Contents Home Map Refs Pics Search Pages

The Voynich MS - Source texts


Following are some source texts which are relevant for the history of the Voynich MS and its study (though some more than others). They are always given in the original language, and in several cases in English translation. They are ordered in chronological order of writing. My introductory or descriptive comments are contained between [ ]. The notation [...] indicates that part of a source text has been skipped. Some discussions are included in the present page, but in general these are presented in those locations where these source texts are referred to.

Some texts and their discussion have been treated more fully at the >>web site of Philip Neal. I will not repeat information from his web site here, but rather include pointers to it. Additional interesting source texts are collected there.

  1. Marci about Barschius in Philosophia vetus restituta, written in 1662 (1). It proves that they were very good friends since at least 1622, and that Marci once inherited Barschius' curiosa and alchemical library.
  2. An excerpt from the Journal de Lyon, issue of 29 Oct. 1873, in original French and in English translation. It refers to the expulsion of the Jesuits from Rome, just a few days earlier.
  3. Arthur Dee and the book in hieroglyphics. This famous quote from Fell-Smith (1909) (2). is presented here in a larger context.
  4. A letter by the Jesuit Marco Pometta, written mid-1911, about a collection of Jesuit books for sale
  5. A few short letters from two of the Strickland brothers to Voynich, written in 1912 and 1913
  6. Some newspaper reports from November 1915, (first, second, third) in which we learn about Voynich's original story how and where he acquired the MS collection including the Voynich MS.
  7. Correspondence of Voynich with prof. Wilkins of the University of Chicago on a Boccaccio MS. This MS was one of about 30 MSS acquired by Voynich from the Collegium Romanum, which included also the Voynich MS.
  8. Voynich about Barschius. This is composed of two parts, both from letters preserved in the Beinecke library. The second one is from a letter by Voynich to Dr. Klicman in May 1921, and Voynich's source is obviously the quote from Marci's Philosophia Vetus Restituta included further above in this page. The first part is a letter from Herbert Garland to Voynich, demonstrating how Voynich found out about this source.
  9. A letter written by E.L. Voynich, to be opened posthumously, which explains how W.Voynich was allowed to buy the several MSS from the Jesuits in Villa Mondragone
  10. Excerpts from the Vatican catalogue Ruysschaert (1959) (3), which indicates that Voynich did indeed buy some books from the Jesuits, one of which is the "Voynich MS".
  11. An excerpt from a letter from Kraus to Friedman, and some related references, mentioning his trip to the Vatican library and his meeting in Rome with Mgr. Ruysschaert. This is the main source for the housing of the MS in the Villa Mondragone.
  12. An excerpt from John Fletcher's "Johann Marcus Marci writes to Athanasius Kircher": Fletcher (1972) (4) relating to the correspondence of Baresch to Kircher.

Johannes Marcus Marci about Georgius Barschius

[From Philosophia vetus restituta (1662) (see note 1).]

This is described in great detail at the web site of Philip Neal:
>> Transcription.
>> Translation.
>> Notes.

Journal de Lyon, 29 October 1873, about the annexation of the Casa Professa

[Original text:]
On écrit de Rome, 23 Octobre, au Temps:
“Six couvents ont été occupés lundi matin 20 octobre. De ces six couvents, quatre appartenaient aux jésuites: le Gesù, Saint-Ignace du Collège romain, Saint-André et Saint-Vital au Quirinal, Saint-Eusèbe.
Les jésuites réunis, dans chacune de leurs maisons, a l’appèl des commisssaires de la Junte, ont été d’un calme absolu. Chaque prêtre a reçu la pension de 600 fr.; chaque frère laïque a reçu celle de 300 fr. Le père Secchi, le savant astronome du Collège romain, a pris comme les autres son titre nominative de rente viagère.
Des protestations de forme modérée ont été lues dans les quatre maisons.
Au Gesù, à Saint-André et à Saint-Eusèbe, les protestations ont été faites au nom de la Compagnie. A la basilique de San-Vitale, on a protesté au nom du cardinal-vicaire.
A Saint-Ignace du Collége romain, le recteur du collège anglais a lu un acte au nom de ses collègues des colleges ou séminaires internationaux; un prélat a aussi protesté au nom de la pape.
A la maison généralice du Gesù, le general, le père Beckx, flamand, ne s’est pas présenté; il était remplacé par le vieux père Rossi, qui a été d’un flegme imperturbable.
On a été frappe de voir que les jésuites ont accepté les pensions viagères. Le bruit avait couru qu’ils les refuseraient. On les a données à tous les jésuites sans exception : 44 au Gesù, 17 à Saint-André, 69 au Collège romain, 14 à Saint-Eusèbe.
On annonce que, des cent quarante-quatre jésuites qui étaient à Rome, une trentaine vont en France, en Angleterre, etc. Une cinquantaine se rassembleront dans deux villas que le prince Torlonia met à leur disposition, l’une à Castel Gandolfo, l’autre sur le territoire de l’ancienne Bôle, entre Palestrina et Tivoli. Quelques-uns seront reçus au college de Mondragone, dans la villa Borghèse, à Frascati. Le reste se distribuera à Naples, à Florence, etc.
Le general, le père Beckx, ne s’est pas retiré au Vatican, comme on l’avait présumé. On dit qu’il ira à Mondragone de Frascati. Le généralat de l’ordre ne paraît pas devoir se réinstaller ostensiblement à Rome.

