British private detective Ignatius Pollaky (1828-1918) published a number of encrypted newspaper ads. Some of them have never been solved.

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A few weeks ago I was in Bratislava, Slovakia, for the crypto history conference, Euro HCC. Bratislava happens to be the birth place of Ignatius Pollaky (1828-1918), who came to live in Britain in 1850. Later he became one of the most successful private detectives of Victorian England and a real model for the Sherlock Holmes character invented by Arthur Conan Doyle. Pollaky is known about in Bratislava – there is a brief entry about him in a tourist guide.

London-based musician and author Bryan Kesselman has written a nice book about Pollaky. It is available as eBook.



Ignatius Pollaky’s ads

Like Sherlock Holmes, Pollaky had some knowledge about ciphers. This became clear to me when I read the book The Agony Column written by Jean Palmer (i.e., Tony Gaffney, a reader of this blog). This great book introduces hundreds of encrypted or otherwise interesting advertisements published in British newspapers in the 19th century. Tony could break most of these cryptograms, but a few are still unsolved. Today, they make great puzzles. I introduced a few of them in earlier blog posts.


In The Agony Column I found twelve advertisements signed by Ignatius Pollaky. A complete list is given here.


The Pollaky cryptograms

Some of the Pollaky ads listed in Tony’s book are encrypted. Tony Gaffney together with Sherlock Holmes expert Nicole Glücklich provided me original scans of four of them (there are two more encrypted Pollaky ads that might have been solved by Thomas Ernst; I won’t cover them here).

The following ad is written in a secret script (1865-05-16):


This one is encrypted in some number code (1871-02-20):


Here’s another one (1875-05-08):


This is ad number four (1875-05-20):


All four cryptograms are still unsolved.


Bryan Kesselman’s research

According to Bryan Kesselman, author of the afore-mentioned book, Pollaky published many more newspaper ads than mentioned in The Agony Column. Unfortunately, he destroyed all his records after his retirement. However, many of his letters survive in archives in England and America, including:

  • National Archives, Kew, London
  • Hertfordshire Archives, UK
  • Hartley Library, University of Southampton, UK
  • Sanford Museum, Sanford, Florida, USA

Bryan Kesselman has read and transcribed every single letter, and there are a few hundred all together. But none of them gives any clue as to his ciphers. None of the letters includes any code. Pollaky seems to have used several different ciphers, but none of the ciphertexts seems to be long enough to decipher it. It also seems that some coded ads without his name are his.

If you have any idea how to break Pollaky’s cryptograms, please let me know.

Further reading: Who can solve this encrypted postcard from Transylvania?

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Kommentare (8)

  1. #1 Max Baertl
    16. Juni 2017

    Wenn man die einzelnen Ziffern jeder Zahl zusammenaddiert erhält man folgende Zahlenfolge:

    11 15 20 19 20 18 26 5 15 9 22 12 4 11 2 4 14 10 17 10 8 5 7 15 14 10 17 10 8 5 7 15 10 10 14 9 5 19 11 16 15 14 14 19 27 6

    Unter der Annahme das die 27 durch einen Fehler beim verschlüsseln entstanden ist und für 26 steht. Führte Ich eine Häufigkeitsanalyse mit der Zahlenfolgen durch und erhielt folgenden Text:


    Der Text enthält viele Sinnvolle Wörter und Buchstabenfolgen die mit kleinen Korrekturen zu sinnvollen Wörtern werden Wie ” Battsrei ” das möglicherweise ” Batterie ” heißen soll und das ” was ” das vielleicht ” war ” heißen soll.

    Vielleicht ist dies ein Ansatz zur Lösung des Rätsels.

  2. #2 Name
    Or 20
    20. März 2019

    I looked over a couple lines and I think it was saying something about how “a united dialect would put our home on trial” or something of that sort…..If you’re wondering the method used, I would compare it to something like how in the CIA KRYPTOS pla”q”ue on line 15, should more correctly have been translated perhaps something like…
    In a Hidden Location Arose Pyres By…

  3. #3 Hassan Boyouk
    18. März 2022

    This is the solution for the 2nd cryptogram(The one made on February 20, 1871); Here’s the link;
    Here’s the solution.
    From ELOPED, from here home, at T….., a YOUNG LADY 17 years of age, middle sized, slim built, wavy auburn hair of a particular golden hue, high forehead and large brown (almost black) eyes . Was dressed, when leaving, in blue silk dress and black jacket, and is supposed to be in company with a young foreign gentleman. Information of there whereabouts to be given to Mr. Pollaky, Private Inquiry Office, 13, Paddington-green. W

  4. #4 Klaus Schmeh
    18. März 2022

    @Hassan Boyouk:
    You think that the content of this ad is identical with the one that was published in the clear a few weeks later? Why do you think that this is the case?

  5. #5 Hassan Boyouk
    21. August 2022

    Both the 1871 cryptogram & the 1867 advertisement say at the end of their messages “Pollaky Private Inquiry Office, 13 Paddington Green”. This is a relevant connection since the 1871 message has 36 words while the 1867 advertisement has 74 words. Since 36 x 2 =72, 74 would be around 72.

  6. #6 James Mulliss
    9. Februar 2023

    Sorry but that’s the weakest connection I ever saw. You can’t just round numbers off. People signed their notes the same way everytime they wrote a letter.

  7. #7 James Mulliss
    9. Februar 2023

    Also, you need to use 3 and 4 together to solve both of them. It says that at the end of number 4

  8. #8 Hassan Boyouk
    13. Februar 2023

    There’s a known signature on cryptograms(the ones made in 1865 & 1871). I don’t know if the third or fourth have a signature at all.