Voynich Manuscript

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So much has already been written about the Voynich Manuscript (or ``VMS,'' for short) that I will keep this brief. The executive summary:

The mysterious VMS is still unread.

Printed information sources

These sources contain the highlights; their bibliographies point to more than you will ever want to know.

I am compiling a bibliography of VMS references more recent than those found in D'Imperio or Brumbaugh. If you know of any, please let me know by email.

Location of VMS; photographic copies

The VMS lives in New Haven, Connecticut, in Yale University's Beinecke Rare Book Room and Library, under the name of MS 408. The Yale web site often has VMS images available, but the details of where they are kept and how to acces them changes often. Currently, a "Free text search" for "Voynich" and "408" works on this web page. Another Yale page of VMS images. Photocopies are available from Yale:

I have prepared a checklist of all printed VMS images you are likely to find in print.

Electronic information sources

Jim Gillogly maintained a publicly accessible collection of Voynich information, much of it taken from the Voynich mailing list's traffic. A copy of that information (accurate as of 17 Jan 1997) is obtainable here. There is the European VMS Transcription project web site.

There is a very informal VMS electronic mailing list, voynich@rand.org, run by Jim Gillogly, founded on 5 December 1991, with a fluctuating level of activity; a must for anyone with an abiding interest in the VMS. To enroll in the list, check here. There is an archive of old mailing list traffic up through the end of 2001. One member, Robert Firth, has been posting an occasional numbered series of notes summarizing his thinking about the VMS.


What progress has been made since D'Imperio's book?

There is a Postscript Type 1 font (by J. S. Porter; see the test sheet) and a Postscript Type 3 font (by myself) for setting Voynich script. Bruce Grant has prepared a Metafont Voynich font; Martin McCarthy has made his own version of this font available via WEB and via FTP.

Various transcriptions (using some conventional transcription alphabet) have been located; some modest further transcription work has been carried out:

  1. Petersen's hand transcription (made in the late 1930's) has been photocopied and distributed

  2. Currier's partial transcription has been widely distributed; a somewhat corrected and enlarged revised version has been made by members of the Voynich mailing list.

  3. There are the First Study Group (FSG) transcriptions, made by Friedman and friends in the late 1940's, described in my Cryptologia paper. (See files 1609.txt, 1613.txt, FSG.txt, and v2.txt. The minutes of the FSG are interesting to look at, but give no insight into VMS problem. The 1946 ``Carter report'' is worth a visit.)

  4. J. H. Tiltman's transcription of a few pages, made in 1951, also uses the FSG transcription alphabet.

  5. There is the partial Second Study Group (SSG) transcription made by Friedman and friends in the early 1960's.

  6. G. Landini and R. Zandbergen are currently engaged in a long-term EVMT (European Voynich Manuscript Transcription) project which attempts to merge and rectify all previous transcriptions, proofread against Petersen's transcription. The current state of their work, together with detailed explanations of the project, can be found at the EVMT web site.

The physical layout of the folios, the way the fold out pages work, how the folios pair up into bifolia and nest to form quires, etc, has been clarified.

Currier's discovery of two handwriting styles with corresponding textual statistical differences has been popularized and verified.

And public awareness of the VMS has been furthered, as evidenced by the proliferation of VMS web pages and by the appearance of the VMS in works of fiction, for instance, in a recent Indiana Jones novel.

Remaining problems

We lack a good photocopy of the VMS. Maybe Yale will allow someone to prepare a CD-ROM edition.

A high-tech physical and chemical examination of the vellum, of the inks, etc, has not been done, in part because it is not at all clear what questions might be answered by such means.

We lack a clear agreement on the character set of the VMS. On the one hand we have Guy's highly analytic Frogguy transcription alphabet with about 20 symbols, and on the other we have Currier's alphabet with 36, augmented by my list of 50 or 100 rarely occurring ``weirdo'' symbols. What is represented by one weirdo symbol might be represented by the 3 or 4 Frogguy symbols it is analyzed into. The right choice for transcription alphabet is at some unknown place on this analytic/synthetic continuum.

We lack a reliable transcription, in part because it is hard to proofread a transcription from a poor photocopy, and in part because of our uncertainty about the transcription alphabet.

We also lack decisive tests for distinguishing between nonsense babble, crafty cipher, and language.

And we lack a precise intellectual context in which to place the VMS.

Who are the Friends of the Voynich Manuscript?

Here are some of the living experts on the Voynich MS who are not members of the electronic mailing list:

And here are some of the more visible members of the electronic mailing list:

Voynich files

Here is an unsystematic list of various VMS-related files on this site:

Last modified 2 Jan. 2002.

Jim Reeds reeds@######.###