Posts Tagged ‘microscopes’

Optical Timeline

August 6, 2009

As I wrote in my post, “Optical Comparisons”, the similarity of many of the cylinders in the Voynich Manuscript to optical devices is the starting point of the New Atlantis/Voynich theory. But if the cylinders do represent optics, and if the Voynich is an artifact representing The New Atlantis, then these optical illustrations would have to represent the type of optics from their time, or before… obviously not later. The range of time for the creation of the New Atlantis is unknown, but various experts have placed it from about 1608 to 1623. It was then finalized for print about 1623/24. And the earliest firm evidence for the existence of the Voynich is 1621, if we accept the De Tepencz name as meaning he owned it. So if the cylinders are optical, then they should look like the devices we would expect to see from between 1610 and 1621.

Janssen 1595 Microscope? Attribution controversial...

Janssen 1595 Microscope? Attribution controversial...

But as for existing examples of microscopes of this time range, none are known to have survived. There is one microscope, the 1595 Janssen device, which pre-dates the range. There is some evidence that Galileo had made a microscope as early as 1610, then one in 1614. And Kepler published Dioptrice, a 1611 book on optics, which contains fine diagrams of optical principles, theories, and devices. Among these is the first description of a twin-convex lens microscope (shown below).

Here is a quote from the Mccord Museum website, “In 1611, Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) suggested the construction of a compound microscope that used convex lenses for both the objective and the eyepiece. The Kepler microscope provided a larger field of view and became the prototype of the modern microscope.”

Of telescopes from this time, we have better examples and illustrations. Of course we are all familiar with Galileo’s 1609 telescope, which tells us what the state of the art optical devices of this time looked like. In this case, the telescope is covered with red and green vellum, and is tooled with gilding along the edges of the segments. These are features which are conceivably represented in the Voynich cylinders… although they are of shorter devices, which I believe could be microscopes. Kepler also owned a telescope about 1610-1611, and it’s design was “based on that of Galileo’s” device. Below is a portion of an accurate modern replica of Galileo’s telescope. The entire telescope is much longer, this is only one end. You can see the replica, made by Jim & Rhoda Morris, and how it was created, at this excellent site.

After the fall of Prague, and the later death of Rudolf in 1612, Drebbel pleaded with James I, to let him come back to London. He professed to be able to build a telescope able to “read a letter at a country mile”. While this is obviously an exaggeration, to make such a claim would be a dangerous gamble if he did not enough experience and knowledge in optics to feel confident of backing it up.

Then, between about 1619 and 1621 in London, Drebbel was producing microscopes for sale. He is credited with the production of the first twin-convex lensed devices. Remembering that this layout was first mentioned in Kepler’s 1611 Dioptrice, and Drebbel shared Rudolf’s court with Kepler, this cannot be a coincidence. Drebbel’s devices must have been based on Kepler’s, either from actual examples, or from the descriptions in Dioptrice. But that is moot to the timing, as it is well established he was making fine microscopes during this time. In fact it was a Drebbel microscope which insprired Faber to coin the term “microscope”… he was marveling at the quality of the lenses, and the clarity of the image of a flea, “the size of a chicken”. He wrote this in 1625, but the instrument was made 1619 to 1621.

The only known drawing of a Drebbel microscope is the one by Issac Beekman, from about 1630. It is probably inaccurately drawn, if the center line is meant to indicate the division between sliding tubes… because the drawing is tapered, and a tapered cylinder would not allow adjustment. And earlier descriptions of Drebbel’s microscopes do not mention such a taper. Here is a CAD illustration I made from Periesc’s 1622 detailed description:

I purposely gave the device generic arcing legs, not reminiscent of Voynich cylinder feet. This, because the shape or design of legs of the extant descriptions are not specified. But interestingly, one description does describe the legs of a Drebbel device as being “shaped like dolphins”. The “delphini” motif has long been popular on legs, often found on Baroque furniture, accessories, and even scientific devices. I argue that the legs on the Voynich cylinders may represent such “dolphin legs”, sometimes head down, sometimes fluke down… both arrangements being known.

