Posts Tagged ‘hoax’

“It’s Newer Than You Think”

May 24, 2015

The title of this post is a play on the frequent claim by my friend and fellow Voynich researcher, Steve Ekwell, who often warns us, “It’s older than you think”. However, ever since the beginning of Voynich research in the early 20th century, both professional and amateur investigators have noted the presence of images which look “newer” than one might expect, given the general style of the manuscript. That is, many think it looks pretty much like a 15th or 16th century herbal, in general, but then striking comparisons to items which could only be there if they were copied from much later are made. Near the beginning of Voynich research these included microscopic and telescopic observations, such as cellular structures and celestial nebulae. Then O’Neil famously believed that certain plants were an American sunflower, and a pepper.

More recently, in 2006, I noted the similarity of many of the cylinders to modern optical devices. Others have noted imagery from medical texts, and from other works, which should not be in a text which matches at all the radiocarbon dating of the leaves of the 15th century. As a side note, since very publicly working on my very controversial modern forgery theory, there seems to be an increased reluctance to posting such (supporting?) comparisons. That is, when there was no such theory being seriously proposed, and only casually mentioned in passing as a sort of quirky side not, it was common to read comments along these lines, “Look at how much this illustration looks like ABC! Of course it can’t be ABC, because ABC is too new“. So I imagine that these thoughts are still occurring, if not shared. Below is a list of past observations, both by me and others, which have been either posted on this blog, or on the Voynich Mailing List, or elsewhere. On the associated blog posts of mine, I may have earlier theories of why they are there, because of course my theories have evolved into what they are today.

Voynich Cylinders and 17th Century Spanish Microscopes

Since posting the above comparison, years ago, I have found the source of the engravings to the right: They are from a 1763 Spanish “Broadsheet” by a Pablo Minguet. It turns out that figures 8 and 9 are not of microscopes, but of a type of low power monocular, or “opera glass”. Nonetheless, the comparison I to these optical devices is striking to me, and also, clearly not alone in the Voynich. Many of the cylinders seen also exhibit the very “optical-like” features of parallel sides, multiple diameters (for sliding focus?), recessed tops (inset lenses?), “rimmed” sections, some with legs, similar coloration and decoration to early optics, and even, the much later knurling for “grip” when focusing. I show a page of some such comparisons here, but I will post one more on this current overview list:

Microscope Comparsion 1

The above is doubly interesting to me, because not only does the Voynich illustration show enough similarities to pass as a drawing of the actual microscope (actually a field tube from inside a microscope), but that same microscope was on display about a quarter of a mile from Voynich’s Libraria (his Florence Book Store) during the time he owned that store, and during the time he said he “found” the Voynich. In the past it was said that this microscope was “too new” for the Voynich, and also, “too new” for even my Drebbel and New Atlantis theories. Eventually I agreed with my critics, because the similarity is so good, especially in the context of everything else found in the Voynich. But it is not “too new” to have been copied from the display, at the time it was on display, about 1908 to 1910. As an appropriate aside, all of these observations, mine and those of others, always fit the requirements that they were accessible to Wilfrid Voynich: They were either in print before 1910, or were in a place he was known to have visited, if not in print (such as London, Rome, Paris, Florence, etc.). And further, no good comparisons have been made to items after 1910… no automatic transmission parts, no toaster ovens, no rockets, and so on. This latter observation implies that the modern comparisons are not coincidental, for if they were, they would not know a 1910 upper boundary.

f27v Root: What a puzzler!

f27v Root: What a puzzler!

