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Manuscripts Voynich acquired in 1911-1912


This is one of two pages at this site that look more closely at Voynich's acquisition of the Voynich MS. The Voynich MS was just one of several manuscripts he acquired in 1911 or 1912, and it came from a larger collection of books and manuscripts.

This page aims at reconstructing the set of manuscripts that he acquired, and it also takes a first brief look at their origins. These questions can largely be answered.

The other page explores the details of the 'discovery' of the Voynich MS by Voynich, in particular the two questions where the MS was preserved and how he was able to find and buy it. That work is still on-going, and only one of the two questions seems to have found an adequate answer by now. There are occasional cross-references between the two pages, but both can be read independently, without having to go back and forth all the time.

There is a third page that paints the historical background of this collection, which is recommended reading, but not absolutely necessary to understand the present page.


The first step we take is to present the sources that are available for this analysis. We will find that they are largely consistent, with only minor differences. We will also see that the group of manuscripts that Voynich acquired can be positively identified as a part of a larger collection that was offered for sale to the Vatican library in 1912. This larger collection traces back to the important Jesuit library of the Collegium Romanum.

A side-by-side comparison of all listed sources then allows us to set up a 'maximum' list of manuscripts that may have been acquired by Voynich. This maximum list is presented in a table. Among this list there are several manuscripts of which the present whereabouts are unknown, and there are also some for which there is no evidence that Voynich ever owned them. It includes 20 manuscripts of which we can be certain that Voynich acquired them from the Jesuits, for several different reasons which are clearly indicated. Many of these manuscripts can be traced back to earlier owners, and for three manuscripts out of the 20 that were certainly acquired by Voynich we have evidence that they were seen and studied while they were in the Collegium Romanum of the Jesuits as late as 1870.

Apart from these manuscripts, the larger collection that was for sale also included a number of early printed books, including some incunabula. In its present version, this page concentrates primarily on the manuscripts.

Finally, illustrations of some of the manuscripts that Voynich acquired are presented.

1. Introduction

Voynich acquired an important group of manuscripts in 1911 or 1912. One of these was the MS now known as the Voynich MS. The present page presents a reconstruction of the list of manuscripts that Voynich acquired. It is work in progress, and additional information is still being gathered. The general circumstances of the sale, including its location, are analysed in the parallel page, which equally describes work in progress.

2. Available sources

2.1. Overview

The main sources used for this reconstruction are:

  1. Ruysschaert (1959) (1). This is a detailed catalogue of a set of Latin manuscripts acquired by the Vatican library in 1912. In a footnote in the introduction, the author refers to the acquisition by the book dealer Wilfrid Voynich of close to 30 books from the collection he is describing. Ruysschaert used previous unpublished work on this collection by E. Carusi, that was completed sometime before 1926.
  2. A handwritten catalogue of books and manuscripts that were intended to be sold to the Vatican library. This exists in two copies: an original now preserved in the Historical Archives of the Pontifical Gregorian University (APUG 3289) and a photographic copy preserved in the archives of the Vatican Library (arch.Bibl.109). I have consulted the latter. This catalogue was also an important source for Ruysschaert (above).
  3. A collection of 16 bibliographical paper slips preserved in the Beinecke library, each referring to one of the manuscripts that Voynich acquired from the Jesuits, and which were clearly removed from these manuscripts by him.
  4. Two publications by the italian bibliophile and book seller Tammaro De Marinis, which are cited by Ruysschaert (see note 2).

Additional information about the manuscripts acquired by Voynich has been obtained from modern on-line library catalogues and from a number of scholarly publications, which are cited whenever they are first mentioned.

2.2. Source 1: Ruysschaert (1959)

Ruysschaert (1959) (see note 2) is a key source for the present analysis. The part of the text that is most relevant for the present purpose has been transcribed here. This erudite and very detailed catalogue describes 296 Latin manuscripts that came from the old Jesuit Roman College. These manuscripts were incorporated into the Vatican Library in 1912, as the result of a donation by pope Pius X (2). According to Ruysschaert, the complete collection acquired at the time consisted of:

He states that a book dealer named Voynich had acquired approximately 30 manuscripts out of the original collection. These manuscripts therefore did not enter the Vatican library. Ruysschaert further explains that the collection of Latin manuscripts that entered this library consists of two separate parts. The first derives primarily from the collection of Muretus (for whom see also further below), and this now constitutes the MS collection Vat.Lat.11414 - 11615. It essentially consists of classical and humanist works, with a majority of them dating from the 15th Century.

The second part is a collection of autograph manuscripts of Lagomarsini (4), which now constitutes the MS collection Vat.Lat. 11616 - 11709.

Pope Pius X acquired these manuscripts, and donated them to the Vatican library. Ruysschaert writes that many of the manuscripts described in his catalogue have the following attachments or annotations:

Thanks to the on-going digitisation project of the Vatican Library some of these manuscripts can now be browsed online, which allows us to see these attributes, as will be shown further below.

Petrus Beckx S.J. was the 22nd General Superior of the Society of Jesus from 1853 to 1887. He experienced some of the most difficult times of the Society of Jesus, including the expulsion of the Society from Rome in 1873, and the confiscation of their possessions.

In footnote 3 on p.vii of the introduction, Ruysschaert lists the manuscripts that he believes were acquired by Voynich, making reference for each item to De Ricci (1937) (5) and/or to the two publications by De Marinis.

2.3. Source 2: the handwritten catalogue

In the introduction to his catalogue, Ruysschaert refers to Arch.Bibl.109, a document preserved in the Vatican archives. This catalogue is also described very briefly in Kristeller (1998) (6), as follows (starting from "at the Università Gregoriana"):

The two discrepancies, namely the location of this MS and its date, have been resolved. The original of this catalogue, which, according to Kristeller, should be in the Università Gregoriana, was re-discovered there as recently as July 2019 by Lorenzo Mancini. It is now properly catalogued as APUG 3289. Arch.Bibl.109 is a photographic copy of it. The title page of this catalogue says: Catalogo di codici e stampe acquistate dalla Biblioteca vaticana nel 1903 or: catalogue of manuscripts and prints acquired by the Vatican Library in 1903.

