Rene Zandbergen has recently posted some ideas elsewhere on this blog relating to the parchment and cover of the Voynich manuscript. I reprint them here for convenience, and then also some further interesting information he supplied about the ‘worm holes’ and the cover .
First the parchment:
“Last year, a group at the University of York was given some samples obtained from several folios of the MS by the Beinecke library. These were used to determine the species of the animal based on protein identification. This requires only very minute samples. Apart from some 10 or so folios, also the cover was sampled. The vast majority of MS parchment is from cow (calf), sheep or goat. The idea was, that if the animal turned out to be goat, it would be a very strong indication of an Italian origin.
The cover gave a negative result. The experts said that this is not unusual due to the frequent handling. All folios were positively identified as cow.
The cover was later identified by a professional parchment maker as goat.
This result did not produce any strong pointer in any direction as calf was used basically everywhere in Europe.”
Rene then sent me the following, which complements some other information on his own website here. (It also links with this webpage which discusses work at Yale University Library to analyse the manuscript):
The wood worms of the Collegium Romanum
The innocuous insect holes on the first and last folios have never attracted much interest, but they have a story to tell. A few years ago, Ellie Velinksa already noted that they looked very similar to the insect holes on the Boccaccio MS now preserved as MS 100 in the library of the University of Chicago, which equally appear near the edges of the first and last folios. The relevance of the Boccaccio MS in this context is that it is one of the 20-30 MSs that Wilfrid Voynich acquired from the Jesuits at the same time as the Voynich MS, around 1912. She wondered if the two MSs had been stored close together for a longer time.
What these two, and several other of these 20-30 MSs also have in common is a very similar cover. When I was corresponding, about two years ago, with one of the MS experts of the Vatican Library, I learned that the vast majority of all MSs among Vat.Lat.11414 – 11709, which came from the same collection sold by the Jesuits in 1912, have identical covers, and she confirmed that the one of the Voynich MS is quite similar. Since then, some of these MSs have been digitised and are visible online, e.g.:
One may observe the ‘Petrus Beckx’ sticker, not very well preserved in this case, and the bibliographical description of the MS, which is identical to those which Voynich removed from his MSs, and of which 16 are still preserved in the Beinecke library. One example is given here:
(This refers to the Boccaccio MS mentioned above).
In the catalogue of Vat.Lat. 11414-11709, written in 1959 by Mgr.J. Ruysschaert, we may read that many of these MSs have been rebound by the Jesuits of the Collegium Romanum, though he did not indicate that it was almost the complete collection. Thus, we know that the present cover of the Voynich MS was added (presumably replacing an earlier one) by the Roman Jesuits, i.e. after the MS was received by Kircher.
But what about the insect holes? These received some attention from several conservators who had opportunity to study the MS for several hours in November 2014, on the occasion of the exhibition in the Folger Library in Washington. [See discussion and photos here.] The first thing that was pointed out in relation to this is that these insects are not interested in parchment at all, but in wood. Seems obvious. It explains why they did not ‘eat’ themselves deeply into the MS, but only nibbled at the first and last pages. This led to the observation that the original binding of the MS almost certainly had wooden boards, covered by something. There is more that can be said about this cover, which is likely to be published sometime in the future . The location of the wormholes matches well with the places where the insects could move in and out of this cover.
I obtained some additional information from the kind staff of the Archives of the Gregorian Library in Rome. The various old shelf marks still found with respect to this collection (also mentioned by Ruysschaert, for example) indicate that they were all in the same bookshelf in the Collegium Romanum library. The precise location of this is still a matter of study. Furthermore, from the following article:
we learn that the MS collection was described, sometime in the 18th Century, as “old books infested by worms”. The MS were subsequently sent to a binder, where they were rebound, usually without having to replace the old stitching. The Boccaccio MS seems to have undergone a similar fate.
Thus, when the MS was in Prague, it had a cover of wooden boards covered by some material. There are reasons to believe that this may not have been the original cover. This is still under investigation.”
Thanks to Rene. Any comments or ideas welcome.
- Posted in: Voynich