• <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> first edition of the earliest extant manual on modern chess, Salamanca, circa 1496-97. Sold for $68,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Carte-de-visite album with 83 images of prominent African Americans & abolitionists, circa 1860s. Sold for $47,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Gustav Klimt, <i>Das Werk,</i> Vienna & Leipzig, 1918. Sold for $106,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Man Ray, <i>[London Transport] – Keeps London Going,</i> 1938. Sold for $149,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Thomas Jefferson, Letter Signed, to Major-General Nathanael Greene, promising reinforcements against Cornwallis, 1781. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Nicolas de Fer, <i>L’Amerique Divisee Selon Letendue de ses Principales Parties,</i> Paris, 1713. Sold for $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Russell H. Tandy, <i>The Secret in the Old Attic,</i> watercolor, pencil & ink, 1944. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Hemingway, <i>Three Stories & Ten Poems,</i> first edition of the author's first book, Paris, 1923. Sold for $23,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Walker Evans, <i>River Rouge Plant,</i> silver print, 1947. Sold for $57,500.
  • <b>Doyle, online only: Angling Books from the Collection of Arnold "Jake" Johnson. July 13-24, 2018</b>
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Zane Grey, Inscribed photograph album depicting Grey and party at Catalina, fishing, and in Arizona. $700 to $1,000
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Eric Taverner, Salmon Fishing...London: Seeley, Service & Co., 1931. $600 to $900
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> The Gentleman Angler. $300 to $500
    <b>Doyle, online only: Angling Books from the Collection of Arnold "Jake" Johnson. July 13-24, 2018</b>
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Ken Robinson, Flyfishers' Progress. [London: The Flyfishers' Club, 2000. $200 to $300
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> G. H. Lacy, North Punjab Fishing Club Angler's Handbook. Calcutta: Newman & Co., 1890. $300 to $500
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> J. Harrington Keene, Fly-Fishing and Fly-Making for Trout, etc. New York, 1887. $200 to $300
    <b>Doyle, online only: Angling Books from the Collection of Arnold "Jake" Johnson. July 13-24, 2018</b>
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Arthur Macrate, The History of The Tuna Club, Avalon, Santa Catalina Island, California, 1948. $400 to $600
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Joseph D. Bates Jr. Streamer Fly Tying and Fishing. Harrisburg, PA: The Stackpole Company, 1966. $800 to $1,200
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Paul Schmookler and Ingrid V. Sils. Rare and Unusual Fly Tying Materials: A Natural History. $300 to $500
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Herbert Hoover, Fishing For Fun - And To Wash Your Soul. New York: Random House, 1963. $400 to $600
  • <b>Skinner: Early English Books<br>A Single Owner Sale. July 20, 2018</b>
    <b>Skinner, July 20:</b> Cranmer, Thomas (1489-1556). <i>Catechismus, That is to Say, a Shorte Instruction into Christian Religion...</i> London, 1548. First edition. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Skinner, July 20:</b> Donne, John (1572-1631). <i>Pseudo-Martyr.</i> London: Printed by W[illiam] Stansby for Walter Burre, 1610. First edition. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Skinner, July 20:</b> Fletcher, Giles (1549?-1611). <i>The Russe Common Wealth, or Maner of Gouernement by the Russe Emperour…</i> London, 1591. First edition. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Skinner, July 20:</b> Gabelkover, Oswald (1539-1616). <i>The Boock of Physicke.</i> Dordrecht: Isaack Caen, 1599. First edition. $12,000 to $15,000
    <b>Skinner: Early English Books<br>A Single Owner Sale. July 20, 2018</b>
    <b>Skinner, July 20:</b> Galileo, Galilei (1564-1642) trans. Thomas Salusbury (d. 1666). <i>Mathematical Collections and Translations the First Tome.</i> London, 1661. First edition of Galileo's works in English. $35,000 to $50,000
    <b>Skinner, July 20:</b> Higden, Ranulphus (d. 1364). <i>Polycronicon.</i> Translated by John Trevisa, with the 1357-1460 <i>Continuation</i> by William Caxton. Southwark, 1527. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Skinner, July 20:</b> Randolph, Bernard (b. 1643). <i>The Present State of the Morea, Called Anciently Peloponnesus…</i> London, 1689. [Bound with] <i>The Present State of the Islands of the Archipelago…</i> $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Skinner, July 20:</b> <i>The Great Herball Newly Corrected.</i> London, 1539. Folio, ESTC lists three U.S. copies; the last copy offered at auction was incomplete and sold in 1949. $25,000 to $35,000