The very important recent publication by Francesca Potenza (7) clarifies that the sale was definitely completed in 1912. However, the catalogue has been antedated to 1903 in an attempt to avoid issues with recent Italian laws related to exportation or sale of antiquities. On the original, preserved in APUG, the year had been amended in pencil to 1913, and this is what Kristeller must have seen. This pencil amendation has been rubbed out in the mean time, but there are still visible remains. It is, however, not visible on the Vatican copy. The paper furthermore clarifies that Ruysschaert used the original, and many annotations on it are in his hand.

This catalogue has a total of 294 entries. Of these, 259 are of MS codices, 32 are prints, and 3 are clearly duplications of other entries. Out of the 259 MS codices, 187 are identified (in the right margin) with an entry in Vat.Lat.11414 - 11615, 36 with an entry in Vat.Gr. 2431-2490, and one with Vat.Turco 80. The remaining 35 items are either not commented on, or traced to an entry in De Ricci's Census (see note 5) or to "De Marinis", who was also mentioned in Ruysschaert (1959). The two relevant publications of De Marinis are described below.

Two of the printed books in the catalogue have also been included among Vat.Lat.11414 - 11615, presumably because they contain significant handwritten annotations (8).

This catalogue only covers the MS collection that Ruysschaert described as 'from Muretus', while items Vat.Lat.11616 - 11709, i.e. the manuscripts of Lagomarsini, are not included in it. Out of the 202 manuscripts making up Vat.Lat.11414 - 11615, 189 are included in the catalogue, which means that 13 are missing (6-7%). Among the 50 Greek manuscripts (Vat.Gr. 2341-2390) 14 are not mentioned, and it is not clear where they may have come from. These 14 unreferenced manuscripts do not form a contiguous block of shelf marks.

Each entry in the catalogue is a short description, usually just one line, giving:

Of particular interest for us is of course the description of the Voynich MS, but unfortunately the matching record is so unspecific that it would not have been possible to identify the MS by this desciption alone. It is simply described as:

Miscellanea, c.m.s.XV

where the abbreviation means: codex membranacaeus saec. XV. It is the only item in the entire list that has neither author nor title (9). All these points are at least consistent with the Voynich MS. In the right margin of the list, this line has a handwritten reference to the Census p. 1846 (see note 5), which is the page that includes the Voynich MS. In Ruysschaert (1959), the list of manuscripts acquired by Voynich includes only one item on this page, and this is MS 8, an explicit reference to the Voynich MS.

The catalogue also includes 32 printed books, some of which are incunabula. The printed books are not discussed by Ruysschaert, and the annotations in the catalogue provide information about the present whereabouts of only about one third of them. There is a suggestion in Sowerby (1967) (10) that Voynich also acquired a number of these, but this still needs to be confirmed. Sowerby writes:

Mr. England, next-door in No. 70, was making a catalogue of the newly discovered printed books, and when I could I used to go in to see him and ask him to explain to me. Almost every book he showed me was a discovery, and was therefore unknown to bibliographers.

Additionally, we read in a Kansas City newspaper clip that Voynich acquired early prints at the same time as this set of manuscripts.

2.4. Source 3: the bibliographical paper slips

The 16 bibliographical paper slips preserved in the Beinecke library refer to individual manuscripts from the set that Ruysschaert listed as "acquired by Voynich". They were found by H. Garland in the London book shop after Voynich's death, at the time when the shop was being 'wound up'. Garland sent them to Anne Nill in the USA. This must have happened around 1937 (11). The envelope in which he sent them is still preserved (12). Two examples of these slips are shown below. For the second one, click on the picture for an enlargement.

In case the Voynich MS also had a similar paper slip, this has unfortunately not been preserved. Similar bibliographical slips can be seen in the digitised manuscripts of the Vatican library (click on the thumbnail).

See also the following digitised manuscripts in the "Vat.Lat." collection:

>> 11458 >> 11475 >> 11504 >> 11506 >> 11511
>> 11521 >> 11539 >> 11543 >> 11559 >> 11571

It is clear that both sets of paper slips are from the same origin, i.e. the manuscripts used to be together in the same collection. According to Ruysschaert (13), the main text in ink dates from the 18th or 19th Century. As we shall see below, they were almost certainly written after 1849. While the scribe has not been identified, one of the more likely candidates is the Jesuit librarian Paolo Beorchia.

The small paper stickers saying "ex bibliotheca privata P.Petri Beckx" were most probably added in 1870-1873. The pencil annotations on the front of the slips preserved in the Beinecke library are in the hand of Anne Nill, and these must have therefore been made after 1937.

2.5. Source 4: De Marinis

Both Ruysschaert (1959) and APUG 3289 (Arch.Bibl.109) refer to two publications by the antiquarian book dealer and bibliophile Tammaro De Marinis (14). I have consulted both. The first, dated 1913 (15), is one of his sales catalogues of manuscripts and printed books, of which I own an original copy. This catalogue includes B/W plates of most of the manuscripts that he is offering for sale.

As we shall see below, seven of the manuscripts in this catalogue can be traced back to the present collection. However, Wilfrid Voynich is not mentioned anywhere in the catalogue, nor is the Collegium Romanum. The prices of these manuscripts are indicated in Lira, which was one of the currencies (together with the French, Swiss and Belgian Francs) united in the "Latin Monetary Unit" (LMU). In 1913 there were about 5 Lire (or LMU) to one US Dollar. One of these seven manuscripts is offered for sale for 1000 Lire (US$ 200), while four others range from 15,000 to 20,000 Lire (US$ 3000-4000).

The remaining two manuscripts are indicated as 'sold', but fortunately we know that they were sold to Pierpont Morgan (Sr.) in New York. From correspondence preserved in the Morgan library (16) we know that Voynich received 300,000 Lire (equivalent with US$ 60,000 in 1912) for the pair (17)!

None of the printed books in this catalogue can be traced back to APUG 3289 (Arch.Bibl.109), i.e. to the Collegium Romanum.

The second book by De Marinis, from 1947 (18), is a monumental multi-volume work, analysing the library of Alfonse, King of Naples and Aragon (1396 - 1458). Out of the seven manuscripts that were mentioned in De Marinis' 1913 catalogue, which trace back to Voynich, three come from the library of Alfonse and these three manuscripts are described in some detail in this book. Here, De Marinis mentions that he acquired these manuscripts from the London book dealer Voynich. For one of the manuscripts he specifically says that he acquired it from Voynich in Rome. For two of them, he specifies that they were in the library of Henry Benedict Stuart (1725-1807), cardinal of York, who was bishop of Frascati.