Nr. 297, Third year, morning edition, Wednesday 29 October 1873
On 23 October the ‘Temps’ in Rome writes:
“Six convents were taken over Monday morning 20 October. Among these six, four belonged to the Jesuits: the Gesù, S.Ignazio at the Roman College, S. Andrea and S.Vitale at the Quirinal and S.Eusebio.
The Jesuits, gathered in each of their houses as called by the Junta, were absolutely calm. Each priest received a pension of 600 Francs and each lay father one of 300 Francs. Father Secchi, the famous astronomer of the Roman College, assumed his pension like all the others.
Moderate protests were read out in each of the four houses. At the Gesù, S.Andrea and S.Eusebio these protests were made in the name of the Society. At San Vitale the protest was made in the name of the Cardinal Vicar.
At St.Ignazio at the Roman College, the rector of the English college read a statement in the name of his colleagues from international colleges and seminaries. A prelate also protested in the name of the pope. At the Jesuit Casa Professa the Flemish father general Beckx did not show himself. He was represented by the old father Rossi, who kept an unperturbed mime.
It was striking to see how the Jesuits accepted their pension. There were rumours that they would refuse it. All Jesuits without exception received one: 44 in the Gesù, 17 at S.Andrea, 69 in the roman college, 14 in S.Eusebio.
It has been announced that, of these 144 Jesuits 30 will go to France, England etc. 50 will be based in the two Villas that the prince of Torlonia has placed at their disposition: one in Castel Gandolfo, the other on the ancient territory of Bola, between Praeneste and Tivoli. Several will be accepted at the college of Mondragone, in the Villa Borghese in Frascati. The remainder will be distributed at Naples, Florence, etc.
The father general Beckx did not retire to the Vatican, as had been previously assumed. It is said that he would go to the Mondragone in Frascati. The base of the general [Casa Professa] should not be reinstated in Rome.

About Arthur Dee

Arthur's wife, Isabella Dee, died July 24, 1634. About this time he returned to England and settled in Norwich, near his friend, Sir Thomas Browne, who was then busily engaged in writing down the ethical and theological conclusions which he called the Religio Medici. Browne was, of course, the younger man. Writing in 1658, a few years after Arthur's death, to Elias Ashmole, Sir Thomas tells of the many talks about the doings of Dee and Kelly that he had with "my familiar friend, sonne unto old Doctor Dee, the mathematician," who had "lived many years and died in Norwich." Browne sent to Ashmole "the scheme of Arthur's nativity, erected by his father, Dr. John Dee," a copy from the original, made by Arthur himself, with comments added by a Moscow astrologer, Franciscus Murrerus.

Dr. Arthur, in spite, or perhaps because, of his early environment, retained until his dying day a devout belief in the possibilities of alchemy to make projection or transmutation. He had grown up in the fixed idea that the ever-exclusive secret would soon be found out. In fact, he was persuaded that divers workers had indeed discovered the art. The child of seven or eight, who had played with quoits or playthings, which he understood had been turned into gold upon the premises, was likely to retain this conviction. To doubt it would be to cast a slur upon his father's memory. Of Kelly his recollections - the recollections of a boy under nine - could be but dim and hazy, untouched with any possible scepticism or critical judgment. After the February day when Kelly rode off to Prague in 1588, neither Arthur or his father had ever set eyes on this adventurer again.

He had succeeded in convincing his old friend of the truth of these recollections, for Browne writes of him as "a persevering student in hermeticall philosophy, who had no small encouragement, having see projection made, and with the highest asseverations he confirmed unto his death that he had ocularly, undeceivably and frequently beheld it in Bohemia. And to my knowledge, had not an accident prevented, he had, not many years before his death, retired beyond the sea and fallen upon the solemn process of the great work."

Continuing the correspondence six months later, when additional matter rises to mind, Sir Thomas writes again to Ashmole, in 1675, with more particulars of the "solemn process."

"I was very well acquainted with Dr. Arthur Dee, and at one time or another he has given me some account of the whole course of his life. I have heard the doctor say that he lived in Bohemia with his father, both at Prague and in other parts. That Prince or Count Rosenberg was their great patron, who delighted much in alchemie. I have often heard him affirme, and sometimes with oaths, that he had seen projection made, and transmutation of pewter dishes and flaggons into silver, which the goldsmiths at Prague bought of them. And that Count Rosenberg played at quoits with silver quoits made by projection as before. That this transmutation was made by a powder they had, which was found in some old place, and a book lying by it containing nothing but heiroglyphicks; which book his father bestowed much time upon, but I could not hear that he could make it out. He said also that Kelly dealth not justly by his father, and that he went away with the greatest part of the powder, and was afterwards imprisoned by the Emperor in a castle, from whence attempting to escape down the wall, he fell and broke his leg, and was imprisoned again. That his father, Dr. John Dee, presented Queen Elizabeth with a little of the powder, who having made trial thereof, attempted to get Kelly out of prison, and sent some [persons] to that purpose, who, giving opium in drink unto the keepers, laid them so fast asleep that Kelly found opportunity to attempt an escape; and there were horses readie to carry him away; but the business unhappily succeeded as is before declared. Dr. Arthur Dee was a young man [he was a boy of eight] when he saw this projection made in Bohemia, but he was so inflamed therewith that he fell early upon that study, and read not much all his life but books of that subject; and two years before his death, contracted with one Hunniades, or Hans Hanyar, in London, to be his operator. This Hans Hanyar having lived longin London and growing in yhears, resolved to return into Hungary. He went first to Amsterdam, where he was to remain ten weeks, till Dr. Arthur came to him. the Dr. to my knowledge was serious in this businesse and had provided all in readiness to go, but suddenly he heard that Hans Hanyar was dead."

