Posts Tagged ‘manuscript’

“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.

93r

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.

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: http://hurontaria.baf.cz/CVM/b9.htm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First, fast, practice sheet: 15 minutes

First, fast, practice sheet: 15 minutes

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

You Say “Tspenencz”, I say “Topenencz”

November 14, 2014

A recurring theme to many of the inquires which Voynich made, to various curators and expert scholars, was to ask questions which pointed them into certain directions, while at the same time professing to not know where that direction ultimately led. The result was that the answer he received would usually be “on target”, while the question would retain the impression… genuine or not… that Voynich himself did not already possess the answer he was seeking.

This effect is almost universal in Voynich’s dealings. And the archival remains of this process are almost indistinguishable from genuine inquiry, if not for the high number of really great, perfectly phrased, seemingly innocuous, questions, which actually contain most of the answer he was after. I feel the number of times I’ve observed this effect rises far above simple coincidence, or some sort of brilliant intuition, on his part. But there is to me a “smoking gun” in some of the inquiries, in that the question asked is just so close to the proper one, that it stretches credibility that he would not have already guessed it. One case I feel borders on the ludicrous, so I wanted to outline it, here.

I had written “A New Look at the Tepencz Signature”, after finding among the Voynich Papers at the Beinecke what seem to be the earliest images of the Tepencz name on f1r of the Voynich Manuscript. There is both a pre-chemical, and seemingly very early, and clear, post-chemical treatment images. Here is a close up of one of them (click for full size):

Pretty Crisp Looking, No?

Pretty Crisp Looking, No?

So Voynich saw this, and claimed to want to determine whose name this was. What would one think, though, on seeing this? What letter would one guess is between the capital “T” and the “p”? What do you see? And more importantly, what makes sense, in the context of the claimed provenance of the Voynich? Here is what Voynich wrote to the Director of the National State Archives of Bohemia, Prague, Czecho Slovakia, on February 9, 1921:

“I should be very much obliged to you if you could give me some information about a man who lived in Bohemia in the 17th century. His name appears on the first leaf of a very important manuscript in my possession, which he apparently owned at some time during the 17th century. As nearly as I can read the name it is Jacobij a Tspenecz or Topenecz, and I am enclosing [a] photograph of it.”

So whether or not one thinks that letter can be mistaken for an “o”, we have as his first guess, “s”. “Tspenecz”? Not only does that character look nothing like an “s”, but “Tspenecz” makes no sense… not as a name, nor as any word. We might allow “o”, though, as that makes some bit of linguistic sense. But then there is the problem that the letter, in that picture, actually does look somewhat like an “e”, with the downward points at the bottom, at the beginning and end of the “e” loop. So why no guess “Tepenecz”, when that makes so much more sense than Tspenencz, and also, looks pretty much like it?

Not to mention that Voynich got most of the other letters correct, when they are less visible. No, all in all, I find this a disingenuous request, meant to elicit a desired answer. The letter goes on:

“Through indirect evidence [1666 Marci letter?] I gather that he was a friend of the celebrated Prague professor, Joh. Marcus Marci, but although I have looked in every possible book in the British Museum and in the New York libraries I can find no reference to him. I also think he was personally acquainted with or at the Court of Ferdinand III, King of Bohemia, and that he knew a certain Dr. Raphael who taught Bohemian to the children of Ferdinand III [yep, the Marci letter…]. Incidentally I should be very grateful if you could give me some information about this Dr. Raphael, apart from ‘Jacobij a Tspenecz’.”

Well that is an awful lot of effort then, no doubt… but I might have suggested that while expending a search in “every possible book in the British Museum and in the New York libraries”, he might have wanted to try Tapenecz and Tepenecz, too.

Voynich ends the letter by saying he wanted the information to use in a talk that April 20th. That would be his famous lecture on the Voynich before the Philadelphia College of Physicians. I didn’t see the answer from Prague, but we we know it worked, because Voynich later thanked him for his answer, and mentions “Tepenecz”, who he says, “signed” his manuscript. But here is what Voynich had to say about it, in his lecture:

“Chemicals were applied to the margins and the autograph, Jacobus de Tepenecz, became visible, with some illegible figures below it”.

So now there is no mention of “s”, or “o”, only “e”. He goes on,

“Bohemian biographical dictionaries yielded the information that Jacobus Tepenecz was a Bohemian scientist, ennobled by Emperor Rudolf in 1608. He had the right only from that time to sign himself as ‘de Tepenecz.’ Earlier he was known as Horcicky, or, in the Latinized form, Sinapius.”

After this, he outlines in more detail the story of Tepenecz, and then gives credit to the source, “The director of the Bohemian State Archives has very kindly supplied me with a copy of Emperor Rudolf’s patent of nobility to Horicicky.”

Well at least the answer from the Archives cleared up the name, but without seeing the whole response from them, I am unclear just how much of the biography of Tepenecz was imparted by them, to Voynich, and how much of the “Bohemian biographical dictionaries” were used, by Prague in its answer, or found by Voynich, by other means. However, on May 27th, 1921, Wilfrid finally gets around to thanking him.. one “Dr. L. Kicman”,

“I feel under great obligation to you for sending me the information about Horcicky and Raphael Missowski, and also for the trouble you took to send me photographs of these men.

I am glad to say that all the material which you sent to me arrived in time for my paper before the College of Physicians, Philadelphia, in connection with the history of a Roger Bacon MS. in cipher which I possess.
“You are quite right in supposing that the MS. is connected with Bohemian history for to all practical purposes this remarkable MS. is preserved to the world thanks to the keen interest in it manifested by several seventeenth century Bohemian scholars.”

Do we see what happened there? Now it is the official director of the Prague Archives who was “… quite right in supposing that the MS. is connected with Bohemian history…”, not Wilfrid Voynich, who actually outlined the answer, before he received it!

In any case, make of it what you will, as I do. But with all these types of inquiries that Voynich made, and the wording and inconsistencies to the claims of provenance for this, and other works he owned, sold or not, I really have my doubts that many of these requests were little more than fishing for official opinions, which he could later append to future descriptions, signed by the provider. And each was was constructed with built-in, automatic disclaimers, in the somewhat parsed wording, hiding the reality that he was simply writing his own answers from the beginning.

UPDATE: A fellow researcher recently posted an excerpt from a letter Voynich sent from New York, to his London office manager, Herbert Garland, on February 25th, 1921:

“My Dear Mr Garland,

I most sincerely thank you and congratulate you upon the information you found about Tepenecz. Without your help I should have been unable here to discover that Sinapius was Tepenecz. I had all the details about Sinapius as I have the details of everyone connected with the court of Rudolph. In fact I even have the names of the lovers of his daughter, but I never connected Sinapius with Tepenecz.”