Interestingly, an appendix to this volume was written by Mgr. J.Ruysschaert, so it is clear that De Marinis and Ruysschaert knew each other very well. This is one plausible explanation how Ruysschaert found out that Voynich acquired some of the manuscripts that he later described in his 1959 catalogue.

3. Combining the sources

3.1. Correspondence between APUG 3289 (Arch.Bibl.109) and Ruysschaert (1959)

It is clear that Ruysschaert used the catalogue as a source - he refers to it - and that both documents refer to the same collection of manuscripts. The comments in the right-hand margin of APUG 3289 (Arch.Bibl.109), which were added later, provide a reference to the Vatican library shelf marks or, in case the MS did not enter the Vatican, a (tentative) identification of the present whereabouts of the MS, which may be in De Ricci's Census, or one of the above-mentinoned works by De Marinis. These references are consistent between APUG 3289 (Arch.Bibl.109) and Ruysschaert (1959).

An interesting additional detail is the following phrase in Ruysschaert (1959), referring directly to the catalogue:

His codicibus addendi sunt sex alii, Biblicos textus et due Breviarium Romanum praebentes, ut apparet e quodam elencho cuius imago photografica servatur in Archivo Bibliotheca Vaticanae, t. 109

The catalogue has a handwritten table on the page labeled "B", where the Bibles and Breviaria are counted with stick figures, resulting in 6 resp. 2.

3.2. The bibliographical paper slips

There are two sets of bibliographical paper slips: those preserved in the Beinecke, from the manuscripts that Voynich acquired, and those still contained in the manuscripts in the Vatican. A comparison of these two sets shows us three things.

  1. The slips kept by Voynich originate with certainty from the same collection of manuscripts as the collection that is now preserved in the Vatican library.
  2. While on those preserved in the Beinecke library the name of P. Beckx is clearly legible, for those in the Vatican library the name has been erased in almost all cases. This coarse removal of the origin of the manuscripts must therefore have taken place after the two sets were split, i.e. after the sale to the Vatican. The important implication of this erasure is discussed further in a section of the parallel page.
  3. Not visible in the above illustrations is, that on the reverse of these bibliographical slips (both in the Beinecke and in the Vatican) there are annotations in pencil. These are discussed in the parallel page, with the conclusion that these are the original shelf marks from the Collegium Romanum library of the Jesuits.

3.3. Correspondence between APUG 3289 and the bibliographical paper slips

Each entry in the catalogue is a short description, usually just one line, and a comparison of these entries with the bibliographical paper slips clearly demonstrates that the person(s) who composed the catalogue (19) wrote these short descriptions by summarizing the entries on these paper slips. I have found no instance where any additional information about each book, beyond what is written on the paper slips, is included in APUG 3289. As mentioned already above, the catalogue entry specifies for each of the manuscripts whether it is written on parchment or on paper, and from which century it dates (which is occasionally given as 'uncertain'). The following table shows a few examples of text on the bibliographical slip and in the catalogue.

On paper slip In catalogue Presently
AEliani opus de instruendis aciebus ex graeco in
latinum conversum a Theodoro Graeco thessalonicen-
Codex membranac. in fol. po. Ms. saec. XV. cum
ornatu et stemmate gentilicio in prima pagina depictis,
et cum pluribus initialibus aureis. Constat foliis scriptis
Aelianus / Opus de instruendis aciebus - versio Latina Theodori
codex membran in fol saec XV
Voynich: J01
Boneti Nicolai Metaphysica, nempe: de X praedicatis,
de 1is et 2is intentionibus, de theologia naturali,
de philosophia morali.
Codex chartaceus in fol. Ms. saec. XIV. Constat
foliis scriptis 227.
Bonetus Nic. / Metaphysica _ cd. chart. saec. XIV Vat.Lat.11504
De Leonibus Leonis Ioannis (peru-
sini) De philosophico ac theologico
sapiente De vita ac gestis Theodosii
Codex membranac. In fol. Ms. saec. [blank] cum plu-
ribus initiailibus pictis et inauratis. Constat
foliis scriptis 109.
De Leonibus Leonis Ioan / De philosophico et theologico sapiente ecc. Voynich: J21

3.4. The covers of the manuscripts

So far, the information contained in the sources described above does not give us any irrefutable confirmation that the Voynich MS was included in this collection, even though there is no particular reason to doubt it. There is, however, another common feature of the two collections of manuscripts that allows us to confirm it. This is the standard cover that was given to almost the entire collection, while it was still in the Collegium Romanum library.

The binding of the MS.

Ruysschaert briefly describes this rebinding of the manuscripts in his catalogue. Mrs. Christine Grafinger (20) of the Vatican library explained to me that almost all manuscripts in the collection have a similar, light-yellow parchment binding, and she confirmed that the cover of the Voynich MS is very similar. The above-mentioned links to the digitised manuscripts in the Vatican library can be used to judge this for oneself. The style of the binding is exactly the same, and this is not just true for the Voynich MS, but also for most of the other manuscripts acquired by Voynich.

In a >>blog entry of the Historical Archives of the Gregorian University (in Italian) we read how a large collection of Jesuit manuscripts was rebound, probably between 1824 and 1870, since they were "infested by worms". This appears to be the explanation for the consistent set of covers. The Voynich MS has certainly been affected by woodworms, and MS conservators have derived from this that its original cover was of wood covered by leather. The same insect damage is clearly visible in least one other MS acquired by Voynich: a Boccaccio MS now at the University of Chicago (MS J14 in the following).

3.5. MS Table 1

In the following, the information from the main sources identified in Section 2 is combined into one table. The columns have the following meaning:

Author, Title Author and title of the MS. If the paper slip has been preserved, it is taken from this. Otherwise, it is taken from Arch.Blbi.109. For the two items that appear in neither of the two (at the end of the table), a modern identification is used
Bibliogr.Slip Whether the bibliographical slip has been preserved and whether it has the P.Beckx sticker. The 16 manuscripts for which this is the case are at the top of the table.
A.Nill note Any pencilled MS identifications on the paper slip made by Anne Nill
APUG 3289 Two parts, separated by a forward slash ( / ). The first part (if present) gives additional information from the description of the MS. The second part is a marginal reference added later (possibly by Ruysschaert) identifying the MS with an item in De Ricci's Census or in De Marinis.
Ruysschaert The reference to De Ricci or De Marinis given in Ruysschaert (1959)
Comment Additional comment
ID A forward reference to the ID of this MS in Table 2 (further below).

