Anne Nill (1894-1961), cataloguer and bookseller

Anne Nill in 1924.

Though often simply labelled as Wilfrid Voynich’s secretary, Anne Nill was much more than that. Born the daughter of a German immigrant in Buffalo, New York, Anne had a voracious appetite for learning from her schooldays, taking additional stenography and typewriting classes whilst in high school. However, a lack of family finances prohibited her from attending university. By 1919 she was working in Voynich’s New York office and from 1921 accompanied him on near-annual trips to Europe to acquire manuscripts for the American market. Whilst in the city proper, she also seized the opportunity to take classes at Columbia that covered Latin, French, Italian, literature, and history, as ‘in one way or another they bore directly upon my work with Mr. Voynich’.

As Voynich’s health failed in the late 1920s, Anne increasingly took hold of the business, writing up descriptions, keeping up with correspondence, and liaising with his London office. After his death in 1930, Anne kept the business afloat, not only selling from stock, but acquiring new books to sell. She also moved in with Ethel Voynich, to whom she was a kind of assistant-cum-companion. Together with Ethel, she continued to stoke scholarly interest in the Voynich Manuscript and would try to find a potential buyer for it. In later years, she worked as both a bibliographer (including for bookdealer H. P. Kraus for a time) and for the city in the welfare department. 

At Ethel’s death in 1960 she was left the Voynich manuscript. She managed to sell it to Kraus the following year, with the proviso that should he sell it, he would split the profits with her. Unfortunately, Nill died the same year. Though left to languish in the pages of letters for many years, largely unknown to the wider world, her work formed an important part of the network of women that propped up Wilfrid Voynich’s business.

Natalia Fantetti