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 (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.
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.
September 6, 2016
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