Category: unsolved mysteries

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Unsolved Mystery #6: The Lucubrator by James Noyes

Our final unsolved mystery of the semester is a manuscript donated to the MU Libraries by Mrs. Edwin Ball in 1974.  Its title page attributes the work to James Noyes, but we know very little else about it.  It consists of a series of essays on a wide variety of topics.  Titles include "On Female Education," "On Bad Neighbors," and "On the Utility of Dancing," to name a few. The essays are dated between 1794 and 1797. James Noyes (1778-1799) wrote a mathematics textbook and a couple of almanacks around 1793-1794, but we have not been able to establish whether he and the author of this manuscript are one and the same.






Who was James Noyes?  Is this manuscript in his hand?  Where was it created?  Were the essays ever published?

As always, email us at with your thoughts on this unsolved mystery.

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Unsolved Mystery #5: Latin Manuscript

This manuscript came to us as a part of a larger acquisition made in 2006.  The text is unidentified, although we think it may have something to do with the writings of Thomas Aquinas.  The front flyleaves contain a library shelfmark for Dupplin Castle, and the inscription "collat. & perfect. p. J. Wright," dated December 31, 1723.  Stephen Ferguson at Rare Book Collections @ Princeton has a very informative blog post about J. Wright and the books he collated as librarian for the Earl of Kinnoull. 1980526



Can you identify the text?  When was it produced, and by whom? 

Email us at with any information.

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Unsolved Mystery #4: Palm Leaf Manuscripts

After a short break, Unsolved Mysteries is back!  Two Asian manuscripts on palm leaves are this week's mystery material. One is a single leaf, and the other is a bound book.

The single leaf was acquired as part of the Pages from the Past portfolio in the 1960s.

Palm leaf verso Palm leaf recto

 Like the other items in the portfolio, this leaf has a short explanatory text – but we've haven't been able to verify it.

From the great paritta, a translation in Burmese on a "palm leaf book."  In an area of the world where paper and even leather rots almost overnight, strips of palm have long been used as a writing material.  Note the two holes in the leaf where a vine cord bound the book and allowed the pages to be turned.  The "colophon" states that this translation was completed on the 7th waxing of the month of Tawthalin of the Burmese year 1237 (September 1875).  The circular characters are first inscribed on the leaf with a sharp instrument, such as an iron stylus, then an ink of oil and charcoal is wiped over the characters, to make them legible.  The Burmese round characters developed because the thin fragile leaf of palm would not take inscribing where long straight lines might split the fiber.

We know even less about the palm leaf book, except that it's been identified as Javanese.  It came to us from the collection of Walter Williams, the founding dean of the School of Journalism and President of the University of Missouri from 1931 until his death in 1935.  The book was allegedly given to him by Ben Robertson, Jr., a J-School graduate and war correspondent whose resume included brief stints at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and The News of Adelaide, Australia.  It's not clear where Robertson would have acquired the book, but it must have come to MU in the early twentieth century.

Javanese palm leaf book

Javanese palm leaf book (detail)

Is the palm leaf book authentic?  What is the text?  Is the information about the single leaf correct?

As always, email us at with information about these materials, or any of our other unsolved mysteries.

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Posted in Rare Book Collection, Special Collections

Unsolved Mystery #3: Extrait des Registres du Parlement

You might think I'm cheating a bit with this week's Unsolved Mystery.  After all, this manuscript is catalogued; it's even fully digitized!  We know where it came from, how we got it, and we have a general outline of its contents.  Not much of a mystery, right? 

Well, like most of our Unsolved Mysteries, there are more pieces of the story to uncover.


This manuscript on the laws of Paris and the French Parliament is attributed to Monsieur Drouyn de Vandeuil, the first President of the Parliament of Toulouse, and contains a history of France and a register of French royalty. There is also an extract of the minutes of the French Parliament.  The manuscript seems to have been written by two separate scribes.  We assume it's a fair copy of minutes and other working documents.

This manuscript belonged to the French lawyer and bibliophile Jacques Flach. His collection was purchased by the University of Missouri in 1920, and the manuscript has been here ever since.  It is available through the University of Missouri Digital Library.


To our knowledge, the manuscript has never been published or studied – so we have an outline of the text, but we don't know its contents in detail. 

How did Flach come across the manuscript? Is the attribution correct? Has the text ever been published?  What information does it contain?

If you have information about this or any other of our unsolved mysteries, email us at – and stay tuned for another Special Collections mystery next week.

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Unsolved Mystery #2: The Book of Ruth

IMG_6313Thanks for the interest in our first Unsolved Mystery post!  We're presenting these items as great opportunities for students or faculty to do some original research – so if you'd like to work on any of these materials, let us know.

The next item in the series is a small Hebrew scroll with a wooden handle.  We refer to it as the Book of Ruth, since that's the identification of the text on its label.  But since none of us reads Hebrew, we haven't verified whether Ruth is actually the text.  Mr. David Birnbaum, a Hebrew Biblical text scholar from the University of Chicago Law School, confirms that our scroll manuscript is indeed the Book of Ruth. [added 10/31/2013]

IMG_6305This Hebrew text is manuscript on parchment and is clearly the work of two scribes.  The entire piece measures about 7 inches tall, including the handle.  We assume that its small size and humble materials indicate that it was used for personal study, but that's just our conjecture. 

Where was the scroll produced?  How old is it?  And how did it get here?

As always, feel free to email us at with any information – and stay tuned next week for another Unsolved Mystery from the Special Collections vault.

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Posted in Rare Book Collection, Special Collections
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