Letter of Friedrich von Hayek to Eric Sams
The Voynich MS
with regard to the Voynich MS reference in ES's TLS article Cracking the Historical Codes.
21 February 1980
Mr. Eric Sams
Dear Mr. Sams,
Forgive me if your reference to (Wilfried?) Voynich 's Roger Bacon Manuscript inspires me to trouble you on a question which has now intrigued me for more than fifty years.
It so happened that shortly after my first arrival at New York as a research student in the spring of 1923 I happened to be asked to a cocktail party of a Dr. Erla Rodakiewicz, somewhere at the upper West Side (and of which the anthropologist Franz Boas was the main star) when a Polish gentleman became curious of my name and after my assenting to the question whether I had an early 18th century ancestor with the Christian name of Lorenz in the neighbourhood of Brünn (now Brno), reeled off a long list of this, my great-great-grandfathers ancestors – somewhat astounding to a young man just arrived in a strange country where he practically knew nobody. The gentleman than explained that he was a manuscript collector and had been forced
to trace the history of a manuscript by Roger Bacon which in the sixteenth century had moved from England to Prague. One of the few Prague families members of which had been known to have visited London about that time was a Hayek (or Hagek, as they sometimes spelled their surname)
And though it turned out that it was a member of one of the other families who had most likely brought the manuscript to Prague, Mr. Voynich extraordinary memory had preserved the names of at least another seven generations of my family. On my request to write the names down he promised to send them to me with all the details, but they never came. And when, months later, I wrote to the Club address he had given me (I believe somewhere on 42nd street between fifth and sixth Avenue) I was informed that he had died and the club had no information about what had happened to his MSS.
This is the curious sad story and the problem which I would still like to clear up. From your remarks I gather that the Voynich Roger Bacon manuscript (genuine or not) is a familiar object to experts and that may mean that more about the man can still be ascertained. If you can help me to this, I would be most grateful.
Professor F. A. Hayek, (F.B.A.)
I'm obliged to F. J. Sypher for the following information:
Wilfrid Voynic had lived in Warsaw, and after arrival in New York around 1914 established his business (as a book and ms. dealer) at 33 West 42nd Street (i.e. between 5th and 6th Avenues -across from the NY Public Library), while he lived at the Commodore Hotel, on East 42nd Street, very near Grand Central Terminal. One of the key ingredients in the data on the Voynich ms. is the signature (apparently authentic) of one Jacobus de Tepenecz, originally named (before receiving his title of nobility) Horcicky (perhaps this form of the name is related to Hayek). He was a "Bohemian scientist" and connected with the court and with Prince Rudolf (who is said to have purchased the ms.). Voynich engaged a Bohemian archivist to dig out information about de Tepenecz and other members of the Bohemian court at the time. It is thought that the ms. was acquired by de Tepenecz between 1608 and 1622 (when he died). Voynich died in 1930 and his wife Ethel Boole inherited his possessions. She died in 1960. For further details, see: Gerry Kennedy and Rob Churchill, The Voynich Manuscript: The Mysterious Code That Has Defied Interpretation for Centuries (Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions, 2006).