Rare Book Monthly

Articles - September - 2017 Issue

Three New Theories Attempt to Unravel the 500-year-old Mystery of the Voynich Manuscript

Ed999fbf-ada3-4caa-b8be-0df280d8367b

Venezuelan swamp or European bath?

It is perhaps the greatest mystery of the book world. A 240-page illustrated manuscript, whose history can be traced back almost five centuries, remains indecipherable, its language, creator and origin unknown. For centuries, people attempted to crack its code. Then, for about two centuries, it disappeared, returning to visibility in 1912 when purchased by Polish bookseller Wilfred Voynich. It is from Voynich that it received its common name, the "Voynich Manuscript." Since 1969, it has been owned by Yale University's Beinecke Library, a gift from bookseller H.P. Kraus. In these more recent years, attempts to break the code have been even more intense and frequent. And yet, the mystery goes on.

 

It is written in a language that has confounded even the best code breakers. Whether it is an actual language, a code, or just nonsense writing is uncertain. Its subject is generally understood based on its illustrations. They appear on most pages, and break into categories – herbals, astrology/astronomy, biology (mostly nude women in pools), pharmaceuticals. In 2009, a major breakthrough was achieved in dating it when it was subjected to radiocarbon testing at the University of Arizona. It was determined to date from sometime between 1408-1438. While not eliminating the possibility, that made the chances that it was some sort of elaborate forgery or fraud less likely. Still, the who or why remains a mystery.

 

In the past month, three more theories were put forth to explain this mysterious book. The first explanation comes from Morten St. George, who describes himself as "an independent researcher who has challenged establishment thinking on several issues." Indeed he has. St. George's theory takes us back to the 1200's, well before the creation of the Voynich Manuscript, to a group that disappeared 600 years or more ago. The Cathars were a dissident Christian sect in the days before Protestantism, a time when for the most part there was but one Christian Church, the Catholic Church. They lived in southern France and northern Italy. The Cathars had a series of castles, most notable the castle fortress of Montségur.

 

The Cathars had some unusual beliefs, at least by today's standards. They believed in two Gods, the good, as personified by the New Testament, the evil, personified by the Old. Since it was the God of the Old, or Satan, that created the world, material things were evil. Therefore, worldly goods were to be avoided. Procreation was worldly, so that was bad too. Such an attitude is never good for preservation of a group (ask the Shakers if you can find any), but the Cathars must have been good at conversions. They had but one sacrament, a sort of dry baptism of laying a hand on the forehead. Water was avoided as, after all, it was a worldly substance. They were peaceful people, did not believe in violence or war, were vegetarians, treated women almost as equal to males, perhaps their most unusual custom of all for the day.

 

Their peaceful ways made them well-liked by their neighbors. Neighbors, even the nobility, defended the Cathars, and obviously provided continuing members. However, this still did not sit well with the Catholic Church, which sent numerous leaders out to convert them. They had little success. The Cathars found the Church leaders too worldly. They were content with their own system of beliefs.

 

In 1198, Pope Innocent III came to power and he was determined to exert more control over the various kingdoms and regions of Europe. In 1209, he launched what is known as the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars. It was bloody, thousands of Cathars killed. The Inquisition began during the latter stages of this crusade. While locals at first attempted to aid the Cathars, the unfortunate turn of events made it too dangerous to take their side. In 1244, Montségur fell, some 200 Cathars were burned at the stake, and the movement was essentially dead. Their terrible fate has been mostly forgotten as unlike other groups whose sufferings are known, the Cathars had no survivors to tell their story. Some followers converted, others disappeared into the countryside. By the time the Voynich Manuscript was created, the first half of the 15th century, they were no more.

