In the early 19th century, an unknown person sent an encrypted postcard from Munich to Berlin. It is not hard to decipher.
About ten years ago, the following encrypted postcard came to my attention:
Both the sender and the recipient lived in my hometown Wellendingen, Germany. The postcard depicts the Lemberg, a nearby mountain. Here’s a transcription:
Lower edge (up-side down):
Today I would publish such a postcard on my blog, but back then my blog did not exist yet. So I handed in a query to Einestages, a history column operated by the German news portal Spiegel Online. As I had hoped, a reader found the solution: GRIS DI GOTT MEI LIDBDR SCKAZ EIN SCKMAZ IOSE HUGGER (“Hello my dear darling, kiss, Josef Hugger)”.
The encryption system used is a simple substitution: A=1, B=2, C=3 and so on. Of course, I had tried this cipher before, but I overlooked a detail: the sender didn’t distinguish between I and J. This was quite usual a hundred years ago, but I wasn’t aware of it.
A postcard from Schierke
Five years later, typewriter collector Rolf Heinen provided me a scan of a similar postcard:
Again, the sender used an alphabet consisting of the numbers from 1 to 25. This time I could immediately decipher the message. Again, it was encrypted with the most obvious substitution rule: A=1, B=2, C=3 and so on. And again, I and J were treated as the same letter. This led to the following plaintext:
LIEBE MARTHA ICH KOMME SONTAG WIEDER ZU IHN GRIISEN SIE AXMANN.
“Dear Martha, I will come again to you on Sunday, greetings to Axmann.”
A postcard from Munich
Tobias Schrödel, whom I will meet next Friday at the Kryptonight in Ottobrunn near Munich (check here for details), has now provided me another postcard of this kind:
This one was sent from Munich to Berlin in December 1899. Here’s the address side:
Here’s a closer shot of the message:
It’s not very difficult to decipher this message – provided that one regards I and J as the same letter. Can you break this cryptogram?
Further reading: An encrypted postcard with only 17 letters