So it seems that Wilfrid Voynich had at least two people helping him on this, the Prague historian, and Garland, in London. But what this passage does is reinforce the possibly disingenuous nature of Wilfrid’s claim that he could not find anything on Tepenecz… because Garland had no problem. Whether Garland had a copy of the photograph, and thought that it read “Tepenecz” on his own; or whether he took it on himself to try “Tepenecz” in additions to Voynich’s suggested “Tspenecz” and “Topenecz”, without seeing the photograph… or lastly, whether Voynich himself suggested “Tepenecz” to Garland, when he did not, to Prague, we don’t know. But the fact that Garland was able to find the information, in London, when Voynich claims he could not, supports the idea that Voynich knew very well that this was Tepenecz, and only pretended to be confused, in order to elicit an answer from others, that he could then use to support his claim of provenance… while effectively insulating himself from any claim that he was in fact, simply inventing that provenance.

The Timing of the “Rumor”

May 27, 2014

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

September 10, 1665 Letter from Marci to Kircher

September 10, 1665 Letter from Marci to Kircher

Here is the story in the letter:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

grolier_1_to_5

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.”

grolier_6_to_11

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

New Look at the de Tepencz “Signature”

July 14, 2013

An indisputable truth of historical research is that any conclusions drawn from the source material is inevitably shaped by subjective reasoning. This is why every researcher should always go back to the source to form their own opinion. Luckily we live in an age when a wealth of source material magically appears on our computer screens, only a click or two away… but far from all of it. The Voynich papers at the Beinecke library at Yale have not yet been digitized, and only have a cursory description at the website. Much of the current understanding of the provenance of the ms. is based on these papers, so I wanted to see them in person. This last June, I was able to spend almost two full days looking through them. And, also as expected, my impression was very different from that of others.

I will soon write up my findings, and opinions on them, in what will possibly be three or four blog posts. But as also often happens when searching for information in archives, you find more than you were looking for. In this case, I found two images of the f1r “signature” of Jacobus de Tepencz, which I thought I had not seen before. Although I am no expert on the signature, I felt I had enough of an understanding of it, and the stories and controversies around it, to believe these images were of importance. So I took a couple of pictures of them, and sent them to Jan Hurych- who wrote several articles about the VMs signature- and is also someone whose opinion I respect and admire. He affirmed my suspicion that these images may be previously unpublished, and possibly of importance to Voynich research. That was enough for me, and I told him I would write them up.

f1r Before Chemical Treatment

f1r Before Chemical Treatment

The first image, shown above (click on image for full size), first appeared to be a below average image of the familiar first page of the Voynich Manuscript, f1r. But the penciled note on the photo reads, “To be kept- Rotograph without autograph before it was chemically restored”. This is what caught my attention, because the “chemical treatment” of the signature- why and when it was done by Voynich- has been a long running controversy. For one thing, it has been surmised that Voynich treated this area to see IF there was a signature. Another claim was  that he “accidentally” spilled photo developer on it, revealing the unseen signature.

However, as you will see in the full size version of my photograph of the “Rotograph”, the signature is  at least partly visible. It is even more prevalent on the original, as I only shot this with a hand held camera under room and window light. In fact, almost all the letters are visible. So that begs the question, “Why?” would Wilfred apply chemicals to this? One clue may be in the penciled note, which I believe is by Anne Nill: Perhaps “chemically restored” then means that Wilfred was trying to “enhance” the signature.

Another issue is that it has been claimed the signature was originally “erased”. Perhaps erasure was attempted, and caused the signature to be in the lightened state seen above- but still, it is there, and visible, so it was not at least, totally erased.

As I said, I asked Jan Hurych for his opinion on this. He responded,

“The signature is apparently genuine and was not fabricated by Voynich. How could Voynich overlook it originally I do not know.  But considering he claimed he even  “originally overlooked the Marci’s letter” :-), everything is possible. Neither Baresch nor Marci mentioned the signature or the erasure in their letters, after all. As we can see, the original erasure leaves only light imprint of the signature but no other traces of the erasure itself.”

I agree with Jan that this find begs the question, “How could Voynich overlook it originally”, and also that it is possible that one interpretation is that it original- that is, not forged. I feel another interpretation of Wilfred’s claiming to having overlooked it is that it is forged, too, and that he or someone added it to give the mysterious manuscript needed and missing provenance. Also, it is important to remember that Voynich did not share this Rotograph, nor any description of it, as seen. It sat, hidden, in his papers, until his death. Why? There is no way to know of course.

Another consideration is that even if this signature was erased at some point, it is visible: so why didn’t Baresch, Marci, or Kinner mention it? That had not occurred to me, and yet is a very important point. I would add that the 1666 Marci letter is all about the possible provenance of the Voynich, and so it seems it would have been of great importance to mention the faded (if it was at the time, faded, or partly erased), but visible, signature. Yet, he did not.

Jan also wrote,

“Why Voynich had to use the chemicals on the original is still a mystery. True, it may have enhanced the signature but that could have been done on the copy or even by using colored filters or the negative as I did.  The longtime result of that chemical treatment  is that  the signature is now  less visible than it was right after the treatment. It is even less understandable since Voynich was originally a chemist.”

Absolutely. When one considers that from the very start, this was obviously a rare and dazzling manuscript find, combined with this untreated Rotograph image which shows the signature was readable, why would he risk smearing chemicals all over the first page? OK, I didn’t claim this image would solve the issues surrounding the signature, but I do think it alters the landscape a bit.

Pretty Crisp Looking, No?

Pretty Crisp Looking, No?

The second image, shown above, veritably leapt off the table at me when I uncovered it. I thought I had never seen such a good, crisp “signature” of our friend Tepencz, and Jan concurred, and feels this image,

“…shows the signature quite clearly…  …there are also some traces of liquid there, maybe it is the oldest picture “after treatment”. There were probably several chemicals used subsequently (as can be judged by contemporary colored scan)  and probably several  experiments were made directly on the original. That would explain the extensive damage we can see today. The chemicals are apparently still working, activated probably by light and other factors”.

Jan also helpfully provided a negative of the above signature, which helps to reveal further details:

Negative, prepared by Jan Hurych

Very striking, I think most Voynich researchers will agree. But what it all means, if anything, will be seen. As Jan says,

It looks like the whole signature business is only a superficial problem, however it is not. It is a VERY important problem. True, Horczicky himself did not add anything to the VM story, we even do not know if he ever tried to solve it. However his name was for Voynich the MISSING LINK between Baresh (or Marci) and Rudolph II (and from him to Bacon). Originally, Voynich claimed the writing was the dedication to Horczicky by Rudolph – he was of course only following Mnishowsky’s rumor, passed on by Marci. Now we know the writing is not in Rudolph’s hand and that Bacon is not the author (carbon dating). As far as we know now, Rudolph might not even have the VM at all, Horczicky could have got it elsewhere. As for Dee, he was first brought in the game by Voynich himself.

So we are stuck with Horczicky being the first directly proven owner of the VM. His name “Tepenec” gives us the temporary location of the VM (Prague) and the earliest date he possibly got it – his nobilization (1608), provided he wrote  that immediately afterwards  :-). It is actually the earliest date of the VM which is really DIRECTLY documented (by such signature). Then again, if it is not in his hand it could have been written there in any time later by anybody.
If however the signature is a hoax, we are left only with the letter by Baresch (1639, or 1637 if we consider the first, now lost letter) and we do not know where HE got it. There would be rather difficult to go then  further back in time, the way back to the author.