The following abbreviations are used inside the table:
DM13 = De Marinis (1913) (see note 15)
DM47 = De Marinis (1947) (see note 18)
DR = De Ricci's Census (1937) (see note 5)
JR = Mgr. José Ruysschaert
PB = Petrus Beckx SJ

Author, Title Bibliogr. Slip A.Nill note APUG 3289 Ruysschaert Comment ID
AEliani Opus de instruendis aciebus [...] With torn PB sticker DM13; Not in DR / De Marinis 3-7 DM47 pp.3-5; DM13 No 2; nunc Bodleianus Latinus class. d. 38 = DM13 No.2 J01
Alfragani Astronomia With PB sticker = Voynich M 7111 Afraganus astronomia c.membr. S.XIII et XIV / Census 1845 DR II p.1845 (The estate of [...] Voynich [...], Ms. 1) See specific note 4 below. J02
Aristotelis opera sequentia: [...] Shown above.
PB sticker damaged.
?: DR I p.83 (missing) (missing) Not in APUG 3289 and unknown to JR. See specific note 3 below. J05
Ausonii Opera PB sticker cut in half DM13 no.6; Not in DR / De Marinis, 12 DM47 pp.22-23; DM13 No 6 = DM13 No.6 J06
Biblia sacra 597 ff. PB sticker cut. (erased and illegible) (one of 6) p.vii note 3 There are 6 bibles in APUG 3289. This one cannot be identified. J08
Boccaccii Ioannis [...] De genealogia deorum With PB sticker DR I p.564 (The library of the University of Chicago [...], Ms. 100) / Census 564. "O" DR I p.564 - J14
Breviarum Romanum 322 ff. No PB sticker - (one of 2) p.vii note 3 There are 2 breviaria in APUG 3289. This one cannot be identified. J15
P. Candidi Opuscula, scilicet: [...] No PB sticker. DM13 no.14; DR I p.961 / Census p.961? DR I p.961 (The library of William King Richardson [...], Ms. 23); DM13 No.14 = DM13 No.14 J17
M.T. Ciceronis opera philosophica No PB sticker
(also seen in 1870)
DR II p.1461 / Census p.1461 DR II p.1461 (The Pierpont Morgan Library [...], Ms. 496); DM13 No.10 See specific note 1 below. J20
De Leonibus Leonis [...] De philosophico ac theologico sapiente - [...] Has PB sticker Sold to U.of.S.Cal. 1942 / Census p.1848 DR II p.1848 (The estate of [...] Voynich [...], Ms. 16) - J21
Isidori Originum liber V [...] No PB sticker DR I p.82 / Census p.82 DR I p.82 (The Henry E. Huntington Library [...], Ms. HM 1034) - J24
S. Isidori sententiarum libri Has PB sticker DR II p.2047 / Census p.2047 DR II p.2047 (The free Library of Philadelphia, [...], Ms. 125) - J25
Manetti Iannotii, De dignitate et excellentia [...] Has PB sticker DM13 n. 23; not in DR / "x" DM47 p.105 (Iannotii Manetti De dignitate et excellentia hominis); DM13 No 23 =DM13 No.23 J28
Ioann. Bapt. Mantuani [...] Parthenice, sive de laudibus [...] No PB sticker Not in DR / "x" (missing) Listed in APUG 3289 but overlooked by Ruysschaert. See specific note 6 below. J29
Rufini presbyteri Periarchon Origenis libri IV [...] Has PB sticker DR I p.516 / Census p.516 DR I p.516 (The Art Institute, Chicago [...], Ms. 20.97) - J34
Valerii Maximi, dictorum et factorum memorabilium libri novem Shown above.
Has PB sticker
DR II p.1120 (Listed) / (blank) (missing) Listed in APUG 3289 but overlooked by Ruysschaert J35
Alfonsi regis Castellae, Tabulae astronomicae - - / Census 1899 DR II p.1845 (The estate of [...] Voynich [...], Ms. 2) See specific note 5 below. J03
Anonym. Ordini della repubblica de Venezia [...] - - / Cat. De Marinis n.11 DM13 No 11 =DM13 No.11 J04
Biblia Sacra - - (Five more Bibliae Sacrae) p.vii note 3 - J09
Breviarum Romanum - - (One more Breviarum Romanum) p.vii note 3 - J16
Balsamonis (Theodori), De sexta sinodo - - / "x" (missing) Paper MS of the 16th C. J07
Cicero M.T., Ad Herennium - - / Census 1894 DR II p.1894 (The Library of Grenville Kane [...] Ms. 29; olim Marci Antonii Muret) - J18
Cicero M.T., Officiarum - Cato Maior Laelius, Paradoxa - - (forte recentior [...] / "x" (missing) Paper MS of uncertain date. See specific note 7 below. J19
Hieronymus (S), de gestis patrum [...] - - / Census p.1473 DR II p.1473 (The Pierpont Morgan Library [...], Ms. 626) - J23
Justinianus, Diversae Constitutiones - - / Census 585 DR I p.585 (The library of the University of Chicago [...], Ms. 423) - J27
Joannes Chrysost. S., Commentaria Graeca in Acta Apost. - - / Census 1105 DR I p.1105 (The Library of the Univ. of Michigan [...], Ms. 14) The only Greek MS in the collection J26
Miscellanea - - c.m.s.XV / Census 1846 DR II p.1846 (The estate of [...] Voynich [...], Ms. 8) Almost certainly "the" Voynich MS J31
Ptolemaeus, Almagestum - - / Census p.49 HM65 DR I p.49 (The Henry E. Huntington Library[...], Ms. HM 65) - J32
Ritius Michaelis, de regibus Gall. et. - - XVI s. / (blank) (missing) Quite possibly a duplicate entry for Vat.Lat.11545 J33
Virgilius P.M., Opera - - / Census p.886?
DR I p.886 (The Library of Robert Garrett [...], Ms. 110) or DR II p.1896(The Library of Grenville Kane [...], Ms. 29) - J37
Valtorii Rerum Militarum - - / Census p.1848 DR II p.1848 (The estate of [...] Voynich [...], Ms. 13 aut Ms. 14; nunc vide The Rosenwald Collection (The Library of Congress)) - J36
Virgilius P.M., Bucolicon, Georgicon et Aeneis - - / Census p.2057 DR II p.2057 (The free Library of Philadelphia [...], Ms. 172; olim Marci Antonii Muret) - J38
Dydimus, De Spiritu Sancto (seen in 1870) - (missing) D.R. II p.1461 (The Pierpont Morgan Library [...], Ms. 496) No slip and not in catalogue, but recognised by JR. =DM13 No.15. See specific note 1 below. J22
Marcanova, Antiquitates - - (missing) DR I p.897 (The Library of Robert Garrett [...], Ms. 158; olim Marci Antonii Muret) No slip and not in catalogue, but recognised by JR. See specific note 2 below. J30