Here is one that helped nudge me into the future, so to speak. It was one of those nagging signs of newness which I began to feel I was dismissing, as so many others were, based on only one basic premise: The Voynich must be old. Once one steps over that virtual line, so many hundreds of features make sense, and so many problems with the manuscript immediately evaporate. It is like many problems and puzzles in this way: Often, one single, and seemingly immense obstacle, stands in the way of understanding what it is; while many smaller obstacles, far more palatable ones, are stepped over to avoid it. What I read now, in my puzzle-root blog post from 2011, are among my first steps in understanding this. But at the time, truly believing this could be a modern work was still quite an outlandish thought. The post about the below image was similar, but from 2009:

Voynich Manuscript f79r

Voynich Manuscript f79r “floating man”

The thing is, I was still attempting to force-fit the comparison into my early 17th century New Atlantis theory (I still believe that the presence of many NA items is not a coincidence, however I feel they are there for a different reason than before). I mean, I argued that this 1636 illustration was close enough to “my” time frame of 1610 to 1620 to allow that someone may have seen an early version of it, or the actual device. But now that I’ve moved up to the 20th century, it clicks neatly into place: Like many of the illustrations of the Voynich, I believe they were collected and copied, accurately and not, from many previous sources, in print and person. And I think whomever copied Schwenter’s swimming girdle did not quite understand that is was supposed to be wrapped around the body, then inflated! So they had their Voynich nymph simply hook an arm on it.

Here is the Schwenter engraving:

Early Swimming Aide... the

Back to optical comparisons: The below comparison between a diatom engraving, and a “wheel” from the Voynich.

The thing is, I found myself once again seeing a great comparison, but being troubled by the fact that it came later than my theories. I was forced to assume that someone had seen one of these diatoms, discovered off the coast of Japan in the 19th century, and only apparent at over 500 times magnification, and only found illustrated in a late 19th century book. Like many of these comparisons, though, the problems fall away when we accept that the Voynich post dates the illustration (from William B. Carpenter’s 19th century “The Microscope and its Revealations”. The scientific name of this diatom is Arachnoidiscus Japonicus). But an odd thing now happens… while no comparisons have been made between thousands of illustrations, from thousands of books, several Voynich illustrations often resemble several illustrations from a few books. And while the detractors of the modern hoax theories have struggled very hard to come up with alternative comparisons, they always fail to match as well, on so many points, as these microscopic engravings. It is good, though, that the effort to do this is so strong, because if not for that, it might have been assumed better alternatives exist.

Too Close for Comfort?

The above is one of many examples of this effect… the comparison is also found in the same Carpenter microscope book (in error I wrote “Carters” on the image). There are at least two more, from that same book. And two other microscope books provide several other, and I feel very good, comparisons, to Voynich illustrations.

Above we see one of these comparisons, between the f85r2 circular illustration, and a microscopic cross-section of a wheat stem, from a 1909 book. But the comparison goes beyond that, for within the Voynich illustration are four people, one of whom could be clutching a bunch of wheat. They are arguably standing in a garden, and if so, the model of the microscopic cellular structure of the wheat stem may have been chosen as the microcosm to the garden’s macrocosm. In any case, there was no seeing such structures before the mid-18th century, when microscopes became powerful enough to do so. In any case, the illustration of this cross section first appears in a book from 1909, along with two other close matches to Voynich illustrations.

Well it is

Well it is “Spiral”, Anyway

Above we have one of the well known Mr. Romaine Newbold, the famous “nebula”. Again, “too new” for the Voynich, although he and Wilfrid, and others, tried to shoehorn the comparisons into an even earlier dating than we now know possible: the 14th century, and at the hand of Roger Bacon. But I think there is another possible explanation: The word nebula was whispered in Newbold’s ear, and he just picked the wrong one! But photographs of what were thought nebula… now known as galaxy’s, were in print by the end of the 19th century. Another possible, and very good, comparison to this illustration was made by Elitsa Velinska, to an illustration by D’Oresme, in the 15th century. So was the D’Orseme illustration used, and updated and adapted (spirals added) to represent a “nebula”, or is it an innocent, early work, influenced by D’Orseme, at the time? For another take, look at some notes by Robert Teague. But I suspect, like many images in the Voynich, they are copied, and modified, to both look like their original counterparts, but be “not quite enough” like them for a direct identification. Enough to suggest, little enough to be sure. And you see, we are not sure, on this, nor anything.