And so it is, we have a very small fire, with very little fuel- and perhaps each little twig of information will cause it to swell up a bit, and help in some small way to further illuminate this very intractable mystery.

Newbold’s “Nebula”

May 31, 2013

Anyone who has an interest in the history of Voynich is well aware of the unfortunate and disastrous attempts of William Romaine Newbold to solve its mysteries. Although an earnest and intelligent man, he could probably be considered the first to fall victim to the vast, nebulous, nature of the problem, in which one can often see any solution their individual proclivities lead them to.

But nebulous is a bit of an appropriate and even punny adjective, in Newbold’s case, as his most famous error was in believing that Roger Bacon not only wrote the Voynich, but possessed optical equipment which allowed him the ability to discern the spiral structure of the Andromeda Galaxy… or “Nebula”, in his time. I won’t here deal with the many other facets of Newbold’s infamous claims, not the least of which was the belief that each character was made up of microscopic segments, which were therefore coded information; or the resulting long strings of subjective results from those segments, which became immense anagrams which would and did yield infinite and diverse results.

What interests me are the Andromeda suggestions. It barely requires a detailed explanation as to why he was wrong, but very simply, the detail necessary to see the spiral nature of the Andromeda was not possible until the telescopes of the latter part of the 19th century allowed it. But if you are interested in a good dissection of the reasons why, read Norman Sperling’s excellent blog post on the subject, “Voynich: Spiraling into Folly”. As Sperling writes in his very first sentence, “William R. Newbold’s 1921 contention that the spiral graphic in folio 68r represents a spiral nebula is wild bunk.”

First Photograph of Andromeda Galaxy

Isaac Robert’s 1899 Photo of the Andromeda Galaxy

Above is the first picture of the Andromeda Galaxy, taken by Isaac Roberts, in 1895. As he described it in his 1899 book, “Photographs of Stars, Star-Clusters and Nebulæ”,

“That the nebula is a left-hand spiral, and not annular as I at first suspected, cannot now be questioned; for the convolutions can be traced up to the nucleus which resembles a small bright star at the center of the dense surrounding nebulosity; but notwithstanding its density the divisions between the convolutions are plainly visible on negatives which have a proper degree of exposure.”

Compare the Roberts photograph, and description, above, with the f68r image from the Voynich, below. Also note that the Voynich image spirals to the right, not the left, as the Andromeda does:

Well it is "Spiral", Anyway

Well it is “Spiral”, Anyway

So then Newbold showed the f68r spiral image (above) to one “Eric Doolittle of our Flower Observatory”, who (according to the Newbold/Kent book, “The Cipher of Roger Bacon”, told Newbold,

“…that in his opinion it unquestionably represented a nebula, and that the man who drew it must have had a telescope”.

This alone seems to have led Newbold to one of his purely speculative “decipherments” of the center of f68r’s spiral illustration. However note that Doolittle did not say which spiral nebula, and bear that in mind when considering that some spiral nebulas known, and photographed by that time, were actually seen as a circular shape… as f68r’s illustration shows… and not as an oval, due to an angle to the viewer, as the Andromeda does (see below, “Isaac Roberts M51 & M100 ‘Comæ'”). So we can’t really draw Doolittle into the web of error, considering this, nor knowing how the illustration was presented to him in the first place. However, Newbold takes the Nebula hint, runs with it, and translates the Voynichese at the center of the spiral,

“The legend is extremely difficult to decipher, but my first attempt gave the location of the object as between ‘the navel of Pegasus, the girdle of Andromeda, and the head of Cassiopea,’ and stated that it was seen in a concave mirror. The great Nebula of Andromeda lies within the triangle determined by these three points; it is there fore presumable the object which Bacon saw.”

And here, too, we see Newbold substituting Dolittle’s “telescope” with a “concave mirror”. I see in this a disingenuous, unscientific manipulation of the purely subjective results of Newbold’s, to reflect what he must have suspected: Telescopes were out of the question for Roger Bacon, but there were historic hints of concave mirrors being used in this capacity, at a very early date.

Look again at the f68r “spiral” in question. And below we see Isaac Roberts’ image of Nebulæ M51 and M100 “Comæ”, taken in the 1890’s. Comæ appears in his 1899 book. I feel these help to exonerate Doolittle to some extent, and further mire Newbold in a fog of questionable judgement. For I would have to say that if I saw the below photographs, and the above Voynich illustration, I would certainly have wondered, as Doolittle did, if there was a connection. At the very least I am certain that I would not have jumped to the oval-appearing Andromeda, as Newbold did, as it never appeared to me a good match. I also note they are right spirals, as f68r’s illustration is:

isaac roberts m51 and m100

I have of course, as others have, wondered if Romaine Newbold was a victim of an overabundance of imagination, which drove his wild speculations to their obviously incorrect conclusions. But at the same time I felt this may point at Voynich, and possibly others, having fed the poor man just enough Roger Bacon “winks and nods” to send him off the cliffs of self-delusion. Anyone who did study Bacon would soon become aware of his possible use of optics and code, which would have caused Newbold to pick them up with relish- well, we know he did- but then he charged off at light-speed down a road Voynich never intended, or imagined. But perhaps all Voynich really wanted was…

… for Newbold to simply see a few microscopes instead of “jars”, a couple of diatoms and such, and maybe, M51 from Isaac Roberts’ book. If this is the case, I would imagine Voynich’s great frustration. Rather than being handed the desired reasonable, and yet exciting, Roger Bacon attribution, Newbold instead managed to taint the image of the Cipher Manuscript, along with his own reputation, and even, a little bit, the name of Roger Bacon himself… and thereby destroy any chance Wilfred Voynich would sell this manuscript in his lifetime.

UPDATE, 6/11/14: Elitsa Velinska has found a really striking similarity to the f68r spiral, in Nicole Oresme’s, “Traité de la sphère”, BNF Français 565. It has the stars, the T/O center, and the “frills” around the edges, that the Voynich spiral all have. All that is missing are the spirals, really. This find, in my opinion, is so good that it alters my speculative reasoning as to the original purpose of the illustration in the Voynich manuscript: I don’t believe it would have been put there AS a nebula, to fool anyone… but probably was influence by the image of Orseme in some way, directly or indirectly. Of course, Newbold’s opinion on it, while wrong, still has certain implications and possible causes, some of which still stand, as stated above.

You can see Elitsa’s images and comments on her blog post, here: http://ellievelinska.blogspot.com/2014/06/the-voynich-manuscript-geocentric-model.html

UPDATE, 9/30/14: After much recent discussion about this image, which began when Robert Teague noted a very close alignment of the Oresme illustration with the f68r Voynich one, I’ve come to realize that the original possibility still stands: That perhaps the artist of f68r was a forger, and was intending to imply that this was a spiral galaxy… and that this was the original intention after all.

Of course that is purely speculative, and there is no way to prove it. It may certainly be wrong. But considering that these spirals, as attached to the Oresme-type illustration, are not found elsewhere so attached, nor is there any good reason for them to exist there (none at all, offered, as of this writing), in the first place, I have reconsidered, and think it possible that this “addition” could have been for this reason… and that Newbold simply “mucked it up” by going to Andromeda instead of M51 or M100. That is, that the f68r illustration is a false attempt to look like a 13th or 17th century astronomer’s version of a nebula, as seen and understood by an early 20th century forger, who was trying to imply the use of advanced optics by the author of the Voynich Manuscript.