During his residence in Moscow, Arthur compiled a book of alchemical notes and extracts, which was published at Paris in 1631 under the title of Fasciculas Chemicus, etc. Ashmole, among his early enthusiastic labours upon alchemical authors prosecuted under the name of "James Hasolle," translated this into English in 1650. While the book was at press in the beginning of the year, he wrote to Arthur, apparently as a stranger, informing him of his occupation, and putting at the same time a question or two upon his father's books.

Arthur's reply, dated Norwich, January 31, 1649 /50/, now in the Bodleian Library, begins by expressing regret that "you or any man should take plains to translate any book of that nature into English, for the art is vilified so much already by scholars that daily do deride it, in regard they are ignorant of the principles. How then can it any way be advanced by the vulgar? But to satisfie your question, you may be resolved that he who wrote Euclid's Preface was my father. The Fasciculus, I must cofess, was my labour and work." He ends by saying that he will be in London that day week, and if Ashmole wants to see him, he may hear of him in Butler's Court at the end of Lombard Street, at his son Rowland Dee's warehouse. The writing, and especially the signature of this letter, are good testimonies to the care bestowed by William Camden of Westminster School on the boy's handwriting. His father, as we remember, had asked for special supervision of the roman hand, since matter, poor in itself, but set down in a good style, did, in his opinion, often receive more attention than good material badly written and expressed.

Browne had received from Arthur a complete catalogue of all his father's writings, both finished and intended. But there was one not included, viz., the Book of Mysteries. Sir Thomas, writing in 1675, says he never heard him say one word of "the Book of Spiritts sett out by Dr. Casaubone, which if hee had knowne I make no doubt butt hee would have spoake of it unto mee, for he was very inquisitive after any manuscripts of his father's, and desirous to print as many as he could possibly obtain." He goes on to say that Arthur understood that Sir William Boswell, the English Resident in Holland, owned a number of Dee's MSS., which he had collected and kept in a trunk in his Dutch home. Boswell refused many applications from Arthur for leave to print some of these, which the famous mathematician's son considered should not be locked up from the world. Boswell announced his intention of printing them himse, which of course he never did.

Nor did the Book of Spirits see the light of day during Arthur's lifetime. Perhaps had Casaubon appealed to him as Ashmole had done, it would never have been issued at all. A son would certainly have remonstrated against this revelations, this tearing down the veil from the inner tabernacle of his father's soul.

Marco Pometta S.J.'s letter to Voynich, about a collection of books for sale (1911)

[This letter was written on 26 June 1911, some time before Voynich acquired the collection of books from the Jesuits. The list of books Pometta is writing about should have been attached but is unfortunately missing. We can't be certain that this is indeed the collection of MSs described by Ruysschaert, which included the Voynich MS.]

See the >> letter itself at the Beinecke library web site.
Philip Neal's >> transcription
Philip Neal's >> translation

[Pometta was born in 1876 in Bellinzona, Switzerland. He studied in Italy, at the seminary of Soresina, and in 1905 taught theology at the college of Brescia. He wrote his letter from Padova, where was deputy director of a newly estabished Jesuit College (the 'Antonianum'). He died in 1915. The Antonianum closed in 2000. Voynich had already met Pometta before this letter was written, and the collection of books in question seems to have attracted the attention of the Jew from Padova before, i.e. it does not appear as if the collection was already up for sale.]

A few short letters from the Strickland brothers

[This is a combined transcription of letters found during my 2012 and 2014 visits to the Beinecke. I don’t believe that there are any other, but from the comment "safe to keep" on one of them, possibly written by Voynich himself, we may conclude that there were others that have been destroyed. Following is a list:]

Nr. Date Sender
1 26 June 1912 Joseph Strickland
2 18 December 1912 Paul Strickland
3 Late 1913? Joseph Strickland
4 25 November 1913 Joseph Strickland

Letter 1, 26 June 1912

[pencil upper corner:] safe to keep

My dear Mr Voynich

As I will not have the pleasure of seeing you in Florence I have asked Father Aloizi my successor of the Club to pay his respects to you in my name, He and Fr. Rector know that you have so generously helped us to pay our creditors and join me in praying God to reward you in this world and in the next.
F. Spinetti thinks it is better to send the 1000 books you have put by for him to the house in Florence so that he may see them before sending them to Rome, when he comes here at the end of next week.
For everything else we will settle what is to be done when I return to Rome. It is better not to say anything even to our Holy Rector for the present.
Miss Howe told me you would not arrive till Thursday and therefore I am leaving for Paris.

Yours gratefully
Wednesday morning –
26 June 12

P.S. F. Rector has a letter for you From F. Spinetti

Letter 2, 18 December 1912


18th Dec. 1912

Dear Mr. Voynich
I am so sorry I was away from town when you kindly wrote to me. But I saw your representative on the 16th and everything was arranged about the illuminated manuscript. I wish to thank you very much for your kindness in the matter. I hope to have the pleasure of meeting you again

Yours very truly
Paul Strickland

[pencil, hand of A.Nill:] (is he the brother of Father Strickland?)

Letter 3, Late 1913 ?

Convitto di Mondragone
[pencil, hand of A. Nill:] Must have been written latter part of 1913 – See his letter 25 Nov. 1913.

