The pigpen cipher (also known as Freemason’s cipher) is the most popular secret writing alphabet. As reported recently, it has been used to encrypt gravestone inscriptions, treasure maps, certificates, mug inscriptions, beer labels and more. Today, I’m going to introduce ten more 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, like the following:


The pigpen cipher has been in wide use for centuries. In a recent blog post I introduced ten usages: a pigpen gravestone, an NSA pigpen mug (with an encryption error) and a few others. Here are ten more.


Pigpen postcard

This is a postcard written in pigpen (owned by US collector Raymond Borges):


Can you solve it? It’s not very difficult.


Pigpen gang code

This message was sent by a US gang member while in prison:


The cipher was broken by US gang code specialist Gary Klivans, as described in his great book Secret Codes Deciphered. Check here for details.


Pigpen in the British Civil War

The pigpen cipher was also used in the British Civil War:



Pigpen at Mystery Twister C3

Mystery Twister C3 (MTC3) is a website dedicated to crypto puzzles. One series of puzzles deals with the pigpen cipher.



Broken pigpen message

The following pigpen message was solved by British Codebreaker George Scovell:



Pigpen letter from Richard Lawrence

Here’s a pigpen letter from Richard Lawrence to John Wallis written in 1657:



Pigpen love letter

The following letter is described in the book Cryptographie by André Langie:


It turned out to be a love letter. Check here for details.


Pigpen gravestone

This gravestone with a pippen inscription is located in New York City, almost in the shade of the World Trade Center:


Here’s the cleartext: REMEMBER DEATH.


Pigpen encoder

There are several web pages that encrypt a text into a pigpen message.



Pigpen font

Finally, there are pigpen fonts. The following one is named “BabelStone Club Pigpen“:



If you know other pigpen texts or inscriptions, please let me know.

Further reading: Who can solve this Freemasonic rebus book?

Kommentare (4)

  1. #1 Thomas
    10. Oktober 2016

    The postcard:

    Hello Nellie This rose was raised in our backyard. Is it not beautiful? Elizabeth is in two places at once, on running creek, and on the map.
    Ta-Ta – F.M.S.

  2. #2 merzmensch
    10. Oktober 2016

    I find it’s wonderful, pigpen (or it’s visual interpretations) are so popular nowadays – I see them on the t-shirts, party posters, street art stickers everywhere. I wonder, if designers are aware of the fascinating origins of their visual work.

  3. #3 Klaus Schmeh
    11. Oktober 2016

    @Thomas: Correct!

  4. #4 Martin Macrae
    22. April 2018

    The ‘Masons cypher”, use of mono-substitution positional grids.
    I found it strange talking to a mason, who is currently restoring Gloucester Cathedral stonework, who had never heard of Mason’s marks or ever seen any. She has a works at Harts Barn in the Forest of Dean, so I wrote out a set for her to decode if she ever found any.