The Green Microscope

May 18, 2013

When I first proposed my Voynich/Optical theories years ago, one of the most common criticisms of it was that some of the microscope illustrations I used as comparisons were from dates later than the time of my theory. This is true, and I did acknowledge it. Of course I would, and can, still use them, as the descriptions of 1610/20 optical devices, and even earlier ones in some cases, do show that later 17th century optical instruments do have many of the features of the earlier, often lost and not illustrated, devices.

Nonetheless, the problem did have an effect on the way I looked at this, but not necessarily the way the critics intended. They used this point to claim that the Voynich cylinders could not be microscopes, but at the same time, they were dismissing the fact that their observation also implies that if they were the microscopes they did agree they resembled, then the Voynich was newer than they, or even I, suggested. In effect they were ignoring an important implication, a possibility opened up by the very observation they were making.

This is even more apparent when you consider that at least three of the newer microscope illustrations I was comparing to the Voynich cylinders were such a good match, that they could arguably be the actual source of the Voynich illustration. The two most notable are the “Green Microscope”,  and of the ones in the Spanish engraving , both very similar to cylinders on the f101v pages. So if you take the critic’s point at face value, that the devices look “too new”, then one is open to any age for the Voynich between 1404 and 1912, when Wilfred said he found it.

Considering these points, and when I began to seriously consider the Voynich Manuscript may be a 19th century fake, I of course revisited many of my old ideas in a new light.

Microscope Comparsion 1

Here is the Green Microscope compared to an f101v cylinder. You can see that the coloration, proportion, the recessed top, the placement of the change in diameter, and the inclusion (if not the accurate representation) of decoration, show that the green microscope and this Voynich cylinder are strikingly similar. Even the green of the vellum covering, and the brown where the wooden portions of the microscope are bare, are seemingly represented. I think it can be said that if a person saw the actual microscope, and had the appropriate inks, pens and brushes, any resulting drawing would not be much different than the Voynich illustration.

But in order for the Green Microscope to appear in an early 20th century forged manuscript, it would have to be reasonable to expect that the suspected forger would have seen it. And they probably would have had to have seen the actual device, and not a picture in a book, because color photographs in books were very uncommon before 1912. I have not seen this one, in any case, in all the microscope books I have found, either in black and white or color, photographed or illustrated. So for the real Green Microscope to be the model, it would have to be reasonable that Wilfred Voynich could have seen it. I went back to the website of the Museo Galileo, the museum which has the microscope, to see if this made sense.

The Museo Galileo, it turns out, is in Florence, Italy. They have owned the Green Microscope since the early 18th century, as it is listed as a “Vincenzo Viviani” bequest. He died in 1703, so they have had it since about then. The museum does not apparently know the actual age or maker of this microscope… and it is listed as a “microscope part”, as they assume it is a “part of the body tube” of one… but they do speculate that it originates from the “late 17th century”. It was a practice at the time, on some microscopes, to have the central section of the device removable, in order to use it as a “field microscope”. Some were even made this way from the beginning, with no stand, to carry into the environment and study things in the field.

The location of the museum in Florence was encouraging start, because in the early 20th century, Wilfred Voynich was also in Florence. He had purchased, in 1908, the great Libraria Franceschini, on 110 Via Ghibellina. And this vast book emporium, containing over half a million manuscripts, incunabula, pamphlets, maps, and who-knows-what, has often been suspected as a possible, real, source of the Voynich… even as the place Wilfred may have unearthed the little pile of unused ancient vellum he might have used to forge his famous cipher manuscript. Voynich, and the Green Microscope, and a vast archive of vellum were all in the same city, at the same time!

But how close were they? The scientific instruments of the Museo Galileo were moved to the present location… only 1,900 feet from Voynich’s shop, as it turns out… in 1930. I needed to find out where it was before that, between 1908 and 1912, when Voynich was still there, and before he announced the manuscript. So I wrote to the Museo, and was told by a retired director,

“The Viviani collection was housed before at the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova. Then, in the second half of 19th century, it was given to the Museo di Antichi Strumenti (Museum of Ancient Instruments), located inside the today Museo “La Specola”.”

So La Specola was the home of the green microscope during the time of Voynich’s presence in Florence. And it was, and is, the location of the Trubuna De Galileo, a magnificent alcove with a statue of Galileo, a series of friezes with important scenes from his life, and surrounded by rooms which contained the collections of antique scientific instruments of the Viviani collection, and others. And it turned out that that collection was at  4 Via Georgio La Pira, a mere 1.3 kilometer, 15 minute walk from the doors of Voynich’s Libraria. The Green Microscope was 15 minutes from the man who “found” the Voynich Manuscript, which contains an image which virtually reflects the very same device.

A Short Walk

A Very Short and Pleasant Walk

But the fact he very well could have seen the Green Microscope has another implication, for those who consider the Voynich Manuscript is real: If Wilfred had thought he had found a precious “Roger Bacon” manuscript, he would have also known Bacon was believed to have possessed and used sophisticated optical devices…

Tribuna Di Galileo

Tribuna Di Galileo

… so then why did Voynich not see, and note, the similarity between one of the drawings, and the Green Microscope, himself? Because he could not point to it, any more that he could point directly to the Baresch letter, or any other possible sources for a fake… if he forged the Voynich Manuscript. Well, unless you want to theorize that he the man had very poor observational skills, or worse, that he was never tempted, at least once in 5 years, to take what must be a fantastic stroll through the streets of one of the world’s most beautiful cities, to the greatest collection of rare and important scientific instruments in the world.

Anne Nill Speaks

January 16, 2013

Back in 2008 I had the opportunity to research the Voynich collection at New York’s Grolier Club. My daughter and I made several interesting discoveries, including Ethel’s personal notebook of plant identities. This find implied that she was quite convinced of the Voynich Manuscript’s authenticity, which had been a question in some quarters. Some of the correspondence in the collection colored out some smaller aspects of the Voynich business, but there really was nothing groundbreaking in nature. Of course I was only able to look through two of the boxes (#6 & #8), and really did not have the time I needed to explore even those to the extent I would have liked. And ever since then, I wanted a chance to look in box #5, which contains much correspondence between Anne Nill, Wilfred and Ethel’s business manager, and  Herbert Garland, the manager of the Voynich London office.