My dear Mr. Voynich

A very interesting book (1) has been published on the recent laws passed in Italy for the preservation of artistic works. I have had a copy sent to you, which I beg you to keep in memory of many kindnessess to my poor boys. The law itself is unintelligible without the “Regolamento” which in Italy has legal effects and often expands the law beyond the original purpose. Our

(1) Parpagliolo – Codice delle antichita

college too has been declared an object of “natural beauty” and we will have to go perhaps before the law courts to exempt the olive plantations from being included in the [illeg] wording.
Is there any chance of seeing you this [illeg….] point of coming to England but I preferred [illeg] come, when about 50 of our Florentine boys came to take part in the International Sports and to see the Holy Father. You will have seen in the papers that the anticlericals did their best to spoil our show, but over 4000 young men and boys went to the Vatican all the same. Hoping that your health is better than last year I remain yours gratefully

Joseph Strickland

[in left margin:] P.S. My friend [illeg] is no more [illeg]

Letter 4, 25 November 1913

Convitto di Mondragone
Frascati 25 Nov 1913

My Dear Mr. Voynich

I am sincerely sorry to learn from your letter of the 21st inst. that your health has of late been far from good. The great hardships you have suffered with much fortitude in the past, are no doubt the real cause of your ailments, but now that God has blessed your undertaking beyond all expectation you ought to take more care of yourself. You will I am sure, allow a true friend to urge this duty upon you.

My letter to you, which is waiting for you in London, does not need an answer. It was written to draw your attention to a book upon the new Italian laws on the export of artistic treasures, which I have sent to your London address. Certain chapters of the book are sure to interest you and deserve careful study.

For various reasons, the 200 items you heard of, are no more at the disposal of our friends. Something else may turn up later on, but not for the present. Have you seen the young father in Spain, whom I met in London and, who promised to help you? The Portuguese father living near Brusselles for who I gave you a letter of introduction is no more provincial, but I am sure he is still in a position to make useful suggestions. I have met the father of the University college in Padua. He is expecting you.

Before coming to Italy I beg to remind you to pay a visit to the safe deposit in Chancery Lane. The old lady who wanted you to see her pictures has written two or three times to me to ask if I had any news to give her.

It is indeed very kind of you to remember my working boys’ club, which owes already so much to your unfailing kindness. The institution is always thriving in number, but the development of my original plan is at a standstill. Until all pending debts are paid and a sufficient sum is collected, mu superiors will not allow me to complete the building and above all to build the little church on the site I have set apart for this purpose. there is not a decent church in that new quarter of the town and if we only began I am sure all the people round would help.

On the 28th of Dec. we will commemorate the 10th anniversary of the foundation of the Club. All our friends and benefactors will be present and it would give me the greatest pleasure if you too could manage to be in Florence at this time. I have made arrangements to be free from my school work till Jan 1st so that we could go together to see the old lady who owns the pictures that are in London.

Many thanks for your kind enqui[ries] about my health. The benefit derived from my stay in England has, I am happy to say been permanent.

Of course, you have seen the best English doctors, but for your complaint I venture to advise you to consult in Pisa Professore Fedeli a professor of the University in thattown and above all one of the most conscientious doctors I have ever met or heard of. He has been the consulting physician of two of our fathers General and is the head of the famous establishment of Montecorbini, which has a world wide reputation.

Hoping to have the pleasure of seeing you soon I remain with grateful thanks for many kindnesses

ever yours sincerely
Joseph Strickland

Newspaper reports about the origin of the Jesuit MSs, as told by Voynich

Illinois: Daily Illini, 9 November 1915

Priceless Relics of Mediaeval Days Secured by Museum of European Culture in Lincoln Hall

The celebrated Voynich collection of illuminated manuscripts and rare, early printed books which recently attracted so much attention at the Chicago Art Institute and the Uiversity of Michigan has been secured by the Museum of European Culture for a three days’ exhibit at Lincoln Hall, beginning tomorrow.

Mr. Wilfred M. Voynich, the owner of the collection and through whose courtesy it is to be shown here, is perhaps the most eminent book-dealer in the world, located in London, Paris and Florence. This collection was secured by him after a search whose history reads like a romance. Through certain papers coming into his possession he learned of the existence of a number of valuable manuscripts in Austria which had been hastily removed from central Italy at the time of Napoleon’s first invasion. A search was instituted and at last they were found in the castle of an Austrian nobleman. The chests containing them had not been opened for over a century. The collection was brought to the United States from London last January to insure its safety against Zeppelin attacks and ultimately to dispose of it.

Illustrations by Noted Artists

The most interesting single item is a manuscript written in the first quarter of the 14th century at Bologna and illustrated with three hundred water color sketches. These have been attributed to either Giotto or Lorenzetto. Another manuscript of almost equal distinction is a book written wholly in cipher in the 13th century and illustrated by scores of drawings. The work is attributed to Roger Bacon and at one time belonged to Emperor Rudolph and later to King Ferdinand of Bohemia. The collection also includes a map used by Magellan in the first voyage around the world in 1522, and numerous other smaller treasures. Of interest to students of archaeology and history is a book on the archaeology of Rome and Italy written by Marcanova and illustrated by the celebrated Florentine designer, Mazzo Finiguerra. The book was done for the Princess of Cesena, in 1465 and is full of drawings of monuments no longer extant. The specimens of early printing alone would make a wonderful exhibition. They include the first complete printed edition of the Hebrew Bible, several early copies of Caxton s translations and numerous other priceless specimens. The museum of Europeon culture on the fourth floor of Lincoln Hall will be open to the public from 9 till 12 and from 1:30 till 6 on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, the days of the exhibit.