3.6. General notes on the completeness / correctness of the reconstruction

Ruysschaert lists 28 items of which he suspects that they were acquired by Voynich. However, from Voynich we have only 16 paper slips (21). APUG 3289 (Arch.Bibl.109) includes 35 entries for manuscripts that are not traced to the Vatican library. Combining all this information results in a list of 38 items that may have possibly been acquired by Voynich. It is of course possible that some of these items were not purchased by Voynich but by someone else, and at least one of them is rather likely to be a mistake in APUG 3289 (Arch.Bibl.109) (22). The minimum number of manuscripts that Voynich certainly acquired is 16 (from the preserved paper slips) plus one for the Voynich MS itself, so we can be certain that there were at least 17.

It is also certain that some more paper slips of manuscripts acquired by Voynich must have been lost. One such case is a pair of manuscripts originating from the library of Matthias Corvinus. These books have been together from the time they were in Hungary until the present time, yet the paper slip of only one of the two has been preserved. However, both paper slips were seen in Rome in 1870 by a Hungarian historian and transcribed by him. This is addressed further below in specific note 1.

Another interesting example is a MS of Marcanova sold by Voynich in 1924, which was identified independently as originating from the Collegium Romanum. Its paper slip has also not been preserved and it is addressed further below in specific note 2.

A third additional MS of which we can be certain that Voynich acquired it is called "Constitutiones Venetae". It is listed in APUG 3289, where it is marked as missing, and it appears in De Marinis (1913). This brings the total to 20.

Three of the items that were certainly acquired by Voynich are missing in APUG 3289, namely an Aristotle MS for which the slip has been preserved (see specific note 3 below), and the two items mentioned in the previous paragraphs (one Corvinus MS and the Marcanova MS). The last two were, however, listed by Ruysschaert.

Two items that were not listed by Ruysschaart, but for which the paper slip has been preserved by Voynich (J29 and J35), were, however, listed in APUG 3289.

Referring to the above analysis, the following seven items in De Marinis (1913) definitely trace back to Voynich's acquisition from the Jesuits: Nos. 2, 6, 10, 11, 14, 15 and 23. Of these, Nos. 2, 6 and 23 are also described in more detail in De Marinis (1947).

Of the 32 printed books in the catalogue, 23 are not traced to the Vatican library, so this would be the maximum nr. that Voynich could have acquired in addition. None of the printed books in De Marinis' 1913 catalogue matches any of the 23 titles of missing prints. Voynich's own catalogues have not yet been consulted.

3.7. Specific notes about some of the manuscripts

Following are some more specific comments about some of the manuscripts and their tentative identifications by Anne Nill and later by Mgr. J. Ruysschaert.

  1. The pair of manuscripts denoted J20 (Cicero) and J22 (Didymus) both originate from the library of Matthias Corvinus. These books must have been together from the time they were in this library until the present time. They were taken to Rome and certainly ended up in the Jesuit library in the Collegium Romanum. They were seen there and photographed in 1869 by the Hungarian historian Flóris Rómer (23). Voynich sold them to De Marinis, and he immediately took them to Hungary (probably accompanied by his partner Forti), where these manuscripts were well known since Rómer's publication, with a purpose to sell them there. However, by July 1912 they were sold through Alexandre Imbert to John Pierpont Morgan. The paper slip of the Cicero MS has been preserved, but that of the Didymus MS has not. However, both paper slips were seen and transcribed by Rómer (24). The Didymus MS is also missing from APUG 3289, but it is described in detail in De Marinis (1913) while Ruysschaert also included a reference to it.
  2. The famous Marcanova MS (J30) was sold by Voynich to Robert Garrett in 1924. By 1927 it was identified as originating from the Collegium Romanum library (25), where it had been seen by several people until the year 1873, after which it disappeared. It is not listed in APUG 3289 and its paper slip has also not been preserved (26). However, Ruysschaert includes a reference to it.
  3. Of the Aristotle MS (J03) the paper slip has been preserved, so it certainly originates from the Collegium Romanum library, and it was equally certainly acquired by Voynich. However, it is not listed in APUG 3289, and it has completely escaped Ruysschaert's attention, while the MS would have been of great interest for him (27). This could just be an oversight in APUG 3289, of which we already saw that approximately 6% of the books now in the Vatican Library are missing. The fascinating history of this Aristotle MS is described in more detail in a dedicated page.
  4. Ruysschaert identifies the Alfraganus MS (J02) with MS 1 in the Estate of W.Voynich (De Ricci p.1845). This is, however, problematic, since that MS has size 21 x 15 cm and 163 ff. The paper slip refers to a MS in quarto with 154 written folios. The annotation of Anne Nill on the paper slip says: "Voynich M 7111".
    MS 1 from the Estate of W.Voynich was later sold to the Columbia University of New York, where it is now preserved as Smith Western Add. MS 06. Because it includes an old italian land ownership note, there is no doubt that this MS in Columbia University is the same as MS 1 in the Estate of Voynich.
    There is extensive correspondence in the Grolier club about an Alfraganus MS, between Anne Nill and Francis Carmody (Univ. of California Berkeley), early 1945. From this, it appears that a related MS was acquired from Voynich by Garrett, and is now known as Princeton Garrett MS 99. The latter is however certainly not the Alfraganus MS of Collegium Romanum. From this correspondence we can conclude, however, that also Anne Nill believed that the Collegium Romanum MS is identical with MS 1 of the Estate, due to repeated references to Voynich M 7111.
  5. Ruysschaert identifies the Alfonsine astronomical tables (J03) in his 1959 publication with MS 2 of the Estate of W.Voynich. However, the pencilled note in the margin of APUG 3289 refers to the Census, p.1899. This would indicate Princeton MS Kane 51. At present, it is not clear which one is correct, and the present whereabouts of MS 2 of the Estate of W. Voynich is also not known to me.
  6. The Mantuani MS (J29) is described in great detail in a publication by Daniel Pócs (28). From this we learn that the MS is now preserved as Cod.Lat.445 in the National Széchényi Library in Budapest, and has been identified as a Corvinate. It was purchased in Paris in 1912 by the Hungarian art collector Lajos Ernst. Already in 1912 the MS showed damage from a fire, which can be associated with a fire in the Collegium Romanum in 1849. Given that the first pages of the MS are strongly affected, while the bibliographical slip still preserved in the Beinecke is not, Pócs argues convincingly that this slip (and consequently the others) must have been written and added after 1849.
  7. My search for the present whereabouts of the Cicero MS (J19), which has so far been unsuccessful, is described here.

