In 1912 Polish-American Rare Book Dealer, Wilfred M. Voynich, born Michal Wojnicz of Telshi (a small town within the fallen Russian Empire) acquired a very odd book for his personal collection.
Voynich was a well known New York book dealer, specialising in early and rare books. Having fled Siberian incarceration to London (for attempting to liberate fellow Russian revolutionaries), he quickly changed his name to Wilfred and soon after opened his first bookstore in England.
He eventually moved his business interests to the American East Coast. In and of the times, Voynich was unremarkable among his fellow immigrants and book traders; until, that is, he acquired a very special manuscript in a secret deal with the mysterious and ancient order of Jesuits, also known as the "Society of Jesus."
Voynich acquired his famous "Voynich Manuscript" from the Jesuits' Ghislieri College at the patrician villa known as Villa Mondragone in Frascati, Italy (now a peripheral seat of the University of Rome Tor Vergata).
Since that lucky find, the manuscript remained in Voynich�s personal library until his death in 1930, when it was briefly decreed to his beloved wife.
Following his death there was a bidding frenzy for the manuscript, but the Widow Voynich held steady and herself decreed the book to a close friend upon her own death. Eventually the manuscript was sold to another well known book dealer named Hans P. Kraus, who, then unable to find a suitable buyer, donated the book to the Yale University Museum in 1969.
The Voynich Manuscript, as it's now commonly called, is one of the rarest wonders of the modern world. It is a book that quite literally should not exist. To call it a book is somewhat misleading, for it, as with most ancient manuscripts, resembles nothing of a book as you might know it.
It is a collection of some 272 vellum pages (the skin of a mammal, often cow, stretched and dried to be used as a durable paper), 240 pages of which have survived the many handlings, transfers and inspections the book has encountered over the years.
The origins of the book are almost as interesting and mysterious as its contents. Many scholars believe the book was written, by quill pen and using coloured paint, at some point in the mid 15th or 16th centuries. By who is a completely different story, and the controversy over the authors identity is strongly connected to the mystery of the manuscripts contents.
The information contained in the book is largely unknown, and this is due completely, to the fact that the Voynich Manuscript is written in an entirely unknown and undecipherable language.
The surviving 240 pages, made up of some 170,000 discreet written characters or glyphs, making up 35,000 separate words, are accompanied by artfully crafted sketches and drawings, many of which are equally mysterious.
A large number of the sketches resemble known plant species, with subtle, and sometime drastic differences, others resemble complex aqueduct drawings and even anatomical type depictions of people (usually women).
The manuscript has been examined by no less than an army of cryptologists, linguists and a host of other scholars, including biblical scholars, and none of the countless hands and minds of these learned friends has ever been able to decipher a single word.
Very early on in the known existence of the book, several historians and cryptologists confirmed that the text in the manuscript is that of a learnable language, it holds with all the known rules and constructs of modern and ancient languages and quite often the sketches seem to correspond with titles and descriptions. In modern examination, most, if not all, experts continue to agree on this as fact.
Of course, with such a mysterious find in the hands of so many people, theories abound about the books origins.
The earliest known owner of the book was one Georg Barech, an obscure alchemist from Prague, in the early 17th century.
Theories content that Barech may have fabricated the book as a test for his patron. Others suggest that it was Voynich himself who fabricated both the book and the story, though evidence does exist to refute this claim.
Some claim that the book is the product of a lost middle European language, and that the book is a medical (or alchemist) instructional tome. Though some of the wilder claims cite both alien influence and even time travel.
The connection to the Society of Jesus and the Villa Mondragone might even suggest a Masonic origin to the manuscript, tying its information to the Knights Templar and the so-called secret knowledge they possessed, as passed down from King Solomon.
The truth is, no one alive has the ability to read or decipher the huge amount of information contained in this 600 (or so) year old book. It could possibly provide instructions for turning lead into gold, or it could be an interstellar gardening guide, or even still, it could be an early medieval alchemical textbook. Nonetheless, the Voynich Manuscript remains one of the oldest mysteries of modern history. Experts are in total disagreement about its origin and meaning, and thus, it will hold its place in the Yale Museum, as The Book That Shouldn�t Exist.