The Voynich Manuscript, a Modern Forgery?

Every six months or so a new solution to the cryptic Voynich Manuscript is touted in academic journals and/or tabloid press. The document purports to be a cipher-herbal from the fifteenth century. Its Medieval origin is asserted and repeated uncritically by otherwise credible sources, but I am convinced that the manuscript is a twentieth-century forgery. The theory that it was created by or for the book dealer Wilfrid Voynich between 1908 and 1910 has been elaborated upon by Richard SantaColoma in his excellent blog. Consider:

1. The Voynich Manuscript has no independent provenance.

There is no written evidence that can be used as provenance for the famous and enigmatic Voynich Manuscript. Although it is claimed that certain 17th century mentions of a manuscript are the Voynich, on close examination these fail to satisfy the most basic standards of proof that the work existed back then.

This claimed provenance is in a small selection of 17th century letters to and from the Jesuit Polymath, Athanasius Kircher. These include mentions of a mysterious, unintelligible manuscript. From them, we learn that a Georg Baresch is the first assumed owner of the manuscript they describe. But these descriptions do not actually come close to identifying it as the Voynich Manuscript…

Moreover the proposed provenance is suspicious.

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.

2. Voynich possessed sufficient materials to forge it. Immediately before the appearance of the manuscript, Voynich purchased the Liberia Franceschini, which consisted of:

over one half a million books, maps, pamplets and incuncubilia…Voynich could have had access to much unused, blank parchment…It would have taken just one blank ledger in that vast archive of unknown content to create a “Voynich” Ms.

3. He had or could access the skills to forge it.

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.

For his own part, Voynich was “a trained chemist.” His friend, the spy Sidney Reilly, “took a book on mixing medieval inks out of the Cambridge library.”

And finally, there are anachronisms in both the subject matter and the physical binding of the manuscript. I urge anyone interested in literary mysteries to read Mr. SantaColoma’s scholarship at the blog linked above.

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