Three weeks ago I introduced Ernest Rinzi’s encrypted journal – one of the most spectacular cryptograms I have ever seen. London-based codebreaker Tony Gaffney has now broken a large part of the cipher. Maybe a reader fluent in Italian can fill in the gaps and supply a translation.

Ernest Rinzi (1836-1909) was a jeweler, goldsmith and miniaturist, who lived in London. He exhibited miniature portraits at the Royal Academy and was a member of the Society of Miniature Painters.


Rinzi’s notebook

Until recently, Ernest Rinzi was completely unknown in the crypto history community. Apparently, nobody ever took notice that this artist of Italian decent created a spectacular crypto mystery. He filled a notebook with drawings and text written in a secret alphabet. When blog reader David Scheers told me about this cryptogram, I was absolutely overwhelmed. For me it was the cryptogram discovery of the year.


Excerpts of Ernest Rinzi’s encrypted notebook can be seen on the Tumblr site of the Rare Book & Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (check here, here and  here). 23 pages are shown. I don’t  know how many there are in total.


Rinzi’s journal represents an unusual combination of art and encryption. It reminds me of Charles Dellschau’s books, which also contain encrypted text and drawings. James Hampton is another artist who left behind an encrypted notebook.


Tony Gaffney’s solution

Last Sunday I received an email from Tony Gaffney, a London-based codebreaker who has been very successful in breaking cryptograms I introduced on this blog. Among many other things, he broke a number of cryptographic challenges created by Giovan Battista Bellaso in the 16th century. In addition, Tony has created interesting crypto and stegano challenges himself, including a chess cipher.

Tony looked at the following part of the journal – especially at the seven large lines:


Based on frequency analysis and guessed words (maybe he will tell us a little more in a comment) Tony deciphered these lines. Here’s the cleartext:



As can be seen, the cleartext contains a few gaps. Some of them can be filled with a substitution table Tony provided me later:


According to Tony, the following symbols are numbers:


The order the numbers appear in is probably 9 4 8 3 7 2 6 1 5 0 (Tony is not absolutely certain yet).

Now Tony and I hope that someone fluent in Italian can fill in the gaps and supply a translation of the cleartext. In order to read the whole notebook it will be necessary to decrypt its content using Tony’s substitution table. There’s no doubt that this will be a lot of work.

Of course, I will inform the Rare Book & Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois about Tony’s success. I hope, they have experts who can exploit the cleartext.


Congratulations to Tony Gaffney

It goes without saying that I am once more amazed about Tony’s codebreaking skills. Deciphering a text from the 19th century without even knowing the language it is written in seems pretty tough to me. I congratulate Tony on this great codebreaking achievement. I am proud that my blog served as a platform for this outstanding decipherment.

Further reading: How Paolo Bonavoglia solved a 19th century encrypted book


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Kommentare (26)

  1. #1 Thomas
    10. Oktober 2017

    Amazing, Tony! Good job!

    Why do you think “SDGS DG DG DG” stands for numbers? I’d guess it means “soli deo gloria sit – deo gratia – deo gratia – deo gratia”

  2. #2 Dampier
    10. Oktober 2017

    Congratulazioni Tony! :))

  3. #3 Paolo Bonavoglia
    10. Oktober 2017

    Remarkable result! Congrats to Tony Gaffney! Such an awful handwriting! I’ve difficulty to read; any way the first lines should be:
    “O DIVINO IDDIO SANTO BUONO O SALVATEMI O GRAZIE GRAZIE, O DATEMI BONTA’ …” = O divine God good Saint oh save me oh thanks oh thanks, Give me goodness …” Surely a work requiring very much time …

  4. #4 Norbert
    10. Oktober 2017

    @Tony: Fantastic job! Congratulations!

    I think the first line has “tanto buono” instead of “santo buono”. Compare to the page with the “alphabet” (last line, underlined: Iddio tanto buono).

    Second line could be “O datemi bontà, ver[i]tà (?), buona salute, buona vista, molto lavoro, talento, vigore. DG DG

  5. #5 Thomas
    11. Oktober 2017

    Only a minor detail: I think the 4th word is “tanto” instead of “santo”: Also on the “ERNES-RINZI-cross” page (which starts “DEO GRATIA”) it says (bottom): “IDDIO TANTO BUONO” (the last word is blurry).

    The beginning of line 3 maybe: Allegnanza, gioventù?