4. Present whereabouts of the Manuscripts

4.1. Introduction

With the aid of De Ricci (1937) (see note 5) and modern library catalogues, either online or in printed form, most of the manuscripts that were acquired by Voynich can still be identified in libraries today. A table below shows the result of this exercise. It is work in progress and there are still numerous uncertainties. It was mentioned before that there are 20 manuscripts of which we can be certain that they were part of the group acquired by Voynich from the Collegium Romanum collection, and these are highlighted in the table, which is sorted alphabetically by author. There are other manuscripts of which we can also be fairly certain, because they are listed in APUG 3289, and a corresponing MS was sold by Voynich to the holding library shortly after 1912, but these have not been highlighted.

4.2. MS Table 2

Table entries:

ID My identifier for this MS. It is highlighted in case this is one of the 20 certain manuscripts.
Author, Title Author and title of the MS, where possible according to modern catalogues
Main properties Date, material, size and extent of the MS as far as known
Earlier owner Any known owner before the MS entered the library of the Collegium Romanum. These are briefly discussed below the table.
Present Present Library and Shelf Mark of the MS
Comment Additional comment

The table uses the same abbreviations as the first table.

ID Author, Title Main properties Earlier owner Present Comment
J01 Aelianus: Opus de instruendis aciebus ca. 1455; mem., in folio, 64 ff. Alfonso of Aragon, Henry Benedict Stuart(?) Bodleian MS. Lat. class. d. 38 -
J02 Alfraganus: Astronomia 13th cent; mem. in quarto, 154 ff. - Uncertain See specific note 4 above.
J03 Alfonsus: Tabulae astronomicae 15th cent; mem. - Uncertain See specific note 5 above.
J04 (Anon) Constitutiones Venetae 16th cent; mem. in quarto - Unknown Interesting for its beautiful binding.
J05 Aristoteles: Ethica Nicomachea etc. 13th-14th cent; mem. 36 x 24 cm, 229 ff. Pier Leoni a) Univ. Illinois, MS 0008
b) Newberry MS 23.1
c) Huntington HM 1035
Book sold in three parts. See specific note 3 above. Also (see note 27) and more details here
J06 Ausonius: Epigrammata ca. 1475; mem. 27.5 x 8 cm, 78 ff. Ferdinand Duke of Calabria,
Alfonso of Aragon
Unknown (private?) Trace lost after 1974 (29)
J07 Th. Balsamon: De sexta sinodo 16th cent; chart. - Unknown Uncertain whether ever owned by Voynich.
J08 Biblia Sacra 14th cent; mem. in octavo, 597 ff. - Unknown (30). See also (31).
J09 - J13 Biblia Sacra Unknown - Unknown 5 more bibles (30)
J14 Boccaccio: Genealogiae Deorum ca. 1385; mem. 30 x 22 cm, 216 ff. Coluccio Salutati Univ.Chic. MS 100 see here
J15 Breviarum Romanum 15th cent; mem. in 12-o, 322 ff. - Unknown (30)
J16 Breviarum Romanum - - Unknown (30)
J17 P. Candidus Dec.: (Four treatises) ca. 1460; mem. 26 x 17 cm, 95 ff. Borso D'Este Harvard: Houghton MS Richardson 23 -
J18 Cicero: Rhetorica ad Herennium ca. 1350; mem. 34 x 23 cm, 46 ff. M. Antonius Muret Princeton: Kane MS 29 -
J19 Cicero: Officiarum - Cato Maior Laelius, Paradoxa (unc); chart. - Unknown See specific note 6 above.
J20 Cicero: De natura deorum etc. ca. 1485; mem. 32 x 21 cm, 272 ff. Matthias Corvinus Morgan MS 497 See specific note 1 above. Also (see note 24)
J21 L. Giovanni de Leoni: Flagellarii Malorum etc. ca. 1400; mem. 33 x 24 cm, 109 ff. - Univ. S.Cal. MS 14 -
J22 Didymus: De Spiritu Sancto 1488; mem. 34 x 23 cm, 225 ff. Matthias Corvinus Morgan MS 496 See specific note 1 above. Also (see note 24)
J23 Hieronymus: Vitae Patrum 1363; mem. 35 x 25 cm, 138 ff. - Morgan MS 626 (31), (32)
J24 Isidorus: Originum 14th cent; mem. 40 x 29 cm, 178 ff. - Huntington, HM 1034 -
J25 Isidorus: Sententiae 11th-12th cent; mem. 28 x 20 cm, 87 ff. - Free Libr. Phil., MS Lewis E 136 (31)
J26 St. John Chrysostom: Homilies on the acts... 1150; mem. 38 x 26 cm, 424 ff. (in Greek) - Univ. Michigan, William L. Clements Library Shelf mark: MS 14? uncertain.
J27 Justinianus: Novellae Constitutiones ca. 1260; mem. 43 x 26 cm, 150 ff. - Univ.Chic. MS 423 -
J28 Manetti: De dignitate et excellentia... 1452; mem. 24 x 17 cm, 120 ff. Alfonso of Aragon, Henry Benedict Stuart(?) Unknown (private?) Trace lost after 1974 (29)
J29 J. Baptista Mantuanus Carm.: Parthenice, sive de laudibus BMV carmen 15th cent; mem. in quarto, 69 ff. Matthias Corvinus Sz ch nyi Library, Budapest, Cod.Lat.445 See specific note 7 above.
J30 Marcanova: Antiquitates ca. 1473; mem. 36 x 26 cm, 209 ff. M. Antonius Muret Princeton: Garrett MS 158 See specific note 2 above. (31).
J31 Miscellanea / the Voynich MS ca. 1425; mem. 22 x 16 cm, 116 ff. Rudolf II, Marci, Kircher (a.o.) Beinecke MS 408 (31)
J32 Ptolemaeus: Almagestum 1279; mem. 31 x 21 cm, 270 ff. Pier Leoni Huntington, HM 65 -
J33 M. Ritius: de regibus Gallorum etc. 16th cent; chart. - Unknown (see note 22).
J34 Rufinus: Periarchon ca 1480; mem. 32 x 22 cm, 173 ff. Pier Leoni Art Inst. Chic. MS 20.97 -
J35 Valerius Maximus: Dictorum et factorum... ca. 1400; mem. 27 x 20 cm, 126 ff. - Univ. Mich., William L. Clements Libr. -
J36 Valturius: De Re Militari 15th cent; chart.+mem. 28 x 21 cm, 208 ff. Malatesta Library of Congress
MS Rosenwald 6
Voynich estate 14 (and 13) became Rosenwald MS 13 (and 14) and then Library of Congress Rosenwald 6 (and 7). Nr. 6 has the supposed Mantegna sketch (31)
J37 Virgilius: Opera ca 1460 (or 1470); mem. 27 x 17 (or 19 x 12) cm, 252 (or 218) ff. - Princeton: Garrett MS 110 or Kane MS 36 One of the two
J38 Virgilius: Bucolica, Georgica, Aeneis ca. 1450; mem. 28 x 18 cm, 194 ff. Antonio Caboge of Ragusa,
M. Antonius Muret
Free Libr. Phil., MS Lewis E 198 -