Anne Nill

Anne Nill, from 1924 Christian Science Monitor Article

Since 2008, it had been suggested to me that box 5 might be important in giving us insight into the provenance of the Voynich Ms., because it was thought that if Anne Nill knew something about this, she may have revealed it to Garland. I was given permission in the summer of 2012 to examine these letters, and went down on July 24. Again, I could not say that the letters altered the Voynich landscape to any great degree, but there were some interesting revelations. Most importantly there was a shift in my understanding of the place and value the Voynich manuscript had to Wilfred, Ethel, Anne and Herbert. It was not simply one of their properties, nor even simply the one which was most potentially valuable. It went beyond that. It seems the Voynich, or “Bacon Ms.”, had become in a way the identity of the firm, and even a part of their own identity. They all seemed to place a great deal of hope, through troubled times, that they would survive a fate of destitution and obscurity, when and if they could properly validate the precious possession. I think that this attitude, this hope, may have even caused them to lose focus on the business as whole. The book business itself was a house of cards tenuously built around the Voynich ms., which was almost preserved despite it being a burden, while fostering the belief that the mysterious cipher manuscript would come to their rescue, and pay off all debts, and secure their future… but only if they only could resolve its true author, and purpose. At the same time it was clear that they felt themselves protectors of it, not only for this potential monetary value, but also for the intrinsic, romantic value. It was their treasure, and it was their legacy.

The Nill/Garland letters cover a period between about 1928 and 1935, and include copies of Ms. Nill’s letters to Garland, and many of his letters to her. The two became friends over the years, and it is easy to see their relationship change and develop over that time. It went from a connection of business associates who have a sort of camaraderie, and into a more personal one, in which the share their views of family, life, politics, the Great Depression, personal hopes, successes and failures, illness, and death. It seems that the decline in the book trade, the death of Wilfred in 1930, and the aging, illnesses and injuries of Ethel Voynich and Mrs. Garland, all led Anne and Herbert into closer terms. As the years wore on, they had a sort of emotional huddle “across the pond”, through the dozens of letters, where they could commiserate on a personal level, but also plan their way out of an increasingly hopeless business situation. Rare books were not selling in the depression, of course. But even by 1928, before the Stock Market Crash, Anne reveals, Voynich had already borrowed $8,500 to keep the business afloat. And after he died, after the Crash, and the book trade began to diminish along with everything else, it was up to Anne to figure out the best way to market and sell the stock, pay the rents on the offices, retain the reputation of the Voynich legacy, pay estate and sales taxes, and at the same time, care for her dear friend, Ethel. She lamented that she worked “every day and Sunday”, and late into the night to fulfill her responsibilities as she saw them. And she handled her lot in life with dignity, intelligence, grace and humor.

During the Depression, Anne related that she needed to sell a baseline of $1,000 of books a month to keep the Voynich business afloat, and meet the needs of the household. She was not always able to do this. In the very letter in which she describes the death of  Wilfred- in a very touching and personal way – she goes on,

“Now about business, since life is such a jumble that we must think of accounts when faced with death… …Of course I haven’t had time to try to raise cash this week but I shall take up this burden next week to see what I can do. Just now there is some $3000 in the bank (of which I propose to send you at least £200 for rent and office expenses) but I shall not be able to touch it until the will has been probated.”

However, less than a year later, it the estate taxes were demanded, and they amounted to $3,400. She then told Garland that she could only pay $2,000 toward those taxes, as she needed the other money in the account to pay expenses, and would have to owe the remaining $1,400 to the State at 12% interest. And book sales continued to decrease, and bills piled up.

And so it went, month after month, year after year. It was a rough time, and there was always talk of closing both offices, and the business. But apparently Ethel wanted to continue it, and had high hopes. Anne tried to meet those hopes, to no avail. There was often talk of closing the London office, and the possible termination of Garland. At first it looked as though that would happen soon after Wilfred’s death. But within a short time, Anne and Ethel came to the decision the London office, and Garland, could stay in business, and help to sell off the London stock, if not simply continue indefinitely as a going concern. Anne was able to offer several batches of books from the US, and London, through Sotheby’s auction house in London, which helped. It seems that like Wilfred before, Anne too, now had misgivings about the New York book auctions ability to get a fair price, or even describe the books properly. Anne did her best, and was proactive in representing the stock. She often suggested titles to collectors, both new, and previous customers. So she quickly and by necessity evolved from an office manager into a book dealer herself, and even made attempts to replenish the stock… although with meager assets, and multiple duties and concerns, this was very difficult for her. But because of all the hurdles they faced, and the income from the auction and private sales was often disappointing (never even reaching the level of their daily needs), Anne was never able to accumulate the nest egg she had hoped.

But there was the promise that they may have a way out of this dismal spiral, and it lay in two treasures they still possessed. Throughout these difficult years, Anne and Ethel held out hope that two books in their collection might be sold, and save the business and all of them. These were referred to as the “Bacon” and the “Valturius”. Of course the “Bacon”, which was often also referred to as the “cipher mss.”, was the Voynich Ms.. The Valturius was one of WMV’s great finds… a manuscript copy, on vellum, of De re Militari, by Robertus Valturius (interestingly, Voynich concurrently owned a second copy of this book, which neither Anne nor Wilfred seemed to ever actively promote. In fact, it seems to be somewhat of a secret, outside of a brief, later mention in the DiRicci catalog of 1937). As I understand it, the printed versions, with woodcut illustrations, are and were quite rare and valuable. Having an actual manuscript copy of this book was therefore quite a potential asset for Voynich. Up until his death, he held hope that he might get as much as $100,000. However, after he was gone, Anne and Ethel apparently only had it insured for £7,800. This modest number seems to be to save on their insurance premium, as the Voynich they only had insured for £4,000. But still, “The Bacon” and the “Valturius” were the engines of hope for Voynich and Ethel, and after Wilfred was gone, the only real hope for Anne Nill that she might save the company, herself, and Ethel from poverty. Of course they never sold while Ethel was alive. And as we also now know, Anne eventually inherited the Voynich, and sold it for a mere $15,000, not long before her death. The “Voynich Valturius’s” were eventually sold by Kraus to Lessing J. Rosenwald, and then bequeathed by him to the Library of Congress, where they both reside today.

And to her credit, and yet sadly, it seems Anne put her own dreams on hold for all these years. She never married, and seems to have had a somewhat troubled life. It is clear that her responsibilities to the Voynich concern, and to Ethel, were a great part of the cause of this, as much as the time she lived in.  It was ironic that Wilfred’s will stipulated some substantial inheritance for her, but that Anne would not collect, for that would mean a further hardship for Ethel. Anne wrote,

“As for me, Mr. Voynich has made a more than generous provision, which I feel that I can accept only if Bacon and Valturius go through. But like you I have always felt that Valturius will not bring $100,000 nor anything like it. If they go through it means it would be possible for me to continue the business in some way if I care to, and perhaps this is what he wanted, but at present I see nothing clearly. There is such a void. However there is no need to go into anything of this nature just yet and all I know is that Mrs. Voynich and I will be in harmony and that is important”.

Friendship and trust and duty came first for this woman, and she stuck those principles through the increasingly turbulent times of the Great Depression. It was her character which held it together for her, Ethel, and to the end of the employment and after, for Herbert Garland, her friend.

The letters relate these difficulties, but also the small triumphs- such as Ethel wishing for a piano, which they could not afford- and having a friend fortuitously mentioning they were moving without theirs, and so Ethel and Anne got it for the $12 moving fee. Anne was happy that Ethel had the piano to play, although she felt it was out of place in the apartment, and too large. But it was surprising to me the importance both women placed on the Voynich Ms., and the interest they had. As I mentioned, in my last visit to the Grolier I learned the extent that Ethel delved into the mystery, in the form of her personal notebook of plant identifications. But it went beyond this, as box 5 now reveals. The interest was deep, and shared by both women. It was bred of from concern for the value of the manuscript, which they felt relied on preservation of the “Bacon attribution”, but their fascination was also one of the romance and mystery of it, just as much as it has held for hundreds or thousands of others over the centuries. They were hooked on it, just as so many have been since, and still are.