Illinois: Daily Illini, 11 November 1915

Volumes valued at Million and a Half Shown
Come here from University of Michigan – Only Few Institutions Granted Display Privileges

The celebrated Voynich book collection, worth a million and a half, is now on display at the library of European culture on the fourth floor of Lincoln Hall. The University of Illinois is one of the very few schools in the country granted the privilege of showing these specimens. Mr. Wilfred M. Voynich, the owner, brings the collection directly from the University of Michigan, where it was so highly appreciated that the school is considering the purchase of a book on Roman Archaeology, one of the rarest of the collection. By far the most interesting single item, and one of inestimable value to art, is a manuscript containing 300 watercolor sketches exquisite in color and detail. These are thought to be the work of Giotto.

In the same case with these two manuscripts are two more of slightly less importance. No one of these priceless antiques can be obtained by private individuals. Mr. Voynich has been tempted by several wealthy American art collectors to part with one or another of these gems but has refused, deeming these worthy only of possession by a public institution. A most astonishing manuscript is the one written wholly in cipher, attributed to the great Roger Bacon. No key to the work has yet been discovered. Only yesterday morning Mr. Voynich received a letter from the War Department concerning this book. The War Department is desirous of letting its cryptogram experts work on this cypher if the owner will submit duplicate copies of some of the original pages. Comparable with this is a manuscript on military science in the fifteenth century illustrated by the renowned Andrea Mantegna.

Other rare books are interesting not only for their age but also for their specimens of tedious handwork and pioneer printing. It is incredible to think that microscopic lettering of such perfection could be the work of hand. Some very rare bits among the collection were found in the binding of books such as a pack of Florentine playing cards made in the sixteenth century, which were used to bind a Latin prayerbook. The University has purchased some parts of the collection, but owing to the lack of space in the museum these will not be shown until later. In addition to the manuscripts mentioned Mr. Voynich also has some race specimens of Americana which were not shown in Chicago.

Kansas City Times, 12 November 1915

[The newspaper clip refers to an original article in the Detroit News-Tribune. Voynich's treasures were put on exhibition in Alumni Memorial Hall of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, starting 2 November, immediately after the exhibition at the Art Institute in Chicago. The news clip of 12 November refers to the Detroit Museum of Art, though there is no evidence that the collection was on display there. It certainly went there in 1917].

Books worth 8 Million / European Bibliophile brings his collection to America / Old manuscript Led to Discovery of Ancient Tomes, One of Them valued at $150,000, in an Austrian Castle

From the Detroit News-Tribune

His name is Wilfrid Michael Voynich (it was Habdank-Wojnicz in Lithuania, but English pronunciation demands a different spelling), and he is part owner and sole chaperon of an 8 million dollar collection of rare books, many of which are now on exhibition in the Detroit Museum of Art.

You will enjoy meeting Mr. Voynich. He likes to talk about his books; about himself he will not speak except in the briefest way, and yet he has had a far more interesting career than any of the valuable manuscripts which he cherishes.


The books which Mr. Voynich has brought to America to exhibit include many which were the treasures of Italian princely libraries. When Napoleon began to send the valuable collections of art works of Northern Italy to Paris, the heads of the other states took fright. Many dukes and princes sent their possessions to Austria in the hope that there they would be safe. The few who knew of their disposition either died or forgot about them, or were rendered powerless to recover them.

A $150,000 BOOK

A century later Mr. Voynich discovered correspondence which related to the hiding of some of the rare manuscripts in Austria, and after considerable search he unearthed the chests which contained them. They had remained unopened in an Austrian castle whose owner was unaware of what they held. Mr. Voynich obtained the rights to them and he has sold many rare manuscripts and first editions to the art museums and private collections in America.

There are two wonder works in the collection of many hundreds that are prized above all the others. One is a "Lives of the martyrs", written on vellum, with a water color drawing at the bottom of each page. Critics have attributed these drawings to Giotto. They represent the adventures of holy men with devils. This one book is valued at $150,000.

The other gem of the collection is a manuscript on rough parchment, supposed to have been written by Roger Bacon, in cipher. The drawings and water colour paintings show that the work treats of botany, astrology, the biology of plants and women, and astrology [sic]. Scholars have failed to find the key to the cipher.

[We now know that Voynich certainly did not discover the collection, and it was not contained in chests, of which the owners were unaware of what they contained. This means that the 'Austrian Castle' version of the MS history has to be considered extremely doubtful.]

The Michigan Alumnus, Vol.22, October 1915 – August 1916


The celebrated Voynich collection of illuminated manuscripts and very rare and early printed books was placed on exhibition in Alumni Memorial Hall for four days beginning Tuesday, November 2, after being shown for several weeks at the Art Institute in Chicago. The exhibit was held under the auspices of the University Library, and was made possible through the courtesy of Mr. Wilfrid M. Voynich, the owner of the collection, who is an international book dealer with offices in London, Paris and Florence. The collection, which was discovered in an Austrian castle, is the very cream of various ducal collections removed from Italian cities at the time of the Napoleonic wars. Owing to the fact that the books have never before been in private hands, they are in a state of almost perfect preservation.

