The 1910 Voynich Theory        -Click here for the blog

Copied from my blog post, The Modern Forgery Hypothesis:

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

The Hypothesis:

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

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

The Timeline:

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

f85v1 "Garland Girl", and Schott Engraving

f85v1 “Garland Girl”, and Schott Engraving

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

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

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

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

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

f88 CAD

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