 

Or were they? St. George's theory was that some escaped by boats, perhaps supplied by friendly neighbors. Since flames awaited them if captured, the Cathars had good reason to flee, even if it was risky. He believes that they made it to the coast of Africa, and then, following currents, sailed to Venezuela. They didn't know where they were going, but that is where the current took them. While the date of such a trip is unknown, the date of the Voynich Manuscript dictates that if they created it, they made it to America long before Columbus.

 

St. George bases his theory on the illustrations within the Voynich manuscript. While the most common theory has placed its origin in northern Italy, he points to tropical appearing scenes, many plants that do not exist in Europe (most do not appear anywhere, although one he has identified as a water plant from Venezuela). A flower looks much like a sunflower, indigenous to the Americas but unknown in Europe at the time. The images are virtually all women, surprising recognition for European Christians, except for the Cathars. Still, a woman with a cross indicates they are Christians. Various scenes depict the women allegedly trudging through green swamps, common to Venezuela but not Europe. They are naked, appropriate for the tropics, but not Europe (okay, maybe those southern French beaches contradict this point). There is even a castle that looks like Montségur, though that would have been a memory in Venezuela. Another shows a bonfire with a person inside, the castle in the background, perhaps illustrating its terrible end.

 

St. George also notes an absence of children, despite all of the women, typical for childless Cathars. One image looks like it could be a man pursuing a fleeing woman, perhaps displaying the aversion to procreation. This could also explain their disappearance. While new members were drawn from other Christians in Europe, such may not have been possible among the natives of South America.

 

Another theory recently put forward comes from Patrick Lockerby, described as a "linguist specialising in language acquisition and computational linguistics," on the Science 2.0 website. Lockerby has used some sort of program on the symbols in the manuscript and determined it is based on a medieval form of Latin. While he does not have a clear translation, he believes it shows this to be a book for apothecaries and those selling bath oils. He points to jars on a shelf as evidence this is for use by apothecaries. Water scenes, he says, display pipes, common in public baths. Rather than Venezuelan swamps, he believes the women are bathing in European baths.

 

Stephen Skinner, an author with a long bibliography, recently postulated that it was created by a Jewish physician, the naked women in the water being Jewish women in ritual mikvah baths. His explanation is this is the only place in Europe at the time that there would be naked women and no men in a communal pool. This doesn't entirely explain the rest of the book, and the mysterious writing reads left to right, not right to left like Hebrew.

 

Of course, the cases these researchers have made are tilted toward their beliefs. Supporting evidence is highlighted, but there are many more illustrations in the Voynich Manuscript that may not clearly support their theories. These individuals are not traditional, university type of researchers. They are perhaps advocates for a belief which they have bolstered with reasonable arguments.

 

I have no idea whether any of them is correct. Most likely, they aren't. The most likely idea to me seems to be some sort of physician. Such a person in those days would have been part physician, part herbalist, part astrologer, part mystic. Perhaps he invented his own language or code to protect his secrets of the trade.

 

I am struck by the apparent lack of religious symbolism in a document from this era. Even the one image with a woman apparently holding a cross could be some other object composed of two crossed sticks. I find this aspect particularly surprising, even for a physician, though it might support Skinner's thesis that the author was Jewish. European Jews might have found it safer to downplay religion, while Christians would have felt it better to display their faith.

 

Still, I find these new theories reassuring. They have at least come up with rational explanations for something that has been a total mystery. Claims of some incredibly sophisticated hidden code or hoax all the way to created by space aliens stretch the limits of credibility. Even if these new theories are wrong, they reassure us that there is most likely a reasonable explanation for the creation of this manuscript, though the exact details may yet to be discovered.

