The pigpen cipher (also known as Freemason’s cipher) is the most popular secret writing alphabet in history. It has been used to encrypt gravestone inscriptions, treasure maps, certificates, testaments, mug inscriptions, beer labels and more. Today, I’m going to introduce ten especially interesting uses.

The pigpen cipher (also known as Freemason’s cipher, because it was popular among the Freemasons) is known in several variants. Usually, the cipher alphabet is derived from four tables in the following way:


Using this scheme, the cleartext X MARKS THE SPOT is encrypted as follows:


Sometimes a randomized order of the letters in the four tables is used to make the system more secure. In addition, there are pigpen variants based on only three tables (i.e., the STUV part and the WXYZ part in the figure above are replaced by another 3×3 table with two dots in each field).

The pigpen cipher has been in wide use for centuries. In the following I will give ten examples.


Pigpen gravestone

Some gravestones of Freemasons have pigpen inscriptions. Gravestones of this kind are known to exist in New York City, Manchester, UK, and other places. The following one is located in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.



This pigpen gravestone is one of the lesser-known of its kind. I only know this Freemason website as a source. The site doesn’t say where in Newcastle this gravestone is located. If a reader knows the name of the cemetery or the street address, I would be interested to learn.


Pigpen medal

The following Freemason medal (owned by the Library & Museum of Freemasonry in London) has a pigpen inscription.


As can be seen, a two point pigpen variant is used. See here for a discussion of this medal and its inscription.


NSA pigpen mug

Believe it or not, even the NSA uses the pigpen cipher. The following mug is available in the NSA gift shop at the National Cryptologic Museum in Fort Meade, MD.


The cleartext reads NATEONAL SECURITY AGENCY. Yes, it contains a typo! This means that the NSA made an encryption mistake, which happens extremely rarely.


Pigpen description af a treasure location

There’s even a text describing the location of a hidden treasure written in pigpen.


It was allegedly created by 17th century pirate Olivier Le Vasseur (also known as “La Buse”). Shortly before he was hanged, he reportedly threw this encrypted note to the people in the audience. The cryptogram has been solved, but the cleartext is quite confusing. Maybe the location of the treasure is hidden in a second tier of encryption. As far as I know, nobody has found the treasure so far.


Pigpen testament of an actress

Diana Dors, an actress known as the Europen Marilyn Monrore, left behind an encrypted message, the headline of which is written in pigpen letters.


The pigpen headline decrypts to LOCATIONS AND NAMES. The rest is an encrypted list of UK locations and names of (non-existing?) persons. The details of this most peculiar story are available here.


Pigpen tokens

Here’s a Masonic token from the province of East Lancashire:


The pigpen inscription says: THE MARK PROVINCE OF EAST LANCASHIRE.


Pigpen certificate

The following Freemason certificate from Szczecin, Poland, looks quite impressive. It is completely encrypted in the pigpen cipher:


Szczecin was a part of Germany when this document was created. Therefore, I guess that the cleartext is written in German.


Pigpen note in a log book

These pigpen lines stem from the logbook of a long-dead sailor, Andrew Cheyne.

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Kommentare (7)

  1. #1 Klaus Schmeh
    6. September 2016

    Mark Romo via Facebook:

    With some variations. Most interesting.

  2. #2 Klaus Schmeh
    6. September 2016

    David Allen Wilson via Facebook:

    Love the coffee mug!

  3. #3 Klaus Schmeh
    7. September 2016

    Bart Wenmeckers via Facebook:

    Very cool post the coffee mugs are great.
    Here is another famous Masonic grave stone in NY trinty church

  4. #4 Jerry
    7. September 2016

    #4. That link seems to be broken or damaged (at least for me), but I think that this is the same one:

  5. #5 tomtoo
    7. September 2016

    na du bist aber lustig jeder mensch weiss das die wichtigen WERTE im leben zwichen -2 und 2 liegen.

  6. #6 earonn
    7. September 2016

    Because cryptology is not really a field of mine, I only have a quick look here every now and then out of pure curiosity. So the pigpen is total news to me. How fascinating!

    And yeah, I love the mug with the misspelled encryption. 😉

    Thanks a lot.

  7. #7 Klaus Schmeh
    7. September 2016

    Bart Wenmeckers via Facebook:

    You’re everywhere Klaus 🙂…/cryptic-masonic-gravestones