It of interest to note that approximately half of the manuscripts that was offered for sale by the Jesuits was on parchment and half on paper, as indicated in APUG 3289. Voynich, however, clearly preferred parchment manuscripts, because among the set he acquired only one appears to have been a MS on paper, or more specifically a mixture of parchment and paper, namely one of his favourites: the Valturius MS (J36).

5. About some of the earlier owners

5.1. Alfonso of Aragon

King of Spain and Naples (1396-1458), who possessed a very rich MS library. This has been described extensively in De Marinis (1947) (see note 18). Three of Voynich's manuscripts originate from his library (i.e. before they entered the Collegium Romanum library), namely J01, J06 and J28.

5.2. Borso D'Este

Duke of Ferrara and Modena (1413-1471). The Biblioteca Estense (Estense Library), was the family library of the dukes of Este. Dating at least to 14th century, it was largely enriched during Ferrara's Renaissance, and finally established in Modena in the beginning of 17th century. The reference to the Dukes of Modena and Ferrara by Voynich in his 1921 publication (see note 1) appears to refer to this (see also below, MS J17).

5.3. Malatesta

Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta (1417 - 1468).

5.4. Matthias Corvinus

King of Hungary (1443 - 1490). He founded a famous humanist library that was dispersed after his death. Many of his manuscripts have been lost, or are at best untraceable. The surviving Corvinus manuscripts spread over Europe have been object of intensive study by Hungarian historians, and two of the items in the Collegium Romanum library were already described and photographed before the confiscation by the Italian government.

5.5. Pier Leoni

Physician to Lorenzo il Magnifico (~1440 1492). Three of the manuscripts acquired by Voynich come from his library (J05, J32, J34), plus the following among Vat.Lat.11414-11709: MS 11433, 11496, 11504, 11520, 11575, 11576, 11581, 11585, 11600, 11610 and 11612. Leoni's library was first researched by Dorez (33), who found a catalogue of it, but none of the manuscripts. That discovery was achieved by Ruysschaert based on the collection that is the subject of this page. This is described in great deail in Ruysschaert (1960) (34).

5.6. Antonio Caboge of Ragusa

Ragusa is modern Dubrovnik. Beside the one MS acquired by Voynich, there are four more of his manuscripts among Vat.Lat.11414-11709. All five of these were owned by Muret (see below) before they entered the Collegium Romanum library.

5.7. M. Antonius Muret

The large library of this famous French humanist (1526-1585) was donated to the Collegium Romanum some time after his death. Three of the manuscripts acquired by Voynich, and a large number among Vat.Lat.11414-11709, trace back to this library, including the library's catalogue of books issued before 1585 (Vat.Lat. 11562). Other manuscripts that were owned by Muret are now in the archives of the Gregorian Library (APUG) and many of his printed books are in the national library of Rome (BNCR).

5.8. Athanasius Kircher

Among the manuscripts acquired by Voynich only the Voynich MS traces back to Kircher. Other manuscripts that used to belong to Kircher have been dispersed along various collections. This is analysed briefly in the conclusions section of the parallel page.

5.9. Henry Benedict Stuart, Cardinal of York

Of two of the manuscripts sold by Voynich to De Marinis (J01 and J28), the latter reports in De Marinis (1947) (see note 18), that they were previously owned by Henry Benedict Stuart, cardinal of York (1725-1807), who was bishop of Frascati. However, from the published edition of his library (35) we know that these manuscripts were not included in it. We may suspect that this is part of a cover story either from Voynich or De Marinis. For both manuscripts we still have the bibliographical slip and both are listed in APUG 3289, so they were certainly in the Collegium Romanum library before 1873.

6. Final comment

As seen in the introduction, Voynich described the collection of manuscripts as "a most remarkable collection of preciously illuminated manuscripts" and further refers to them as "with their rich decorations in gold and colors" (contrasting to his "ugly duckling"). The following links to on-line images of some of these manuscripts may illustrate this, in particular the two Corvinus manuscripts (J20 and J22). It is worth noting that, among the manuscripts now in the Vatican library, I have so far not seen any that have any significant illuminations.

