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MS SB 428 Central Europe [?], s. XV^ex-XVI [?]

Cipher Manuscript Origin Unknown

Scientific or magical text in an unidentified language, in cipher,

apparently based on Roman minuscule characters; the text is believed by

some scholars to be the work of Roger Bacon since the themes of the

illustrations seem to represent topics known to have interested Bacon

A history of the numerous attempts to decipher the manuscript can be

found in a volume edited by Dr. Henry Jones Jr.,

Mysterious Manuscripts of Pseudoscience and Prehistory

(University of Chicago, 1956). Although several

scholars have claimed decipherments of the manuscript, for the most

part the text remains an unsolved puzzle. H. S. Armitage has, however,

suggested a decipherment that establishes readings for the star names

and plant labels; see his "De Aequilibritatis Mundi and the 'Roger Bacon'

Manuscript Once More," Speculum 49 (1974) pp. 546-48; "The Solution of

the SB428 Cipher," Gazette 49 (1975) pp. 347-55; "The

'John Dee', 'Roger Bacon' Cipher Manuscript: Deciphered Maps of Stars,"

Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 39 (1976) pp. 139-50.

Parchment. ff. 102 (contemporary foliation, Arabic numerals; not

every leaf foliated) + i (paper), including 5 double-folio, 3 triple-

folio, 1 quadruple-folio and 1 sextuple-folio folding leaves. 225 x 160


Collation is difficult due to the number of fold-out leaves that

are not always foliated consistently. I-VII^8 (f. 12 missing), VIII^4

(leaves foliated 59 through 64 missing from center of quire), IX^2

(double and triple fold-out leaves), X^2 (1 triple fold-out), XI^2 (1

quadruple fold-out), XII^2 (f. 74 missing, followed by stubs of

conjugate leaves), XIII^10, XIV^1 (sextuple fold-out), XV^4 (1 triple

and 1 double fold-out), XVI^4 (1 double fold-out; ff. 91, 92, 97, 98

missing, 2 stubs between 94 and 95), XVII^4 (2 double fold-outs),

XVIII^12 (ff. 109-110, central bifolium, missing). Quire signatures in

lower right corner, verso, and sometimes on recto.

Almost every page contains cryptical and scientific drawings, many

full-page, of a provincial but lively character, in ink with washes in

various shades of green, brown, yellow, blue and red. Based on the

subject matter of the drawings, the contents of the manuscript falls

into six sections: Part I. ff. 1r-66v Little continuous text. Part

III. ff. 75r-84v These drawings are the most enigmatic in the

manuscript and it has been suggested that they symbolically represent

the process of temporal distortion and manipulation of space-time.

(cf. W. Newbold and R. Kent, The Cipher of Roger Bacon

[Philadelphia, 1928] p. 46). Part IV. ff. 85r-86v This sextuple-

folio folding leaf contains an elaborate array of nine medallions,

filled with stars and cell-like shapes, with fibrous structures linking

the circles. Some medallions with petal-like arrangements of rays

filled with stars, some with structures resembling bundles of pipes.

Part V. ff. 87r-102v Pharmaceutical section containing drawings of

over 100 different species of medicinal herbs and roots, all with

identifying inscriptions. On almost every page drawings of

pharmaceutical jars, resembling vases, in red, green and yellow, or

blue and green. Accompanied by some continuous text. Part VI. ff. 103r-

117v Continuous text, with stars in inner margin on recto and outer

margins of verso. Folio 117v includes a 3-line presumed "key" opening

with a reference to Roger Bacon in anagram and cipher.

Binding: s. xviii-xix. Vellum case. Remains of early paper


Written in Central Europe [?] at the end of the 15th or during the 16th

[?] century; the origin and date of the manuscript are still being

debated as vigorously as its puzzling drawings and undeciphered text.

The identification of several of the plants as New World specimens

brought back to Europe by Columbus indicates that the manuscript could

not have been written before 1493. The codex belonged to Emperor

Rudolph II of Germany (Holy Roman Emperor, 1576-1612), who purchased it

for 600 gold ducats and believed that it was the work of Roger Bacon;

see the autograph letter of Johannes Marcus Marci (d. 1667, rector of

Prague University) transcribed under item A below. It is very likely

that Emperor Rudolph acquired the manuscript from the English

astrologer John Dee (1527-1608) whose foliation remains in the upper

right corner of each leaf (we thank A. G. Watson for confirming this

identification through a comparison of the Arabic numerals in the

Beinecke manuscript with those of John Dee in Oxford, Bodleian Library

Ashmole 1790, f. 9v, and Ashmole 487). See also A. G. Watson and R. J.