Anne requested a copy of a book on Roger Bacon from Garland (and made a point that that book, for 8 shillings, and the copy of The Gadfly which he procured, would not be billed to the business). She mentioned finding “parallels” with Bacon’s work in the Voynich. And meanwhile, Ethel consulted with botanists from all over the world, to help her with her plant identities. Anne mentioned that Ethel found comfort in this work, and spent hours with the Photostats spread on a table before her. And reference to her hope that the various members of what she termed the “Voynich team” of experts… among them Manly, Garrett, and Thompson… would determine that this was, in fact, a Roger Bacon work. On June 20, 1930, she writes,

“Professor Manly called this week, on his way back from London to Chicago. Mrs. Voynich came for the occasion and we had an interesting two hours. Do get her to tell you all about it and what he thinks of the Ms. and Carton, etc. etc. Of course he continues not to believe in Professor Newbold’s work, but he does believe that the Ms. is of great importance. He seems to have discussed it with everyone in Europe, including Bernard Behrenson (who, he says, is very much interested in it). he also discussed it with Little, who, he says, considers it is an important Ms.”.

And Manly, though he did of course later discredit Newbold’s work, continued to have a relationship with Ethel and Anne, and let them know in advance of his work and interest relating to it. This work on the part of Manly, with the Voynich Ms., had a direct effect on the decision to keep the business open through 1931 and 1932. About his 1931 review of the Kent-Newbold book in Speculum,

“[Manly] sent us both copies of this “offprint” of the review, which he said he was sending to various scholars, in the hope of reviving an interest in the MS. Amond others he said he had sent it to Steele, Kenyon and Flower. He appears to be doing what he can. He asked for a list of those to whom we would like it sent. This is one of the reasons we feel that the office should continue at least this winter. It may be impossible to do anything, if business continues to be bad, but we have the feeling that Manly (and perhaps Bishop and Thompson) will do what they can this winter, making use of the “Speculum” article. If nothing happens then, it looks like an indefinite delay.”

There second hope, the “Valturius”, figured in also. Anne continued,

“Another reason for continuing the office for the winter [1931/32] is the Valturius. We want to try to work up an interest in N.Y.P.L. [New York Public Library] quarters if possible. This is, of course, a bare possibility. Years ago Mr. Kane would not have listened to a suggestion that it be considered for the Spencer Collection, and he may not now, but I have at last got him to the point that he has asked to borrow the Hutton book upon his return to town this autumn. If one can once get him interested in Malatesta’s life one would be able to risk showing him the MS, even though it is mostly on paper, which he will be sure to note as being against it. I do not see how Mr. Garrett can contemplate its purchase in anything like the near future, as his fortune, as I have said before, is bound up with the railroads, and railroad news continues to be as bad as possible.”

What good are treasures such as these, if there is no one to buy them? As for the interested in “Malatesta”, this refers to Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, 1417 to 1468, the nobleman who commissioned the Valturius. Anne was doing her part as salesperson, a role she had been thrust into.

excerpt

I was struck with the familiar nature of the response to this problem, by these people, and by the people they shared it with. It was familiar not only in all the many stories we can read about from the past- from the very first letters by Marci, in the 17th century, and the time spent after these letters, by Friedman, and all the many other experts and not, in the decades since- but also in posts I see today, on the Voynich Net, and around the web, in blogs and forums and personal emails and articles. The questions really have not changed, the approach and attitudes toward the mystery are much the same, and the hopes and dreams for seeing an answer were shared long before any of us knew of it. Anne herself had her own theories about the manuscript, which were related in a letter to Garland- but for some reason she chose not to share them with posterity, replacing the letter which outlined them, in 1936, with a note, listing the letter’s contents, among them, “C) me my work on cipher ms.” But there are references to her own ideas, and other’s, sometimes referenced in a way to make it difficult for me to know the source, or if she is referencing the cipher ms. or the Valturius… It seems she thought Bellini would be attributable to one or the other (I later learned that Wilfred hoped the “boy sketch” in his better Valturius might be a lost Bellini). But the quest was a frequent topic, as it was in this passage,

“I could go on and on about one thing and another, but I must not bore you too much. However I do want to tell you about the latest development with regard to the cipher manuscript. Mrs. Voynich has been working at the Morgan Library, and Miss Greene continues to be most friendly and helpful. A short time ago she volunteered the opinion that she did not think any scholar in this country would be able to help us with the problem and asked why we did not try Germany for example. She mentioned the Kulturwissenschaftliche Bibliothek Warburg at Hamburg (see Minerva if interested) which, according to her, is a perfectly amazing hotbed of learning. She seemed to feel that if they cannot help us no-one can. Of course that doesn’t follow. Well, the upshot of it was that a certain Dr. Erwin Panofsky of that institute is at present in New York and Miss Greene suggested that she bring him and Mrs. Voynich together- very decent of her don’t you think. So Mrs. Voynich met him at the Morgan Library where she showed him the photostats (note that they are negatives and now in poor condition, having greatly faded in some parts). He became intensely interested and seemed to think the MS. early, perhaps as early as the 13th century. He asked to see the original, which we showed to him last Friday [they must have taken him to the safe deposit box]. His first impression was that it was early, but as he came to the female figures (in conjunction with the colors used in the manuscript) he came to the conclusion that it could not be earlier than the 15th century! The more I think of it (always making allowance for my slender knowledge of art) the more I think that his contention is sound. I cannot think of a single early MS. or painting which contains such “shapely” female figures as those in the MS. Furthermore he is convinced that the MS. is Spanish (or something southern near Spain) and shows strong Arabic and Jewish influences. He thinks there is some influence of the Kabbala in it.!!!!! Well, all that would make it interesting, anyway. You know both Professor Thompson and Professor Manly have been suggesting Spanish for some time (thought there might be something Lullian in it). Early 15th century would make it too late for Lull, but it might easily have something Lullian in it. Dr. Panofsky examined the two more or less visible sentences (one on the key page and one on page 17 [r]) which are apparently not in cipher and seemed to think they were Spanish rather than Latin (or rather something that had to do with Spanish). I am inclined to think he is right. He also noticed, what I am pleased to say I had noticed before, that the names of the months written in the plates of the signs of the Zodiac, and undoubtedly by a later hand, seem to suggest Spanish. For example April is written “Abril”. October is “Octembre” (or Octember I forget which), which certainly suggest some form of Spanish, rather than Latin or French or Italian. The upshot of it is that we have  given him a whole set of photostats for his institute, as he wants two men there to work on it. One of them (I thiink Professor Salomon or Liebeschutz) it seems identified some remarkable Vatican manuscript (written in a senseless sort of Latin if I remember rightly) which had defied scholars for a long time. Perhaps they will not react to it as he seems to think they will, but if they do, we have achieved at least one of the things Mr. Voynich wanted- it was just this method of attack, in an institute, that he always hoped for and didn’t think was possible to secure for it unless the MS. was sold to an Institution. It now looks as if it might be possible to start some work of this sort on it even if we cannot sell the MS. at this time.”

