900 Copies of the World’s Most Baffling Manuscript Will Soon Be for Sale

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The Voynich Manuscript—an illustrated book written in inscrutable, curlicue code—has been stumping the world’s top codebreakers for over a century. Now, amateur cryptologists will have a chance to take a crack at solving the mystery at home. A small, Spanish publisher is releasing 898 replicas of the world’s most secretive book to the public, AFP reports.

The original manuscript is believed to be about 600 years old, but it didn’t gain its notorious reputation until the early 20th century. In 1912, a book dealer named Wilfrid Voynich purchased the rare treasure from a Jesuit College in Italy. Since then it’s been examined by experts across the spectrum, including the man responsible for translating Japan’s “unbreakable” Purple cipher in World War II. So far, no one has succeeded in penetrating its contents. The only person to come close was applied linguistics professor Stephen Bax, who claimed to have decoded nine words in 2014 using the book’s colorful illustrations.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Hopefully the owners of the 898 new copies will have better luck. “Touching the Voynich is an experience,” Juan Jose Garcia, editor of the Spanish publishing house Siloe, told AFP. “It’s a book that has such an aura of mystery that when you see it for the first time ... it fills you with an emotion that is very hard to describe.”

Getting the rights to replicate the book wasn’t easy. Siloe petitioned Yale for 10 years before they finally agreed to let them produce the facsimiles. The manuscript is currently secured in a vault at the university’s Beinecke Library and is rarely seen by the public. Using photographs captured of each page, it will take Siloe about 18 months to recreate the book down to the stains and tears. When they're finally ready to hit the market, the copies will sell for between $7900 and $9000. If that doesn't fit your rare book budget, you can keep an eye out for copies appearing in libraries and museums.

[h/t The Guardian]

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