By Gordon Rugg
Imagine that you’ve gone back in time, and that you want to produce the Voynich Manuscript as a hoax. How could you do that, and what problems would you need to solve?
This is the first in a series of articles about how you could set about it, and what you would need to watch out for. I’m posting it as a way of bringing together the various pieces of information about the hoax hypothesis, which are currently scattered across several sites.
(Quick reassurance for readers with ethical qualms: I’ll only be talking about ways to tackle authenticity tests that were available before 1912, when the Voynich Manuscript appeared…)
Here’s an example of a hoaxed page that I prepared earlier.
Why produce a hoax?
We’ll start with the assumption that you’re doing the hoax for one simple reason: You want to get rich. That’s the most difficult type of hoax, for reasons described below, and if you can do that type, you can do any of the others.
Some other reasons for producing hoax or hoax-like artefacts include:
- A hobby project like the Chittenden Manuscript (not strictly a hoax, but with a lot of similarities to the Voynich Manuscript; a modern handmade replica of an a mediaeval book) http://proto57.wordpress.com/tag/chittenden/
- Scoring a point off an academic enemy, like Beringer’s Lying Stones (faked fossils) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beringer%27s_Lying_Stones
- Channelling, like the “Martian” text produced by Helene Smith, in Flournoy’s case study: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H%C3%A9l%C3%A8ne_Smith
How much money do you want to make, and how much risk are you willing to take?
If you’re treating this as a commercial operation, then you’re looking at prospective return on investment. The production cost involved is a secondary issue, as long as you can afford it.
One of the greatest art forgeries of all time involved making not just one, but several copies of a large gold mediaeval artefact richly encrusted with jewels. The cost in materials and time was huge, but it paid off handsomely. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holy_Thorn_Reliquary)
So you don’t focus on the cost of the hoax. You focus on the potential gain, and in the case of a unique book, that gain could be a lot.
One rough analogy is that in the days when books were handwritten, for people in the middle classes, a book was worth about as much as a car is worth now. As with cars, some books were worth a lot more than others. A big, top quality book back then would have a price tag roughly corresponding to a top of the range Lamborghini today. Usually that sort of book would have taken an expert scribe and illustrator several years to write and illuminate. However, a sufficiently unusual and interesting book might well get into that price range even without elegant writing and meticulous illustrations. The potential gain was high.
Unfortunately, so was the risk factor. There’s one type of risk in particular that good hoaxers spend a lot of time thinking about. Any rich collector with any sense will get potential new purchases checked and authenticated by a relevant expert before agreeing to part with any cash. So your hoax needs to be good enough to convince an expert, and that can be a very difficult challenge indeed.
The next article in this series will look at ways of taking on that challenge.
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