As it turns out, and long after the date of the last letter in this collection, she struck a deal with her later employer, H.P. Kraus. He reveals in this autobiography that he gave Ms. Nill $15,000 toward the manuscript (which she had inherited from Ethel), and offered it for sale for $160,000. He says that he came up with this number because that is what Wilfred asked before WWI. Kraus was going to split the amount with Nill, but did not sell it before her death. It is a tribute to him, and his respect for Anne, that rather than continue to try selling the Voynich Ms. after she died, he donated it to the Beinecke.

The Grolier Club Reading Room

The Grolier Club Reading Room

What strikes me most in the Nill/Garland letters is that one might have trouble seeing any difference in the excitement, the type of varied conclusions and guesses, the hope and sense of an imminent solution to the problem, that we find in all the Voynich attempts in eight decades since Anne Nill wrote her words. And I’ve no doubt that similar thoughts will still be written on the Voynich, just like Nill had, and all the thousands of others have, for centuries to come, should it still not be solved. But I also get a melancholy feeling for the life of Anne Nill, and the person she was. She held admirable standards for herself, and held her head high during the most difficult times, never abandoning the responsibilities thrust on her, and doing her best, with few complaints, to the very end. She was an important “keeper” of the Voynich, and we owe her a debt for that, as she never gave up hope. And it was that hope, at great personal cost to her, that saw the manuscript through the storm of the depression, to the safe home it has today.

The Voynich in 1905?

August 19, 2012

Update, June 18, 2013: Rene Zandbergen had suggested that I check the Voynich archives at the Beinecke Library, to see if there were any letters by or about Charles Singer. I finally had an opportunity to do this, and found the below letter. It is from Singer, to Manly, dated May 11, 1931. Manly then forwarded it to Anne Nill and Ethel Voynich:

Dear Professor Manly,

There appears to be some misunderstanding in America about my views on the Voynich MS.  I have never written anything about it, and any remarks I may have made in conversation represented only impressions of a long past event. From what you tell me, it is obvious that the MS that I remember seeing in Germany many years ago could not have been that of Mr. Voynich.

Though I did not know Mr. Voynich personally, I have heard the highest reports of his integrity as a man and as a dealer from those who knew him well, and I should be very sorry to be thought to reflect on his memory in anything whatever.

Yours very sincerely, Charles Singer

So this clears up the matter. It was a simple misunderstanding all around. The trouble for me was that the Voynich collections are split between the Beinecke and the Grolier Club, and so the question was left hanging by seeing only the one.

Ethel was very pleased with the revelation, and thanked Singer for clearing up the question with a hand-written letter by May 26th:

Professor Manly has forwarded to me your very kind letter, the generous spirit of which I deeply appreciate.

You will, I am sure, understand my having felt anxious that any accidental confusion of my husband’s MS. with some other one should be cleared up, in order to prevent the possibility of any distressing misunderstandings later. Your letter has been a great relief to my mind, and I beg you to accept my thanks for it.

Believe me,

Sincerely yours, E.L. Voynich.

Although the question is now settled… Charles Singer never saw the Voynich before 1912, and actually only saw copies, years later… I will leave the blog post up (for the time being, at least), for general interest.

******************************************************************************************

I’ve not yet finished writing up my reflections on the Anne Nill and Herbert Garland letters in the Grolier Voynich collection, but before I did,  I’ve been anxious to relate a very interesting story which I discovered in that correspondence. I investigated this story… a rumor really… as far as I could, here in New York State, and on the internet, but if it can be taken any further it will have to be by someone in Europe. Even so, it will probably turn out to be a dead end, whether true or not, and never be resolved. But the implications of the rumor are important enough to explore as far as possible, in my opinion.

The first mention of this issue is in Anne’s letter to Garland dated July 18th, 1930. She admits the letter is “full of odds and ends”, and proceeds to discuss various issues such as insurance payments, money owed to different people, and so on. One person they owe to is Joseph Baer of Frankfurt, a very well known rare book dealer. She hopes that the account is paid up, so that she can ask a few questions about the following incident:

“This morning Professor Thompson of the University of Chicago called to say that Singer, who has been lecturing all over the United States, was in Chicago where he, Prof. Thompson, met him and discussed the cipher MS. with him. he has circulated all over the U.S. the story that it is a 16th century – a Paracelsan kind of MS. At this point I remarked to Professor Thompson that I thought it was amazing that a person who posed as a scholar could make such statements about a MS. he had never seen. ‘That is just why I came to see you,’ said Professor Thompson, ‘he claims he has seen it – that 20 or 25 years ago Baer of Frankfurt showed it to him and told him it came from Prague.’ That, apparently, is the origin of Singer’s Paracelsan theory.”

Of course that is a fairly stunning rumor. It is also, in my opinion, a pretty solid one, and worth looking into. Consider that Thompson thought it was important enough to make a special visit to Nill, and Nill was interested enough to try and figure out if it was true. The 1930 date of the letter, and the fact that Thompson was previously in Chicago, means that Singer claimed Baer had the Voynich as early as 1905 to 1910. Even if Voynich had loaned it to him, this predates the 1912 “ancient castle in Southern Europe” and “Villa Mondragone” claims by at least two years, and as much as seven. But why would Voynich lend it to Baer in the first place? In the years Voynich owned it, he was very careful to whom he allowed access to the images of it. To leave it in Frankfurt, in the hands of a competitor, seems unlikely. Or did he actually get it from Baer? If so, where did Baer get it?

Another important implication to this is that Anne Nill was writing this during the “castle in Southern Europe origin” timeframe, but nevertheless was ready to distrust her recently deceased employer, mentor and friend’s word on that claimed provenance enough to have her ears perk up, and want to investigate, when Thomson dropped this in her lap. And further, years later when she gave information to Ricci for his catalog… and she and Ethel substituted “Villa Mondragone” for “ancient castle in Southern Europe”, there was no mention of this old Frankfurt/Baer rumor. This, although (as you will see) she seemed somewhat unsatisfied with the results of her investigation. But she did try to get to the bottom of it, so even Nill thought the provenance Wilfred offered was something to question. She continued,

“So what I want to do, as soon as we get Baer’s account settled, if there is still something owing on it, is to write him a nice tactful friendly letter and try to get out of him what MS. they actually did have, from Prague, of a Paracelsan nature, which might have been shown to Singer 20 or 25 years ago. Thompson pointed out that in the 16tch century MSS. were not written on vellum, and that it was much more likely that our MS. might turn out to be by Raymond Lully, which, he said, more or less made Singer sit up. “Why, I never thought of that.” said S. The Crummers saw Singer in California, so I expect to get the real “low-down” on him when I see them.”

