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.

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:

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.

If You Liked This…

Prints for Your Walls

Explore our selection of fine art prints, all custom made to the highest standards, framed or unframed, and shipped to your door.

Start Exploring

Pantagruel
Sign Up for Our Newsletter!
The latest wonders from the site to your inbox.
Once every two weeks.
You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking on the provided link in our emails.