 

Link to Morten St. George's website: www.mortenstgeorge.net

 

Link to an article by Patrick Lockerby in Science 2.0: www.science20.com/patrick_lockerby/the_keys_to_the_voynich_manuscript-225224


Posted On: 2017-09-08 03:23
User Name: mairin111

Excellent piece from Michael Stillman on the enigmatic, continually contested Voynich Manuscript. This is a subject receiving generous play in the media, most recently a cover feature in this week's TLS, "Bathers in Green Liquid" by H.R. Woudhuysen. Readers will appreciate Stillman's information on the manuscript's Cathars connection, and also what the unfailingly interesting Morten St. George has to say on the matter. A fascinating topic. Our thanks, indeed, to Mr Stillman (and keep writing, have enjoyed your contributions).

Maureen E. Mulvihill, Princeton Research Forum, NJ.
Rare Book Hub guest writer, 2016, "Old Books / New Editions" (3-essay series).
_____


Posted On: 2017-09-11 05:26
User Name: wallyj

Nicholas Gibbs presents a well reasoned explanation of the various aspects of this manuscript at the following link:

https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/public/voynich-manuscript-solution/

It too appears in the current edition of the Times Literary Supplement (September 5, 2017) as the article mentioned in the other comment here. It manages to avoid the patronizing and irritating references to the "gals" of Mr. St. George.


Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. July 28, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 372: Martin Luther King Jr. March for Freedom Now! Placard. Chicago, 1960. 28 x 22”. $3,000 to $6,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 567: Warhol, Andy. Tate Gallery Exhibition Booklet, Signed on the Cover by Warhol. Tate Gallery, 1971. $700 to $900
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 72: Mitchell, Margaret. <i>Gone With the Wind.</i> New York: The Macmillan Co., 1936. First edition, first issue. $4,000 to $5,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. July 28, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 468: Photo Archive Documenting the 1930s—50s Chicago Jazz and Night Club Scene. A significant collection. $2,000 to $4,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 143: Dr. Seuss. <i>Oh Say Can You Say.</i> 1979, First Edition, Signed. $200 to $300
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 285: [Maps] Thomas G. Bradford. <i>A Comprehensive Atlas, Geographical, Historical & Commercial.</i> Boston: William D. Ticknor, 1835. First Edition. $1,600 to $1,800
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. July 28, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 69: Herman Melville. <i>Moby Dick, or The Whale</i>. New York: Random House, 1930. First Kent Trade Edition. $400 to $600
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 295: John James Audoban. Group of 148 Lithographs from the Birds of America. Philadelphia: J.T. Bowen, ca. 1840s. $600 to $800
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 54: Langston Hughes. <i>One-Way Ticket.</i> New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1949. First edition. $300 to $500
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. July 28, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 7: Ray Bradbury. <i>The Martian Chronicles.</i> With a Wine Label Signed by Bradbury. Garden City: Doubleday, 1950. First edition $300 to $500
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 121. Frank L Baum. <i>The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.</i> Chicago: George M. Hill Co., 1899, 1900. First Edition. $4,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 369. [Declaration of Independence] Peter Force Engraving of the Declaration of Independence. One page; 29 x 26”. From the "American Archives" 1837-1853 series of books. $15,000 to $20,000
  • <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> SHAKESPEARE, WILLIAM. <i>The Tragedie of Julius Caesar.</i> London, 1623. 1st appearance in print, Complete from the First Folio. Sold for $175,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Ernst, Max. <i>Mr. Knife and Miss Fork</i>. Paris, 1932. DELUXE EDITION. Sold for $15,625
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Einstein, Albert. Signed Passport Photo for his US citizenship application. Bermuda, 1935. Sold for $17,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Verard, Antoine. Illuminated printed Book of Hours. Paris, 1507. Sold for $7,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Wetterkurzschlussel. German Weather Report Codebook - for Enigma use. Berlin, 1942. Sold for $225,000
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Morelos y Pavon, Jose Maria. Autograph letter signed to El Virrey Venegas, February 5, 1812. Sold for $6,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Milne, A.A. Complete set of <i>Winnie-the-Pooh</i> books. 4 volumes. All first issue points. London, 1924-1928. Sold for $5,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> A 48-star American Flag, battle worn flown at Guadalcanal and Peleliu, 1942-1944. Sold for $35,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Locke, John. Autograph Letter Signed mourning the death of his friend, William Molyneaux, 2 pp, October 27, 1698. Sold for $20,000

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions