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Voynich Manuscript
Mailing List HQ
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This is the headquarters site for VMs-list, the primary mailing list for scholars attempting to read the enigmatic Voynich Manuscript. The list was started in 1991 by Jim Gillogly (then of the RAND Corporation) and Jim Reeds (then of Bell Labs), and it moved here to voynich.net in December 2002. It is managed by the Majordomo program, which allows you to subscribe and unsubscribe yourself. You can find complete instruction at that link. Send mail to the list administrator, Rich SantaColoma, if you need help with the directions.

The tone of the group has been astonishingly civil and mostly scholarly for the over 20 years of the mailing list's existence, despite differences in background (cryptographers, linguists, botanists, astronomers, paleographers, medievalists, historians, astrologers and even a few crackpots -- no, of course I don't mean you); and differences in approach, including half a dozen competing methods of transcribing the Voynich characters.

Jim Reeds has written an introduction to the study of the Voynich Ms. Some images from the Voynich Ms. published by the Beinecke Library on their website are mirrored here.

Mysteries surrounding the Voynich Manuscript have puzzled researchers since the earliest surviving report in the seventeenth century: we have no clear idea of its date, its author, its provenance, the meaning of its script, or even the meaning of its drawings. The suspected owner was the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II (1552-1612), who may have bought it from an unknown seller for 600 ducats. The author of the manuscript was then thought to have been the 13th-century monk and scholar Roger Bacon (1214?-1294?), but this attribution now appears to be much too early.

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It may have passed from Rudolf II's hands, then through those of nobleman Jacobus Horcicky de Tepenec, alchemist Georg Baresch, professor Johannes Marcus Marci and scholar Athanasius Kircher S.J. (1602-1680), it may have been filed and forgotten amongst Kircher's papers. It finally surfaced in a collection purchased by book dealer Wilfrid Voynich in about 1912. After his death and the death of his wife, author Ethel (Boole) Voynich, it passed to Wilfrid Voynich's secretary and Ethel Voynich's friend Miss Anne M. Nill, who eventually sold it to rare book dealer Hans P. Kraus. Having failed to sell it for his asking price of $160,000 Kraus donated the Voynich Ms. to Yale University, where it currently resides in the Beinecke Library as MS 408.

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During his lifetime Voynich was coy about the provenance of the manuscript, but after his death and that of his widow, Miss Nill revealed that according to a letter from Ethel the manuscript had been found at the Villa Mondragone, an estate near Frascati, Italy which had been bought by the Jesuit Order in 1866 and turned into the international headquarters of the Ghisleri College, and later converted to a boarding school. Recently (23 Dec 2002). Wilfrid Gaye of Sussex called this provenance into question based on documentary evidence from his mother Winifred, the adopted daughter of Wilfrid and Ethel Voynich, but on further checking he found the evidence refers to "a manuscript" rather than specifically identifying this one. nymph right

A more detailed account of the history of the Voynich Ms. may be found at Rene Zandbergen's site. Rafal Prinke has developed a graphical timeline of its ownership and related chronology.

The small (16 by 23 cm) manuscript consists of 102 vellum leaves including several fold-outs, copiously illustrated with water colors. The manuscript was bound and numbered, probably by a later hand than the author's. Fourteen of the numbered leaves are missing; comparing Newbold's careful catalog with Kraus's shows at least six of these disappeared since Voynich obtained the manuscript. An important signature was found by chance with infra-red light and made legible with chemicals, that of Jacobus Horcicky de Tepenec, mentioned above. In 2009, the University of Arizona tested the vellum for radiocarbon age, and determined that it was made between 1404 and 1438. Samples of paint and ink was also analyzed by McCrone Associates at about this time. Their tests did not turn up any substance which would prove a time later than the C14 dating of the vellum... however, the ink was not dated.

text sample  The text is written in a neat and clear script which has defied attempts at interpretation by some of the best cryptographic minds available including Athanasius Kircher; noted cryptologist Brig. John Tiltman, head of the British codebreaking establishment at Bletchley Park during World War II; and William F. Friedman, the famous American codebreaker who turned cryptanalysis into a science and led the team that broke the Japanese Purple cipher machine

A MHonArc-produced archive for 2002-2004 is available. The eventual goal is to have all archives from 1991 on in a searchable database, a project the webmaster is currently working on (May, 2010)

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An unstructured archive of old mailing list traffic up through the end of 2002 is available.

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Please send suggestions regarding this web page to webmaster@voynich.net.