Perhaps the most interesting single item in the collection is a manuscript written in the frist quarter of the 14th Centurt at Bologna and illustrated with 300 water sketches, which by some specialists have been attributed to Giotto; by others to Lorenzetto. Another interesting manuscript is a book written in the 13th century wholly in cipher, and illustrated with scores of drawings, which is attributed to Roger Bacon. The key to the cipher has not yet been discovered.

The collection includes numerous specimens of illuminated manuscripts of the 14th and 15th centuries, with exquisite miniatures, the freshness of whose colors is surprising, and a Greek manuscript of the 10th century, St.Chrysostom’s Homilies on the Acts, as well as a map which was used by Magellan in the first voyage around the world, ending in 1522. Of special interest to students of archaeology and history is a book on the Archaeology of Rome and Italy written by Marcanova and illustrated with 16 full-page and 80 small drawings by the celebrated Florentine designer, Mazzo Finiguerra. This book was done for Novellla Malatesta, Prince of Cesena, in 1465. There is also a manuscript of the art of war of the 15th century by Roberto Volturio, which is known to be the one used by the printers in 1472 when the first printed edition was published. Inserted is a drawing by Andrea Mantegna.


Correspondence of Voynich with prof. Wilkins on a Boccaccio MS from the Collegium Romanum

[From a letter of Voynich to Wilkins, dated 27 February 1917.]

"... The large collection of manuscripts, acquired by me from its hidden place, six years ago, consisted to my best knowledge of many collections belonging to Dukes and Princes, including part of the Malatesta library, part of the Matthias Corvinus library, and part of the Libraries of the Dukes of Parma, Modena and Ferrara, part of the collection of Borso, Alfonso D’Arragonia, and several others. I do not know from which of these collections Boccaccio was removed. Until the close of the 18th Century all these manuscripts were in Italy, but were then removed abroad in fear of Napoleon’s invasion. As far as I know, from that period until discovered by me, they were not disturbed, and not seen by anyone. The place from which I purchased them I cannot disclose, due to my promise given to the guardians of these manuscripts, whose former owners, as you see, disappeared, thanks to the unification of Italy under the Savoy Dynasty. Perhaps it is worth mentioning that Statius, which was also acquired from me by the Art Institute of Chicago, did not form part of this collection. However, there was another manuscript which, unfortunately, I sold to a dealer in America, which perhaps also belonged to Salutati. It was the “Letters of De Vineis.” It also was not described or collated, […]"

[Wilkins quoted this letter in a book he published on the Boccaccio MS: Wilkins (1927) (5). The following is also from that book (p.79):]

"... While the MS was in the possession of Mr. Voynich a number of entries were made on the inner side of the front cover. In the center of the surface was pasted a slip of paper [...] written in ink by a clerk in the employ of Mr Voynich [...]
The entry "N88" indicated the number of the MS in Mr. Voynich's general stock. Upon this same slip Mr. Voynich himself wrote in pencil "Florence" and "N36". This latter entry indicated the number of the MS in Mr. Voynich's Florentine stock. [...]; and in the lower left-hand corner was pencilled the entry "A39," which indicated the number of the MS in Mr. Voynich's merican stock.1
Pencilled strokes by Mr. Voynich indicating passages of interest appear on ff. 12r, 12v, 163v, 167r, and 193v.

[Note 1 says:] "Mr. Voynich in a letter to me of March 31, 1917, kindly explained the entries referred to in this paragraph, and confirmed the statements in this paragraph and the next as to his own pencilled marks."

Voynich about Barschius

From Herbert Garland to Voynich, 22 March 1921

[Garland, an employee of Voynich working in the London office, was sent out to research a list of historical people. Initially, these were the same people about whom Voynich had sent an inquiry to the Bohemian State Archives just days or weeks earlier. Apparently, another employee, Miss Howe, was doing some more legwork. The following excerpt of one of Garland's many letters shows how Voynich found out about the Barschius quote in Marci's Philosophia Vetus Restituta.]

"I have been through the Kircher life by himself, the volume of letters and also various letters printed in various works and noted in Backer [(6)]. I can find nothing of interest, i.e. about the MS. It looks as though the letters of his which have been preserved are all of latish dates and none are addressed to anyone to do with Prague. Letters to Marcus Marci must be in the lost vols. of MSS. of which you speak. I cannot find anything yet about the other people mentioned in your last letter, but I have not given up the search.


Miss Howe wrote about the Philosophia Vetus Restituta of Marcus Marci before I was able to compare it with the Br. Mus. copy [...]"

From Voynich, (letter to Dr. Klicman in Prague), 27 May 1921

"I pointed out in my lecture that my MS. came into the possession of Emperor Rudolph II somewhere about 1584-1588 from John Dee, the man about whom Bohemian historians have written so much. It then passed into the hands of Horcicky after 1608, and he, as you will remember, placed his autograph in the MS. in the form of Jacobus de Tepenecz. I then face a gap of about 22 years in the history of the MS. and I have hopes that also on this point you may be able to help me. Horcicky died in 1622 and the letter attached to the MS. by Marcus Marci, addressed to Athanasius Kircher, shows that Marci received the MS. from a friend who had willed it to him. I have come to the conclusion that Marci received it about 1644. Now I have no definite information but it is possible that Marci got the MS. at the same time that he inherited the alchemical library of Georgius Barschius, some time after 1622. I can find nothing here about Georgius Barschius. Perhaps Bohemian archives contain something about him and his connection with Marcus Marci and what connection, if any, existed between Horcicky and Barschius.

