Posts Tagged ‘wilfrid’

The Modern Forgery Hypothesis

March 23, 2016

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

The Hypothesis:

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

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

The Timeline:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

f85v1 "Garland Girl", and Schott Engraving

f85v1 “Garland Girl”, and Schott Engraving

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

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

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

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

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

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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.