The illustration of f4r of MS J17 is of interest as this shows the arms of Borso, Duke of Ferrara and Modena, which Voynich highlighted in his 1921 publication (see note 1).

Outdated links have been refreshed in September 2023.

J05c Aristotle >>f1r  
J17 Petrus Candidus >>f4r  
J20 Cicero >>fiv   >>f1r   >>f98r  
J22 Didymus >>f1v   >>f2r   >>f3r   >>f92r   >>f93r  
J23 Hieronymus >>f26r   >>f27r  
J24 Isidorus >>f1r   >>f9r  
J30 Marcanova >>full scan (with intro)
J32 Ptolemaeus >>f1r  
J36 Valturius >>Full manuscript viewer  
J38 Virgilius >>four images  


I would like to acknowledge the very helpful support in these investigations from APUG (Rome, Historical Archives of the Pontifical Gregorian University/ Roma, Archivio storico della Pontificia Universit Gregoriana).
Illustration of the paper slip of the Aristotle MS shown with kind permission from the Beinecke Rare Book and MS Library in New Haven (CT).
I am grateful to the various libraries who make available digital scans of their manuscripts in the table above, and to the Vatican Library / Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana for the digitisation of several of the manuscripts among Vat.Lat.11414-11709.


Ruysschaert (1959), see also a partial transcription.
For this collection see also: Bignami Odier (1973).
Where Vat.Lat.13479 is not described in his catalogue. It comes from the same collection but was only entered in the library much later as it had to undergo restauration work (source: Potenza (2022)).
Hieronymus Lagomarsini S.J. (1697-1773) was a professor at the Collegium Romanum, and famous for his critical edition of the complete works of Cicero. Most of his manuscripts are Cicero texts.
De Ricci (1937)
Kristeller (1998), p.347
Potenza (2022), p.347
Namely Vat.Lat. 11535 (De S. Victore) and Vat.Lat.11602 (Hilarius Pictaviensis).
It is somewhat unsatisfactory not to see any reference to the unknown writing. On what basis Ruysschaert decided to make this identification is not yet understood, and further research in the papers of Carusi might be enlightening. In any case, the anecdote reported by Kraus further clearly suggests Ruysschaert's conviction about the identity of this MS.
E. Millicent Sowerby (1967) (pp.13 and ff.). She describes one of Voynich's European 'hunting trips' shortly before she joined the staff, which was in December 1912.
I am grateful to J. Speel for providing the closing date of the London shop.
It is in the Beinecke Library, and it has several useful annotations from Anne Nill.
Ruysschaert (1959), introduction, p. ix.
Some information about De Marinis may also be found here
De Marinis (1913)
I am grateful to William M. Voelkle of the Morgan library for this information.
With an inflation factor from 1912 to 2023 of 30, this would be equivalent with just over 1.8 million dollars in modern currency.
De Marinis (1947). I am grateful to the Library of Congress for an opportunity to consult this monumental work.
Several different hands can be identified.
In a private communication in 2014.
A statement made by Kraus (see here) may lead us to believe that there may have been 17 of them around 1960.
The entry for Ritius (J33) is the first one in a different hand, and seems to refer to the same MS as one described two lines above. Three other duplicate entries exist in the catalogue, but these have been marked as such. Something seems to have been written in the right margin, but it has been erased.
See Romer (1871).
They have been transcribed in MS Fol. Hung. 1110/I in the National Széchenyí Library in Hungary, fol. 304r-325r. See Pócs (2017), where they have been reproduced.
van Mater Dennis (1927). I am grateful to Rich SantaColoma for the reference.
It is possible that this MS, like the Didymus from the library of Corvinus, does not appear in APUG 3289 / Arch.Bibl.109 as it was intended from the beginning to be sold to a private dealer. However, this is an unconfirmed hypothesis.
This is one of the manuscripts that trace back to the library of Pier Leoni, as documented by the Huntington library. The MS is described in more detail here. In Ruysschaert (1960), which deals with the Pier Leoni library, this MS is equally overlooked. There is one Aristotle MS in APUG 3289 with the title 'Varia', which is identified as Vat.Lat.11509, though with some erasures, a question mark and a cross. This could potentially be an incorrect identification. That possibility is explored in more detail in this page.
See Pócs (2017)
The two manuscripts went through several hands. After De Marinis they were owned by Patetta, Hoepli, Hornby (named by Ruysschaert), Major J.R. Abbey, and after his death they were sold by Sotheby's after 4/6/1974 (part 8) to (an) as yet unknown collector(s) or institute(s).
There are six MS copies of "Biblia Sacra" and two of "Breviarum Romanum" that are not traced to the Vatican library, as also mentioned by Ruysschaert. The paper slip of only one of each has been preserved.
Several of these manuscripts were on display in the Art Institute in Chicago in 1915. They are mentioned in the AIC Bulletin (1915):
Among the most important is an unpublished and unsolved cipher manuscript by Roger Bacon, thirteenth century. The profuse illustrations give sufficient clue to the importance of the cipher content. = J31: the Voynich MS,
A tenth century Spanish codex, one of a very few Spanish manuscripts of such antiquity, is especially important for its rich decoration with ornaments showing strong Irish and Moorish characteristics = J25: S. Isidorus / Sententiae.
The finest treasures of the collection are an Archaeology of Rome and Italy, compiled by G. Marcanova; = J30: Marcanova / Antiquitates,
a treatise on military and naval matters by Pandolfo Malatesta, Duke of Rimini, and Roberto Volturio, his minister of war; = J36: Valturius / De Re Militari,
and a fourteenth century Lives of Martyrs, containing three hundred water color sketches = J23: Hieronymus / Vitae Patrum,
The bible receiving most attention in the Bulletin cannot be positively identified with the one listed in the table above (J08).
From the beginning the most highly valued MS in the collection (by Voynich), with water colour paintings supposedly (but not actually) from the hand of Giotto.
See Dorez (1894) and Dorez (1897).
Ruysschaert (1960), which again mentions Voynich's acquisition of some of the manuscripts coming from the Collegium Romanum library. See also Note 27.
In Buonocore (2007).


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