In 1665 (or 1666) (the date of the letter attached to my MS. is a little obscure) Marcus Marci gave this MS. to Kircher. The letter of Marci in my MS. gives this information. So you see for over one hundred years this MS. was in Bohemia in the hands of very prominent people.

I hope you will pardon my trespassing so much on your time, by asking for more information from you. I have seen notice that there exists in the archives of Bohemia a catalogue of the collection of Emperor Rudolph’s Museum 1601. I wonder if this is true and if in this catalogue is enumerated a mysterious MS. in cipher with illustrations of plants, astrological diagrams, etc. and perhaps attributed to Roger Bacon.

I see in biographies references to the fact that Horcicky left his property to the Jesuits in Prague. I wonder if this property included his library and if this library was disbursed or given away by him when he was expelled from Bohemia in 1619. Perhaps research in that direction will reveal to whom he gave my MS.."

Ethel Lilian Voynich's letter to be opened after her death (1930)

[Voynich died on 19 March 1930, and four months later, on 19 July 1930, his widow E.L. Voynich (ELV) wrote the following letter, to be opened after her death. It was opened by Anne Nill 30 years later, on 9 August 1960, 13 days after E.L. Voynich’s death.]

See the >> letter itself at the Beinecke library web site.
Philip Neal's >> transcription
Philip Neal's >>notes

[Note that ELV quotes the year 1911, not 1912. Already in the 1937 edition of De Ricci, some of the MSs acquired by Voynich are listed as originating from the Collegium Romanum, so the origin of the MSs was already known before this letter was opened. This is partly due to a publication in 1927 (7), and partly to the discovery of the paper slips with the Petrus Beckx provenance by Gerland, around 1937 (8). ]

[From available independent evidence, it appears that this letter is the most reliable of all sources related to the discovery of the MSs. It implies that Voynich's 'discovery' and the 'Austrian castle' were part of a cover story, while he confided the truth with his wife. Indeed, he must have been invited to acquire these MSs, through the intermediation of Strickland, since the sale of MSs from the Jesuits to the Vatican already started in 1903. ELV's mention of the Vatican is therefore not necessarily a mistake, as I originally thought, and is also reflected in Philip Neal's comment above. The reference to 'strained relations with the Quirinal', most probably do not to refer to the suppression of the Jesuits in 1873 and the hiding of these MSs, but to the time of the sale (1903-1911). It may be an indication of the reason for the protracted time. This is, however, still speculative and can hopefully be clarified by further research.]

Ruysschaert's catalogue (1959) of the Latin MSS acquired from the Jesuits in 1912

[Excerpts from Ruysschaert (1959) (see note 3) which indicate that Voynich did indeed buy some books from the Jesuits, one of which is the "Voynich MS".]


Codices manu scriptos olim Collegii Romani Societatis Iesu in hoc catalogo recensitos S. Pius PP. X Bibliothecae Vaticanae anno 1912 dono dedit una cum Vaticanis Graecis 2341-2390, Vaticano Latino 13497 (1) et Vaticano Turco 80 (2). Nonnulli alii codices eiusdem Collegii servantur in variis bibliothecis Americanis in quas eadem sive recentiore aetate illati sunt (3).

[Note 3 follows now, but it has been split into short paragraphs for clarity:]

S. De Ricci, Census of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the United States and Canada,
tomus 1, New York, 1937
p. 49 (The Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino, California, Ms. HM 65);
p. 82 (Ibid., Ms. HM 1034);
p. 516 (The Art Institute, Chicago, Illinois, Ms. 20. 97);
p. 564 (The library of the University of Chicago, Illinois, Ms. 100);
p. 585 (Ibid., Ms. 423);
p. 886 (The Library of Robert Garrett, Baltimore, Maryland, Ms. 110) aut p. 1896 (Ms. 36; v. infra);
p. 897 (Ibid., Ms. 158; olim Marci Antonii Muret);
p. 961 (The library of William King Richardson, Boston, Mass., Ms. 23; = Manuscrits, incunables et livres rares, XII, Florence, Libr. anc.T. De Marinis, 1913, no. 14);

tomus 2,
p.1105 (The Library of the Univ. of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Mich., Ms. 14; v. M. M. Parvis et A.P. Wikgren, New Testament Manscript Studies, Chicago, 1950, pp. 126 et 135);
p. 1461 (The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, Ms. 496);
p. 1461 (Ibid, Ms. 497; = Manuscrits ..., no. 10);
p. 1473 (Ibid., Ms. 626);
p. 1845 (The estate of Wilfrid M. Voynich, New York, Ms. 1);
p. 1845 (Ibid., Ms. 2);
p. 1846 (Ibid., Ms. 8); [Note: this is the Voynich MS]
p. 1848 (Ibid., Ms. 13 aut Ms. 14; nunc vide The Rosenwald Collection (The Library of Congress), Washington), 1954, p.2, Ms. 5 aut Ms 6);
p. 1848 (Ibid., Ms 16);
p. 1894 (The Library of Grenville Kane, Tuxedo Park, N.Y., Ms. 29; olim Marci Antonii Muret, v. infra p. 99);
p. 1896 (Ibid. Ms 36) aut p. 886, Ms 110 (v supra);
p. 2047 (The free Library of Philadelphia, The John Frederick Lewis collection, Ms. 125);
p. 2057 (Ibid. Ms. 172; olim Marci Antonii Muret, v. infra p.23);

alii Collegii Romani codices reperiuntur alibi vel reperiendi sunt:

T. De Marinis, La biblioteca napoletana dei re d'Aragona, t. 2, Milano, 1947,
pp. 3-5 (Aelianus; olim S. Galli, Collectio Arnold Mettler; = Manuscrits ..., no. 2, nunc Bodleianus Latinus class. d. 38, ut refert The Bodleian Library Record, t. 5 (1956), p. 332);
pp. 22-23 (Ausonius, Londinii, Collectio S. J. Hornby; = Manuscrits ..., no. 6);
p. 105 (Iannotii Manetti De dignitate et excellentia hominis; Florentiae, Raccolta Principe Piero Ginori Conti; = Manuscrits ... no. 23);
Manuscrits ... no. 11.