For some reason or another, it turned out that the “Crummers” were not able to enlighten Anne on the Singer issue. But it also seems that Anne was attempting to reason away the Singer claim, by assuming that the manuscript could not have been the beloved “Bacon”, but some other. This seems to be a bit of rationalization on her part, as Thomspon was quite clear that Singer was lecturing on the Voynich, and both Thompson and Nill were quite sure Singer had not seen it, or copies of it, while in the possession of the Voynichs. The only choices were that Singer had seen another manuscript he confused with the Voynich, or that he was telling the truth, and saw it in the possession of Baer, 1905 to 1910.

But what of this Singer? What do we know, he knew, of the Voynich? This is almost certainly the same Charles Joseph Singer (1876-1960) who lectured, wrote and theorized on the Voynich Ms. He is quoted in Mary D’Imperio’s “The Voynich Manuscript- An Elegant Enigma” from two letters he wrote in 1957. One, to Tiltman in November 1957, mentions the Paracelsian ideas, “My own feeling- again somewhat vague- about the little figures of nude men and women in the organs of the body is that they are somehow connected with the ‘archaei’ of the Paracelsan or Spagyric School. This would fit in well with my suggestion about John Dee and Bohemia.”

So again, or still, in 1957, Singer is thinking “Prague” and “Paracelsus”. Again, we have choices in determining the implications of this. Either Singer really did see the Voynich in the possession of Baer pre-1910, and continued to believe as he did from the start these points; or that he was mistaken, and saw another manuscript with Baer (as Nill seemed to hope), which just happened to give him the same exact impression as the later, now revealed as the correct, Voynich Ms. did! For he must have, by 1957, seen images from the actual Voynich. I think that Dr. Singer held to the same views as expressed to Thompson in 1930, and in his lectures at that time, all the way op to 1957, is a strong indication that he did see the actual Voynich Manuscript pre-1910.

Anne Nill seems to have settled whatever account they owed Baer fairly quickly, for by October 21st, 1930, she was able to report to Garland,

“Yesterday I had a reply from Baer to my letter on the subject which says, ‘As to the question you are asking us, we cannot remember that we had any Paracelsan manuscript and we cannot find in the cards of books we sold, any reference to such a manuscript.’ That seems to take care of the matter unless Baer prefers to stay out of the matter so as not to offend a possible client. I referred (perhaps unwisely as I know [sp?] think) to the fact that it was Singer of Oxford who said that Baer and Co. had the Paracelsan MS. from Prague 25 years ago, and that he has stated that that is our Cipher Ms. Well, anyway, I wrote a tactful letter and perhaps it is just as well that the fact is on record in Germany, for Sudhoff also said it might be Paracelsan and he (he is not a paleographer) may have had a fixed opinion about it before he looked at the MS. last autumn, for, as you know, he and Singer have collaborated on something or other (at least I seem to remember that they have.”

Again I see in that a sense that Anne was hoping for some “wiggle room”, and wishing that the rumor was not true. Her reasoning, however, seems slim to me. She is again hoping that Singer may have come to his conclusions not from seeing the Voynich by 1910, in Germany, but by having discussions with others, at a later date. The only way this could be would be to call Singer a liar, however, which she only indirectly implies. Singer would have had to make up the story, to Thompson, and to have been publicly discussing the “cipher ms.” under false pretenses. I do not believe this is so, from what I read of Charles Singer… that is, I believe he and Thompson were correct and truthful.

And, at the same time, she seems to question Baer’s credibility… insinuating he was lying to her, in order “not to offend a possible client”. From what I have been reading about the internal practices of the rare book trade at this time, with the fudging of provenance, the shill bidding, the manipulations of prices at auction, the forgeries and deceptions… I would not consider, as even Anne Nill apparently did not, a small lie about owning this manuscript- the Voynich- as so unusual on the part of Baer. And if so, who was this “possible client”? Was Nill thinking, as I did when I read that line, of Wilfred himself? So it was Baer’s word against Singer’s, at that point, and really, it still is.

As it stands, I see this rumor as fairly credible. Really the only way to dismiss it would be to prove, as Nill tried, that Singer saw a different manuscript with Baer, and this carried him through the years until he saw the actual Voynich, and he either happened to think the same things about both… an unbelievable coincidence, really… or that he did not want to destroy his credibility, and so when he finally saw the “correct manuscript” he simply applied his previous theory to it.

I doubt both of those possibilities. I think there is something to this. But what can I do? For one thing, it turned out that I had access to the Baer catalogs from the first volume, in 1899, through his last, in the 1920’s, thanks to the New York Public Library. They are available from off-site storage by previous arrangement, so of course I arranged it… and saw them on Friday, August 17, 2012. I spent a good four hours poring through every page, from 1899 until well into 1914. Of course I did not expect to see the Voynich itself listed here, although I admit I did wonder at that happening. Perhaps, I thought, there was some mention of it under a different description, or some other ms. which Singer could have mistaken for it. But of course since the Voynich concern must have had these catalogs, I would imagine Anne Nill did exactly the same thing as I did last Friday. Nonetheless, it had to be done, so I did it. One interesting manuscript I did see was in his 1899 catalog, volume 2-3, page 20… which describes (thanks to Ernest Lillie for his translation help, which I did my best to further clarify),

“Interesting Manuscript, Italian labor. It contains plant and animal-illustrations, drawing executed in quill a watercolor, in alphabetical arrangement with notes Latin names. The drawing is very careful, very lifelike, but it something stilisirt [?]. We have before us the factory of an artist who was considered perhaps the surnames of the involuntary nature of symmetry of the drawing. The plant are represented on most rich, the codex contains about 480 plant illustrations, mostly the entire height of the leaves. . take between about 85 beasts are depicted. The whole work is a scientific purpose to note everywhere but make stops at the joy on the Visual artist and by invent stories, and where it may concern, he takes action in the miniatures. so with Cerasia he paints a cherry on which are two men that the Cherries a young woman with flowing blond hair throw in the dress pulled up. balsamus is in a high wall surrounded by a courtyard to keep before his gate two armed guard, and a third is on his shield, and falls asleep. is followed by a wildlife arc protect. Terebintus the tree, “ex quo nascitur Terbentina” is a man depicted in a barrel of turpentine absorbs etc., the costum points for Italy, the architecture has that broken down windows in the style of high Gothic, of the 14-hundreds.”

Clearly not the Voynich, but whether or not this interesting manuscript was similar enough to confuse Singer, is something we might consider. I would also be very interested in seeing this work, should anyone recognize it from this description. There was nothing else even remotely close to the Voynich that I could see in these catalogs.

I also looked for a Paracelsan Ms., which Baer clearly said he never owned or sold. And Baer did own and offer several copies of Paracelsus, although no manuscripts that I could find. So I think the catalog angle has been explored well enough to close that door. But that does not mean that this is a dead end. Far from it, as I still feel that the rumor has enough credence to warrant further investigation. Should anyone reading this agree with me, and I truly hope they do, perhaps they could look for any possible collections of Joseph Baer and his enterprise, perhaps in Frankfurt, for evidence in private letters and papers, of our “cipher ms.”. Similarly, the papers of Dr. Charles Singer ought to be examined, if they are available, for any mention of the Voynich pre-1910. I think these are worthy missions, considering the tremendous implications of the 1905 Frankfurt rumor to the field of Voynich research.


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