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Barnard’s Universal Criminal Cipher Code (1895)



Barnard’s Universal Criminal Cipher Code for Telegraphic Communication between Chiefs of Police, Sheriffs, Marshals and other Peace Officers of the United States and Canada, compiled by Floyd Shock; 1895; Geo D. Barnard & Co, St Louis.

Barnard’s Universal Criminal Cipher Code for Telegraphic Communication between Chiefs of Police, Sheriffs, Marshals and other Peace Officers of the United States and Canada (1895) was a book of codes to help disguise internal police telegrams in what amounted to some kind of 19th-century version of the encrypted email. Despite first appearances the “cipher” of the book has some sense of order in its “self-indexing” system, as the Preface explains:

Any word beginning with “O” relates to the offense for which the individual is wanted. Any word beginning with “Hi,” relates to height. Any word beginning with “Ag” relates to Age. Any word beginning with “We,” relates to weight. Any word beginning with “Ha” relates to hair. Any word beginning with “E” relates to eyes, ears, eyebrows, etc.

As well as the purpose of disguise, the use of the cipher also had a more practical consequence, it made telegrams shorter and so cheaper to send. The example below, with a saving of $5.35, is given in the Preface:

cost-saving-example

Encryption and cost-cutting aside, the use of these ciphers must have made for some strange reading experiences. Amid the gibberish and nonsense one wonders if there was not the occasional accidental gem of experimental prose, strange litanies proclaiming some greater truth, or even perhaps — amongst all the Oblongs and Maidens and Eagles Aghast — unintended clues to the solving of a case.

The microfilm above is a little hard to read so we’ve made some crops on selected pages and included them below.

Housed at: Internet Archive | From: University of Alberta Libraries
Underlying Work: PD Worldwide | Digital Copy: No Additional Rights
Download: PDF

a. clothing

b. shoes2-handshat

c. beard

d. watchjewellery2-nationalty

e. sicknessdiseases

f. trade4-location

g. generalinfo

h. generalinfo2

i. generalinfo3

j. generalinfo4

k. generalinfo5

l. generalinfo6

m. generalinfo8

n. generalinfo9


  • shadowchb

    Pure technicality, but this is not a cipher, it is a code book. Code words are used to represent blocks of text. Ciphers involve manipulation of characters of plain text.

    • Alan Shutko

      Even a smaller nit: it does contain a caesar cipher for names that are to be kept secret!