Wilfrid Voynich

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Wilfrid Voynich
A head and shoulders picture of Michael Wilfried Voynich
Wojnicz c. 1885
Native name Wilfrid Michał Habdank-Wojnicz
Born (1865-11-12)12 November 1865
Telšiai, Kovno Governorate, Russian Empire, present-day Lithuania
Died 19 March 1930(1930-03-19) (aged 64)
New York City
Nationality Polish
Occupation Revolutionary, Antiquarian Book Dealer
Known for Discovery of the Voynich manuscript

Wilfrid Voynich, born Michał Habdank-Wojnicz (Telsze, 12 November [O.S. 31 October] 1865[1]New York, 19 March 1930), was a Polish revolutionary, antiquarian and bibliophile. Voynich operated one of the largest rare book businesses in the world,[2] but he is best remembered as the eponym of the Voynich manuscript.


Wilfrid Michał Habdank-Wojnicz was born in Telsze (since 1918 Telšiai—a town in then Kovno Governorate, which was part of the Russian Empire now it's Lithuania)—into a Lithuanian - Polish noble family. The "Habdank" part of his surname is the name of a Polish heraldic clan.[clarification needed] He was the son of a Polish petty official (titular counsellor).[1]

He attended a gimnazjum in Suwałki (a town in northeastern Poland), then studied at the universities of Warsaw, St. Petersburg, and Moscow. He graduated from Moscow University in chemistry and became a licensed pharmacist.

In 1885, in Warsaw, Wojnicz joined Ludwik Waryński's revolutionary organization, Proletariat. In 1886, after a failed attempt to free fellow-conspirators Piotr Bardowski (1846-1886) and Stanisław Kunicki (1861-1886), who had both been sentenced to death, from the Warsaw Citadel, he was arrested by the Russian police. In 1887, he was sent to penal servitude at Tunka near Irkutsk.

Whilst in Siberia, Voynich acquired a working knowledge of eighteen different languages.[3][4]

In June 1890 he escaped from Siberia and travelling west by train got to Hamburg, eventually arriving in London in October 1890.[5] Under the assumed name of Ivan Kel'chevskii at first, he worked with Stepniak, a fellow revolutionary, under the banner of the anti-tsarist Society of Friends of Russian Freedom in London.[6] After Stepniak's death in a railway crossing accident in 1895, Voynich ceased revolutionary activity.

Voynich became an antiquarian bookseller from around 1897, acting on the advice of Richard Garnett, a curator at the British Museum.[7] Voynich opened a bookshop at Soho Square in London in 1898. He was remarkably lucky in finding rare books, including a Malermi Bible in Italy in 1902.[4]

In 1902 he married a fellow former revolutionary, Ethel Lilian Boole, daughter of the British mathematician George Boole, who Voynich had been associated with since 1890. Voynich was naturalised a British subject on 25 April 1904, taking the legal name Wilfrid Michael Voynich.

Voynich opened another bookshop in 1914 in New York. With the onset of the First World War, Voynich was increasingly based in New York.[8] He became deeply involved in the antiquarian book trade, and wrote a number of catalogues and other texts on the subject.

Voynich relocated his London bookshop to 175 Picadilly in 1917.[9]

Voynich died in New York in 1930 of abdominal cancer.

Voynich manuscript[edit]

The most famous of Voynich's possessions was a mysterious manuscript he said he acquired in 1912 at the Villa Mondragone in Italy, but first presented in public in 1915. He owned the manuscript until his death.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Деятели революционного движения в России: Био-библиографический словарь: От предшественников декабристов до падения царизма: [В 5 т.]. - М.: Изд-во Всесоюзного общества политических каторжан и ссыльно-поселенцев, 1927-1934. Entry on Voynich[dead link]
  2. ^ http://www.colinmackinnon.com/files/The_US_BOI_File_on_Voynich_p.pdf
  3. ^ https://www.cambridge.org/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/content/view/S0025727300062396
  4. ^ a b "Mr. W. M. Voynich." Times [London, England] 22 Mar. 1930: 17. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 10 Apr. 2017.
  5. ^ Gerry Kennedy (2016-04-28). The Booles and the Hintons: Two Dynasties That Helped Shape the Modern World. Cork University Press. ISBN 978-1-78205-185-5. 
  6. ^ Bernhardt, Lewis (Autumn 1966). "The Gadfly in Russia" (PDF). The Princeton University Library Chronicle. 28 (1): 2. 
  7. ^ The Library World Vol 34 Issue 9
  8. ^ http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2017/04/20/voynich-manuscript-secret-knowledge-or-hoax/
  9. ^ https://archive.org/stream/booksellernewspa1916unse/booksellernewspa1916unse_djvu.txt

External links[edit]