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. Ni fallor, omnes opera bibliopolae Wilfridi Michaelis Voynich (1865-1930) in has varias bibliohecas emigraverunt.

[End of footnote 3]

Kraus about his visit of Mgr. Ruysschaert

[From the carbon copy of a letter from H P Kraus to Col. William F. Friedman dated July 5 1962. The postscript of this reads as follows:]

"... when I was, a few weeks ago, in the Vatican Library, I found out that the Cipher Manuscript comes from the library of the Collegium Romanum, which was housed in 1911 in the Mondragone Monastery in Frascati. The Vatican Library bought the whole collection and the Cipher Manuscript with the other 17 illuminated manuscripts are still listed in the inventory. This inventory was printed by Ruysschaert – Codices Vaticani latini 11414 – 11709. And on page vii it is mentioned that the Cipher manuscript, together with others, was sold by the Jesuits to Voynich.”

[This is the most direct evidence that the collection was indeed kept in the Villa Mondragone in 1911. However, it depends a bit on the wording, whether the part "which was housed in...." is still part of Ruysschaert's words. It is of interest to compare this with an excerpt of Kraus' autobiography: Kraus (1978) (9).]

"... In 1963 we were in Rome and I visited Monsignor Jose Ruysschaert at the Vatican library. I knew that he had published the catalogue of the Mondragone library and I hoped to get information about the Cipher manuscript. To my great surprise he thought that the manuscript was still in the library. I asked him: "Can you show it to me?" "Yes," he replied, and headed for the stacks. Soon he returned without it. I had to tell him that I owned the codex, and how it came to me."

[These two excerpts are not fully consistent. What is certain is, that in May 1962 Kraus took part in a tour of Italy organised by the Grolier Club of New York, and on this occasion several Italian libraries were visited, including the Vatican library on 22 May (10). His letter to Friedman, written just a few weeks after this, is therefore more reliable than the short mention made 16 years later. The mistake in the year (1963 instead of 1962) may be explained by the fact that the book commemorating this visit was published in 1963. In this book, there is just a possible hint of Kraus' discussion with a Vatican library official, in a report from fellow traveller Gordon W. Jones, who writes on pp.184-185:]

"Thus, when the Grolier Club decided to go to Italy, one of the fountainheads of books, manuscripts and medicine, I just had to leave the shop and tag along. I fully anticipated being greatly impressed by learned Italians and their properties. Those cultured people and fine things impressed me well indeed. But it was my fellow Groliers who filled me with awe, who astonished me by their apparently knowing all there was to know about the objects spread around us.
Towards the last of the trip my awe reached its zenith when I learned that one of our members had found a priceless book in the Vatican Library which even the librarian himself did not know he had."

[There's another brief reference to this visit on >> this web page: (apparently no longer available)]
"Readers may understandably get the impression that I am interested only in making money," he wrote in his 1978 autobiography, A Rare Book Saga. He certainly didn’t deny that business came first. There is a wonderful story which, whether true or not, catches this spirit. On the first Grolier Club trip to Italy, in 1962, the group visited the Vatican Library. The solicitous librarian asked, "Well, Mr. Kraus, what can I show you?" To which HPK is said to have responded, "Your duplicates!"

Fletcher about Georg Baresch's correspondence with Kircher

[From Johann Marcus Marci writes to Athanasius Kircher, 1972.]

In one instance, for example, he forwards a "schaedata" drawn up by Georg BARSCH (51) "certe vir optimus et rerum Chymicarum peritissimus" (Letter 2, v. also Letter 3) whilst on another occasion he frankly submits [...]

[Note 51 says:]
Georg BARSCH had already visited KIRCHER in Rome and on his return to Prague had praised KIRCHER's "opera ingeniosissima" v. PUG. 557 f. 353. Prague, 27 April, 1639.


The various newspaper reports, suggesting that the Voynich MS was not stored in the Villa Mondragone, but in a castle in Austria, were found by Ellie Velinska. The Strickland letters, and Voynich's letter to Prague which mentions Baresch are preserved at the Beinecke Rare Book and MS Library in New Haven. I am indebted to Stefano Casotto for a copy of Ruysschaert. The text in the letter from Kraus to Friedman was kindly provided by Howard Mather. Photo's of (parts of) the letters from Strickland are shown with the kind permission of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.


Marci (1662)
Fell-Smith (1909), Appendix 1.
Ruysschaert (1959). Its full context is explained on this page.
Fletcher (1972)
Wilkins (1927)
A. and A. De Backer (1861).
Holmes van Mater (1927), discussed in more detail here.
See here.
Kraus (1978).
Austin (1963).
Contents Home Map Refs Pics Search Pages

Copyright René Zandbergen, 2017
Comments, questions, suggestions? Your feedback is welcome.
Latest update: 02/02/2017