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SPECIAL COLLECTIONS CATALOGUE ENTRY 428
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.
 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
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.