Barnard’s Universal Criminal Cipher Code
All images cropped from a microfilm of 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) compiled by Floyd Shock, which is housed at the Internet Archive and donated by the University of Alberta LIbrariesThe Public Domain Review is an online journal and not-for-profit project dedicated to showcasing the most interesting and unusual out-of-copyright works available on the web. You can explore our curated collections of curiosities and our fortnightly articles from leading scholars, writers, and artists at publicdomainreview.orgSelected pages from 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) - a book of codes to help disguise internal police telegrams in what amounted to some kind of 19th century version of the encyrpted 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 – clues to the solving of an unsolved case.