At any rate, it has often been suggested that my use of illustrations from after 1620, and even, into the 18th century, to show microscope comparisons to Voynich cylinders, is incorrect and misleading. Also, on a popular blog, the author claims it is re-writing optical history to suggest that microscopes may predate 1620 at all! But even though no known examples of microscopes from between 1610 and 1620 exist, it is clear they were made, they were described, they were explained as early as 1611, and one may exist from as early as 1595. And given the known covering, coloring, decoration, lens glass color (blue and green tint) of the contemporary telescopes, it is not at all unlikely that some of the “lost” microscopes from this time shared these features. This is why I use some later microscopes… they show what a microscope would look like, covered and colored like the known telescopes from “my” time frame. Besides, it is only a few decades from that time frame, to the 1640 to 1675 surviving devices of Divini and others.

Optical Timeline: Click for full size.

Optical Timeline

But all in all it is clear what the lost microscopes from the period of 1610 to 1620 might have looked like, and that this is quite like what the Voynich cylinders often do look like… whether they are just this, we do not know, one way or the other. H. Rich SantaColoma


Optical Comparisons

June 1, 2009

It has been said that the Voynich theories I have developed and researched are only about the microscope comparisons, and without them, there is nothing left. This is very inaccurate, as there are many features of the Voynich, outside of the cylinders, which indicate to me the possibility that it was created in the time frame I am working in, and by the people I suspect.

But it is true that the optical comparisons are the seed of the ideas which came later. When I first looked over the Voynich, I was struck at the similarity between certain cylinders in it, and early microscopes. I was very surprised that this was not generally assumed, they looked so much alike. In several years of research, I only found one person… Chris Parry… who openly mused on this on the VMS-net list in 2003. Berj N. Ensanian later told me that he had long noted the similarities between the cylinders and the microscope of Robert Hooke.

Even Newbold, (of the well known failed theories and translations) who believed that Roger Bacon wrote the Voynich, and who he believed used a powerful microscope to do so, did not make a connection between the cylinders and the instruments. Newbold called them “jars”.

Microscope Comparsion 1

I personally think the similarities between the 17th century Italian microscope, and this Voynich cylinder, are striking. Many of the tubes have optical features, and I have made a page of many of them, here. A list of some of the features of early optics, which I feel may be represented in Voynich cylinders:

1 ) Multiple lenses
2 ) Multiple, sliding tubes
3 ) Covered with colored vellum (often red and green)
4 ) Decorated along edges with repeating, gilt embossing
5 ) Recessed lenses
6 ) Lenses with green and blue hues (nature of the glass used)

Elements also found in Voynich tubes which are described just after my time frame, possibly relating to Drebbel’s 1619 to 1624 devices:

7 ) Supported on brass legs, shaped like dolphins

And elements found on other, later, 17th and 18th century microscopes:

8 ) Decorative finial lens caps
9 ) Knurling of rings for easier adjusting and assembly/disassembly

Spanish Compare

It was pointed out by Keith Body that Egyptian perfume jars are very similar to some Voynich cylinders, and I agree:


For the generally assumed “jar” identification, then, I would agree that some of the Voynich tubes may be just that. However I do not think that the 15th and 16th century apothecary and albarello jars are good comparisons… they do not compare as well as optics, in my opinion. Even for the bizarre cylinders, such as the iconic one shown below, I feel optics are just a better match than jars or containers… or perpetual candles, soap dispensers, or others which have been suggested. Next to the f88 cylinder I show it in CAD, covered with tooled Moroccan leather, as an optical device would be. I think it is a good match to to the color and tone of the Voynich illustration. As for the color of my supposed “lens”, and the knurling marks, those are in the “original”.

f88 CAD

The objections to my comparisons are many, and I will address them here in the future, as I have in the past on the VMS-net list. They are in part, that I use later optical devices for comparisons to a document which I state was made between 1610 and 1620. Also, that there is little or no evidence for microscopes before about 1619. And there are others, all of which I will address in future posts. Richard SantaColoma