Monday, February 9, 2015

The Voynich Manuscript: Kircher's Answer

On June 20, 2013 Minerva Auctions in Rome had an auction. To see the catalog of the event click  here . Among the items was a booklet supposedly printed in 1669 in which Athanasius Kircher is analyzing a manuscript containing secret script that was sent to him by Marcus Marci. To see the description of the item provided by the Minerva Auctions click  here .

The items for this auction were displayed for viewing from June 16 to June 19, 2013 so I assume the booklet was physically present in Rome at this time. The price asked is 5000-7000 euro.
Out of  five Kircher's work in this catalog three were sold and two failed to do so. The Kircher's answer to Marci booklet still appear at the Minerva web-site - two years later - with option to request information - and so I did - the answer was:

Dear Mrs. Velinska,
thank you for contacting us.
The book is not still available, the sale was in 2013. 
Best regards,
Silvia Ferrini

In my request I also asked for the Minerva auctions to disclose the price achieved, but apparently they decided not to share this information.
The auction and the booklet are the subject of an on-line article on the web-site of the Department of Art, Archeology and History, University of Verona, from June 2, 2013 - to read it click here

UPDATE: I also found the first edition of the booklet from 1665 with ex-libris from Godefridus Kinner. The viewing of the item will be on April 1, 2015 at Minerva Auctions in Rome :)

Unlike the 1669 edition Marci was actually alive when the Kircher's answer was printed. The first edition also  includes appropriate for 1660s Kircher's name (He didn't use Fvldensis Bvchonii past 1640s)  and appropriate for 1660s publishing house. Unlike the 1669 edition -  the ex-libris in this new one belongs to a person who actually existed :). The printing job and the Latin is equally sloppy in both editions :)

UPDATE: To read more serious thoughts on the matter in the article by Brian Cham titled Minerva Mysteries click here

UPDATE: After being confronted by several experts Minerva Auctions admitted that they themselves created the two 'possible' Kircher editions. They explained that there is a long tradition of ghost editions in the auction catalog and the two entrees are in line with this tradition.


  1. That's the weirdest thing. I mean, on the one hand it really (and I mean *really*) looks like a fake (which is presumably why it failed to sell in 2013). But on the other hand, it might possibly (just about) be for real.

    This has me confused. I've certainly never heard of it, and it doesn't appear in any Kircher bibliography I've ever seen. And there was other Kircher stuff in the same auction too: a production line, or an unbelievably canny book dealer?

  2. The funny thing is I found this catalog while looking for the printed letters of the Jesuit's Superior General at the time Kircher received the VMs - Giovanni Paolo Oliva. There was some issue with the correspondence of the Cardinal Palavicino and Oliva decided to print thousands of letters he wrote in 2 volumes - so his correspondence is not misinterpreted. I wonder if he advised Kircher (who was at the time under his command) to do the same with such a sensitive manuscript.

  3. Among the problems with this booklet is that the names of the people shown as owners do not appear in family research web-sites. These are Louise Freemont Albergh (Oxford) in 1876 and Paul Allen Kortenbree (Amsterdam) in 1976

  4. Three of the Kircher items in this auction were sold
    341. Kircher, Athanasius - Iter extaticum celeste - sold for 1125 euro
    342. Kircher, Athanasius - Musurgia universalis sive ars magna consoni et dissoni in X libros digesta - sold for 2625 euro
    343. Kircher, Athanasius - Physiologia Kircheriana experimentalis, qua summa argumentorum multitudine & varietate naturalium rerum scientia per experimenta physica, - sold for 1750 euro
    339. Kircher, Athanasius - De Lodovici Locatelli Arcanorum Theatro nuper Venetiis iterum impresso nonnullas observationes proposuit Athanasius Kircher - not sold - they asked for it 4500 euro

    1. The description of the item says that some analyses represented in this printed letter suggest that Kircher may have found a possible key.
      However, he seems not to have pursued it because of his age.
      That looks like a bait...
      Taken together with the very high price, I think there is a clear motive, if this is indeed a fake.

    2. Hi Rene - they are not saying the price it was sold for - it could be 5 bucks for a laugh :)

    3. When selling at auction, there is quite often a "reserve price" (usually the lower estimate price, in this case 5000 euros, but it can be lower than that) below which the lot cannot be sold (as per the binding contract between the owner and the auction house). If this was the case, no bids (IF ANY) reached that amount, therefore the lot returned to the owner. For a lot to sell for 5 bucks, there must be the agreement of the owner to put no reserve price ("to go" in auction's terms), which is unlikely in this case, given the estimate of the lot: the auctioneer would never start the sale from a few bucks if the purpose is to reach several thousands!

  5. Thank you very much for sharing this, Ellie!

  6. Below the description is written in Italian: LOTTO NON VENDUTO, which means item not sold. That's why they cannot say the wasn't sold.

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  8. I have a problem with this image: Voynick wasn't in the picture until the 20th century. It wouldn't yet have been the Voynick Manuscript or "Voynichensem" for Kircher and Marci... Is this a mock-up which was used to generate interest in the book for sale? Perhaps I'm misunderstanding what this cover/photo is supposed to be.

  9. In this video you can find all information necessary to decipher Voynich Manuscript. IT IS NOT A MANUSCRIPT
    Best regards
    Giuseppe Bianchi

  10. In this video you can find all information necessary to decipher Voynich Manuscript. IT IS NOT A MANUSCRIPT
    Best regards
    Giuseppe Bianchi