the Voynich. I thought about that line of reasoning, especially since I agree that Voynich was not a ms. expert (although he was an expert in finding, pricing and selling them), and wondered if the conclusion that could be drawn from his inexpert”ness”, was actually just the opposite of that suggested. That is, is it possible that the very wide range of contrary expert opinions on the Voynich, over the years is because it was forged by an inexpert forger?

I wonder if a genuine book does not usually receive as much diversity of opinion, since the content may tend to be more uniform? And then, if forged by one who better knows their subject, as an expert would, the examiners will pretty much agree on origin, age, culture, content? Of course such a book may end up being accepted as genuine, if good enough. But lastly, if a forger is inexpert, will the resulting work tend to have content that is improper, from a wide range of works, and/or eras, and/or in styles, that should not be in there, and therefore the bad forgery will elicit dispute among experts? And so, conversely, could a range of expert opinion on age, content, and/or meaning, possibly be a useful indication of forgery?


I came across the instance of a presumed pre-Columbian Maya Codex, the Grolier Codex. It was so named because it was on display in the Grolier Club after its discovery in the 1960’s. From the Wikipedia article on the Codex:

“English Mayanist J. Eric S. Thompson cast strong doubts upon the authenticity of the Grolier Codex in his 1975 article The Grolier Codex, published in volume 27 of the Contributions of the University of California. Thompson argued that the codex was a modern forgery and that the unusual mix of styles in the document was not due to the mixing of cultures but rather due to the hand of a forger. Thompson queried the illustration of all four stations of Venus in the codex, noting that other Mesoamerican codices only illustrated the more spectacular appearance of Venus as morning star.”

“the unusual mix of styles… …due to the hand of a forger”. I think it is reasonable to assume that the forger was inexpert in ancient Mayan Codices, or they would not have improperly mixed styles. Furthermore, the Codex’s usefulness is destroyed by the forger’s lack of understanding of the Maya calendar, “In 2002, French archaeologist Claude-François Baudez commented that the codex serves no divinatory purpose and was useless as an aid to a Maya priest; he believes that the document is the product of a forger using pre-Columbian materials but relatively ignorant of his subject.”


So the forged document appears the way it does, with varied and improper content, due to the fact that the forger was inexpert. It is also interesting to me that there are experts who believe the Grolier Codex is genuine, and so the argument continues. But at least it was carbon dated, so that ought to have put the issue to rest, no?

“The radiocarbon dating of an associated sheet of bark paper had been used to support a 13th-century date [1230 AD, ± 130 years] for the Grolier Codex.”

From this, one might assume that the Codex was genuine. One might reason that since bark paper must have been highly prized by scribes, and very valuable and rare, and also, very delicate and susceptible to the environment, that therefore no appropriate blank bark paper would sit around for decades, let alone hundreds of years, for a forger to use to make a fake Codex. That is the… it turns out, incorrect… reasoning used to dismiss a creation of the Voynich much later than the C14 date of the leaves. But then I read,

“Large quantities of pre-Columbian bark paper have been found in dry caves, so a genuine piece of blank pre-Columbian paper may have been used by a forger as a base for painting a falsified codex.”

Oh well.  The materials were found in some “Cave Libraria”, it seems. And this material sat unused for between 600 and 860 years, blank, before use, and the Grolier Codex may still be a forgery. But the experts still argue about it, and the reasons it has the baffling content that it does. Sound familiar, Voynicherios?

But back to the original concept: I would be interested to see other cases where manuscripts have a wide range of expert opinion as to content and meaning, and if this can be correlated in any useful way to the works of inexpert forgers. Rich SantaColoma

Something Sheepy in the State of Denmark?

February 26, 2011

What should one think, when two documents, arguably the number one and number two most controversial parchment/vellum artifacts known to history, were discovered to have been made at virtually the same moment in history? The Voynich was dated by the University of Arizona to 1404-1438, the Vinland Map, also by the University of  Arizona, to 1423-1445. It is even not so improbable, given the 15 year overlap, that the sheep which made both were breathing at the same moment in time. What are the odds of this? Well there are a few conclusions we might draw:

1) It is just a surprising coincidence.  It is a pretty big one, though, considering all the leaves of vellum produced in the world, from practically the beginning of history, and these two share suspicion and a birthday.

2) They are both forgeries, and they are both made from the same stash of vellum. Well that’s crazy, of course. But just for jollies I searched for any connection between Wilfred Voynich and the Vinland map. So far I did not come up with any connections between him, and any of the people suspected of being involved with the forgery of the Vinland Map. But I did find out that in 2005 the idea was floated. From

“There was an interesting programme about the Voynich manuscriptwhich is supposed to be a forgery as it is written in cipher but notdecoded. It was discovered by a Voynich who was a book dealer but it may have been forged to raise money for Russians revolutionaries.

It also said that the spy Reilly and or Voynich used to go to the British Museum to study old inks and as Voynich could get old unused vellum and that might have to do with the Vinland Map”

Unfortunately I did not see the BBC documentary, which this is referring to. If anyone reading this has seen it, I will ask, “Did someone on the show actually raise this possibility, and if so, on what basis did they make such a claim?” Because I had never heard it before, in all my years of poking around in this mess.

It was also interesting, the seemingly off-hand comment, “…Voynich could get old unused vellum”. I would really love to know where that claim comes from… because I have been very interested in any unused vellum kicking around, be it in 1530, 1610, or 1909. Bearing that in mind, let’s take a look at a photograph, taken in 1908, of a room in a bookshop Wilfred had recently purchased:

"Dark Room" of the Libraria Franceschini

This picture is from the article, “The Romance of a Literary Treasure-House: An account of a Strange Bibliomaniac and his Hoard”, by Helen Zimmern (Pall Mall Magazine, July to December, 1908). The article explains that this collection, amassed by a Mr. Franceschini, included over one half a million books, maps, pamplets and incuncubilia. When I read the descriptions of this bibliotrove, and see that picture of the “Dark Room”, I feel that it creates a plausible scenario in which Voynich could have had access to much unused, blank parchment. He must have. I mean, even today one can collect dozens of leaves from the end papers of countless books… and there are also, even today, many blank books in collections. As I pointed out, a few years ago, I would have been able to purchase 20 sheets of unused, 16th century vellum… at only $35 a sheet. So look again at Voynich’s 1908 purchase, this vast, jumbled literary dumping ground, and ask yourself if it would have been so hard to dig up 114 blank sheets from somewhere in it’s depths. Same date, even? It would have taken just one blank ledger in that vast archive of unknown content to create a “Voynich” Ms.

Interior of the Libraria Franceschini

Coming back to the Vinland Map and Voynich, I was caught by this statement by Zimmern,

“Indeed, of many things revealed by a visit to this library none is more strange to the common or garden person than the fact here impressed upon us that Amercia was by no means the terra incognita before the days of Columbus that our school books led us to suppose”.

What could she have possibly seen which would have led her to make such a statement? The only literary evidence of pre-Columbus travels to America are the various Norse Mythologies. Maybe Wilfred handed her a copy of  Freya.  But the thing is, she happens to add the statement at the end of the paragraph discussing early maps. Did she see a pre-1492 map? We know of only one which is claimed to be so, the Vinland map. Which curiously, as I pointed out, has the same C14 date as another document, the Voynich. Which of course is known to have been owned by the buyer of the very library Ms. Zimmern was describing.

Well of course any conclusions based on these iota sized tidbits is wild speculation. But for the fun of it, let’s create a little scenario, combining what we know, with what we can reasonably suspect was possible:

Wilfred Voynich, sometime between 1908 and 1911 finds the 1666 Marci letter, describing a cipher manuscript, rumored to be by Roger Bacon, and once owed by Rudolf II. And soon, the lire and dollar-signs are dancing around the man’s head, as he thinks, “What would such a thing be worth?”. The answer is simple… priceless. If he could only find such a work… if only it were in his hands, the price would be his to name. But that was just a fantasy, the odds of finding such a work would be astronomical… it would never turn up, in ten lifetimes. All he had was this storehouse of dusty books and piles of blank vellum. Well, maybe also a few “artists” on his staff, or a phone call away, with the knowledge of historical inks and paints. The ones he used to create those “replicas” of museum art for wealthy patrons from time to time. Perhaps it would be natural for him to think, “If the Marci-Roger Bacon manuscript could never be found, why not create one?” He had the motive, materials, ability, and knowledge to do so.

Wow. If I didn't know better...

But how to start with such a project? Since it was about Roger Bacon, the choices were easy, and many. The knowledge of alchemy, botany, astrology, astronomy, and optical sciences of the great man would make for a fantastical book… a colorful, dazzling work of art. Adding an indecipherable text would add to the mystery, and also, make certain that the content, unreadable, would not give clues to the great hoax. So you would only now have to hand to your artists, and (two?) calligraphers, the type and range of scientific and magical disiplines one might expect to find in a Bacon work… “…but make them strange, un-recognizable to some degree, while touching on the works of others… even those, far ahead of Bacon’s time”. Bacon was, after all, a man ahead of his time. So old herbals are pored through, and old astrologicals… and alchemicals, too. And of course Wilfred has these ready at hand. Why not throw a little of everything in there? We may as well shoot for an impossible, a Holy Grail of manuscripts, something the world would never dream of. For optics and optical devices, Voynich would be somewhat stuck… for there would not be anything from Bacon’s time to adapt. So for optics, his forgers would have to take from the works of Hooke, and from Kircher, from the 1744 “The Microscope Made Easy”, and John Quekett’s “Practical Treatise on the use of the Microscope”, 1855. Then Carters’ Treatise on the Microscope, and others, would provide some nice engravings of microscopic organisms to copy, (barely) alter, and disperse among the pages, as wheels, and as roots of plants.

Carter's Diatom (black) overlayed with Voynich Wheel (green)

The next step would be to announce his monstrous creation, to bring his Golem to life. Of course he would have to hide the actual provenence, which of course he did… claiming an Austrian castle as it’s source, then an Italian monestary, and so on… because it would not do, once the news hit, to have anyone questioning the actual people who were supposed to actually have sold it to him. That would not do, so best to obscure the source. And all that would be left was to make photocopies, and distribute them, write letters and send them, and sit back, and wait for history to knock at his door.

Too Close for Comfort?

But then comes an unexpected backfire. Romaine Newbold takes up on Wilfred’s hints of Bacon, and the hints of optics, and comes back with all the wrong answers! Newbold sees the cylinders as jars, not microscopes! Those artfully redesigned optics, Newbold only sees as jars! “How did he miss that?!”, Voynich thinks… And instead of the diatom, Newbold sees the Crab Nebula! Impossible for Roger Bacon to have seen with any device he could have possessed… but, then, it gets far worse. Newbold actually thinks he sees intentional, microscopic breaks in the manuscript’s characters… and deduces an impossible code scheme around the the elements he thinks he sees there… mere breaks in the ink, recently applied by Voynich’s dutiful scribes. And out tumbles the most convoluted and bizarre anagrammatic “solution” ever conceived.

And now, all is lost… it got away from poor Wilfred, it was out of his hands. The path to literary obscurity for his creation was cleared, and as a final assurance the plan was finished, he realized he could never reveal the truth. Rather than be known as a great cheat, a greedy forger, he would have to remain the finder of the World’s most Mysterious Manuscript. He only had to remain quiet to save his reputation, and that of his famous author wife, Ethel. And so the Voynich Ms. was cast adrift in literary history, from theory to theory… each touching on all the clues so artfully placed, but deviously disguised, by Wilfred’s skilled forgers. And it bounced from owner to owner, to finally land in a vault at Yale. I began as a monumental miscalculation by the hopeful book dealer, and became an inadvertent, monumental joke on the countless scholars it drew into it’s web, for decades and lifetimes since.  “Well, at least”, Wilfred thought, “I still have the map! That should be worth something…”.

But enough of such wild-eyed, fanciful musings… as fun as they are. We all know that this is simply a 1420, Northern Italian herbal. So calm down, and get over it, please.