And the famous “armadillo” rears it’s pretty head. The interesting thing is, this looks much like an armadillo to almost everyone who does not know of the Voynich, nor care when it was made, but looks nothing like one to anyone who believes the Voynich was written and illustrated before Columbus. It becomes a pangolin, wolf, or one of many other creatures that were known to Europeans in the 15th century. You decide. But since writing about the armadillo “sighting”, and since opening myself to the early 20th century, I have noticed that there are stylistic similarities to several armadillo sources, all, if used, impossible for a work any earlier than the 17th century or so.


An early (1944), and as usual controversial, comparison, was made by Hugh O’Neill. From Mary D’Imperio’s An Elegant Enigma,

“The most startling identification… …was folio 93, which is quite plainly the common sunflower. Helianthus Annuus L. Six botanist have agreed with me on this determination. This immediately recalls the date 1493, when the seeds of this plant were brought to Europe for the first time (by Columbus on his return from his second voyage). Again folio 101v shows a drawing which does not resemble any native European fruit, but suggests plainly Capsicum, a genus strictly American in origin, known in Europe only after the above date… …It seems necessary to consider this manuscript as having been written after 1493”.

Others have thought that the f33v plant may represent a sunflower, also. And, of course, there was a furor over O’Neill’s claims… long before the C14 dating placed the creation of the calfskin of the manuscript firmly in the 15th century. One may note, though, that even if O’Neill and his supporters, are correct, it does not place the Voynich in the 20th century, to me it is another indication that the images of the Voynich are drawn from, and modified from, many sources both before and after the radiocarbon dating of the leaves, up to 1909, when the newest such comparison can be made. That is, for anyone continuing to argue “15th century genuine European herbal”, they have quite a corpus of comparisons to dismiss, far beyond the few I alone have made, and dating back long before I was born.

The above are a selection of some of the more obvious comparisons that could possibly be made. But there are many possible such illustrations, and also writing styles, and other evidence in the Voynich, which support the possibility that the work is from Voynich’s time, and only copied from many sources, both printed and in person, from right up until it was created, as a modern forgery. And they come from all over: Nick Pelling has noted a possible toilet, which he attributes to the architect Averlino, in his theory. He also notes modern notation used for some numbers, and the quire notations, even pointing out that some quire numbers may have been made with a steel nib, only he feels that all these were added later. And he has long noted the similarity of many Voynich “jars” to Majorca… but with legs, which are from a much later time than the calfskin. And Nick even explored the possibilities of my optical comparisons, looking for instances “early enough” to be explained by an early Voynich ms., but like me, found none that satisfied from an early date. We just have different reasons they are not found, and so, I keep the comparisons, as I think they are modern, while Nick now (I believe) rejects them. Elitsa Velinska, while voicing strong objections to my modern theories, has come up with many very good comparisons with various anatomical details with illustrations in the Voynich. She does not believe these images are modern, while I would counter-argue (and do!) that the use and representation of many of them is more likely from a text more modern than the era of the calfskin they are applied on.

To this we can add so many more, only a few of which I can think of while writing this: My comparison of a certain version of the Heidelberg crest, and the f46v root being rejected as “too new”; the observation by several that the Voynich “foldouts” are too new for the 15th century; the possible presence of various people, such as Martin Luther by me, and Tycho Brahe and Kepler by Robert Teague. Robert also notes various possible celestial observations which can only been seen much later than the vellum. Tim Mervyn, who famously argues this as a possible work by John Dee and Edward Kelley, has made the same observation I have, that one of the men in the f57v “wheel” seems to be holding a speculum, and so, seemingly representing one of them.

And the list goes on… many people have voiced impressions giving them what I call “The Nagging Sense of Newness”, in many different ways, for decades… although they usually firmly reject what they seem to feel is a disturbing conclusion. And I ironically agree with their observations. In fact, I probably agree with more observations and comparisons, by more people, than anyone in the field. The difference with me is that I no longer find those observations at all disturbing, and so, I come to a very different conclusion as to why they are made in the first place.

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.