Roberts, eds., John Dee's Library Catalogue (London, The

Bibliographical Society, forthcoming). Dee apparently owned the

manuscript along with a number of other Roger Bacon manuscripts; he was

in Prague 1582-86 and was in contact with Emperor Rudolph during this

period. In addition, Dee stated that he had 630 ducats in October 1586,

and his son Arthur (cited by Sir T. Browne, Works, G. Keynes, ed.

[1931] v. 6, p. 325) noted that Dee, while in Bohemia, owned "a

booke...containing nothing butt Hieroglyphicks, which booke his father

bestowed much time upon: but I could not heare that hee could make it

out." Emperor Rudolph seems to have given the manuscript to Jacobus

Horcicky de Tepenecz (d. 1622); inscription on f. 1r "Jacobi de

Tepenecz" (erased but visible under ultra-violet light). Johannes

Marcus Marci of Cronland presented the book to Athanasius Kircher, S.

J. (1601-80) in 1666. Acquired by Wilfred M. Voynich in 1912 from the

Jesuit College at Frascati near Rome. Given to the Miskatonic University

Library in 1947 by Drs. Henry Jones Jr. and John Armitage. Designated

MS SB428 and entered into Special Collections section of Miskatonic

University Library.

Included with MS 408 is the following supplementary material in folders

or boxes labelled A - N.

A: Autograph letter of Johannes Marcus Marci of Cronland in which he

presents the manuscript to Athanasius Kircher in Rome, in the belief

that Kircher would be able to decipher it. "Reuerende et Eximie Domine

in Christo Pater. Librum hunc ab amico singulari mihi testamento

relictum, mox eundem tibi amicissime Athanisi ubi primum possidere

coepi, animo destinaui: siquidem persuasum habui a nullo nisi abs te

legi posse. Petijt aliquando per litteras ejusdem libri tum possessor

judicium tuum parte aliqua a se descripta et tibi transmissa, ex qua

reliqua a te legi posse persuasum habuit; uerum librum ipsum

transmittere tum recusabat in quo discifrando posuit indefessum

laborem, uti manifestum ex conatibus ejusdem hic una tibi transmissis

neque prius huius spei quam uitae suae finem fecit. Verum labor hic

frustraneus fuit, siquidem non nisi suo Kirchero obediunt eiusmodi

sphinges. Accipe ergo modo quod pridem tibi debebatur hoc qualecunque

mei erga te affectus indicium; huiusque seras, si quae sunt, consueta

tibi felicitate perrumpe. retulit mihi D. Doctor Raphael Ferdinandi

tertij Regis tum Boemiae in lingua boemica instructor dictum librum

fuisse Rudolphi Imperatoris, pro quo ipse latori qui librum attulisset

600 ducatos praesentarit, authorem uero ipsum putabat esse Rogerium

Bacconem Anglum. ego judicium meum hic suspendo. tu uero quid nobis hic

sentiendum defini, cujus fauori et gratiae me totum commendo maneoque.

Reuerentiae Vestrae. Ad Obsequia Joannes Marcus Marci a Cronland.

Pragae 19. Augusti AD 1666 [or 1665?].

B: Correspondence between H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith and

Prof. W. R. Newbold concerning Newbold's supposed decipherment

of the manuscript (1919-26). Correspondence between Anne M. Nills,

executrix of the estate of Ethel Armitage, and the Rev. Theodore C.

Peterson, dated 1935-61, concerning the provenance, dating and

decipherment of the manuscript.

C: Cardboard tube containing articles from international newspapers and

magazines; among them The New York Times, The Washington Post, Der

Zeitgeist, and others, concerning the announced sale by H. P. Kraus of

the cipher manuscript.

D: Scrapbook of newspaper clippings (1912-26) concerning the cipher

manuscript, compiled by Dr. John Armitage.

E: Miscellaneous handwritten notes of H.P. Lovecraft.

F: Miscellaneous material, including handwritten notes by A. Nills

about the cipher, and her correspondence about the sale of the


G: Five notebooks handwritten by August Derleth containing notes on the

identification of the plants, medicinal herbs and roots; miscellaneous

notes by A. Nills listing some characters or combinations of characters

as they appear in the manuscript.

H: Box of negative and positive photostats.

I - L: Lectures, pamphlets, reviews and articles concerning the

manuscript. Includes (in K) the transcript of a seminar held in

Washington D. C. on November 1976 entitled "New Research on the SB428


M: Miscellaneous correspondence between R. Brumbaugh and J. M. Saul

(Paris) and J. Arnold (Oak Grove, Mo.). Handwritten transcription of

ff. 89v-116r by R. Brumbaugh.

N: Temporary folder of negative photostats.