  6. #6 Norbert
    11. Oktober 2017

    Suggestion for lines 3/4:
    diligenza, gioventù, felicità e molta, molta fortuna. Grazie (…)
    DG Salvatemi DG DG

  7. #7 Norbert
    11. Oktober 2017

    Suggestion for line 5 (admittedly, a bit problematic):
    O deliberatemi, ho fatto immensi debiti! O guidatemi, Signore! DG

    “deliberatemi” looks a bit strange to me (I’m not a native speaker, though). In modern Italian, “deliberare” means “to decide” whereas the obvious meaning here should be “rescue me” which is simply “libera(te)mi”. However, in a dictionary from 1700, I found “deliberagione = salvation”, so maybe Rinzi uses an archaic term here. Alternatively, it could be something like “deh liberatemi” (alas! rescue me!)

  8. #8 Norbert
    11. Oktober 2017

    Sorry, I mixed up the English meanings. “Libera(te)mi” is “release me”, and “salva(te)mi” is “rescue me”.

  9. #9 Rich SantaColoma
    11. Oktober 2017

    Congratulations, Tony! Well done!

  10. #10 Norbert
    11. Oktober 2017

    1) Correction for end of line 5: O GUIDATEMI SEMPRE.

    2) New suggestion: While a dash above a letter doubtlessly means double, an arc (“ᴗ”) drawn above could possibly insert an “n”. In this case, a better reading for line 5 would be:

    3) In the middle of line 6:

    4) The symbol after “felicità” in line 3 could stand for an ampersand (“&”).

  11. #11 Davidsch
    11. Oktober 2017

    @Tony: very nice work congrats!. Would like to email you on this and other ciphers.

  12. #12 Norbert
    11. Oktober 2017

    And sorry again! I just discovered that the “dash” in “Iddio” is an arc in the original, so forget my theory about that. Dash/arc stands just for double. I found an (almost) satisfying reading for line 5:


    The only and last remaining problem is “deliberatemi”. Maybe Paolo can help?

  13. #13 Lercherl
    11. Oktober 2017

    “deliberatemi” is probably an archaic or formulaic usage corresponding to modern “liberatemi”:“deliberatemi”

  14. #14 Tony
    11. Oktober 2017

    We have the wrong image for the numbers – They are the top of the two lines after the first paragraph on the page with columns.
    Solution method – On the black page with R.I.P. Jessie Rinzi, 10 lines up from the bottom left is a 3 letter word followed by a 7 letter word which occur numerous times in the pages – because of all the plaintext and drawings I thought God was a good candidate for the 3 letter word – my Italian dictionary gives Dio – substituting in the 7 letter word gave DI?I?O – the dictionary gives DIVINO (devine).
    Just up and to the right beneath the flowers is a 2 letter word that becomes IN beneath this a is an 8 letter pattern word where the initial letter occurs twice more in the word – this character for this letter occurs in many ancient alphabets and is to the precursor of our modern M –
    Substituting we have M?MO?I?M – in context of the page it must mean ‘in memory of’ – my dictionary gives MEMORIAM as the Italian spelling.
    With 9 letters found the rest were soon recovered.
    The numbers – his wife died in 1902 – under the flowers on the right the final line is
    ? October ???? – this must be the burial date and we can safely assume it says the !st October 1902
    The time of death and her age also appear though we don’t know what these are, but all these characters appear in the same line on the columns page – substituting gives –
    9????2?1?0 – I see the pattern 9483726150 though this is tentative and needs confirming.

  15. #15 Thomas
    11. Oktober 2017

    I hope Klaus will change the last image. Which is the “columns page”, do you mean the page with the “Ernes-Rinzi”-cross?

    Jessie Rinzi presumably died 27 Sept 1902, at the age of 35. (She was 33 according to the census of 31 March 1901). Above “RIP” it reads “saturday”, 27 Sept 1902 was a saturday, probably followed by the time of day (“AM”).

  16. #16 Thomas
    11. Oktober 2017

    Under the flowers it reads “Jessie Rinzi” and (underlined on the left): “aged”. Thus the two signs on the right must stand for “35”. Since these signs are the 3rd and 5th in the number line (the upper line under the first paragraph on the Ernes-Rinzi-cross page), I think the number sequence might be 1,2, 3…, 0, followed by DG.

  17. #17 Klaus Schmeh
    11. Oktober 2017

    >I hope Klaus will change the last image.
    I have now changed it.

  18. #18 Thomas
    11. Oktober 2017

    Yes, this is the “number line” I mentioned in #16.
    Besides: The 3rd word in the bottom line is “EXTRACTS”

  19. #19 Thomas
    11. Oktober 2017

    Correction of the number line:
    On another page the year 1898 is encrypted which yields the signs for 1, 8 and 9. Together with the signs for 3 and 5 this yields: 9?3?5??18?

  20. #20 Tony
    11. Oktober 2017

    Thanks to all for their suggestions –
    Thomas in my tentative number sequence Jessies age is 87 = I know women like to deduct a few years but 35 is a bit over doing it – we need to find more dates to fill in the gaps.
    There are ONLY 175 pages to look through!!

  21. #21 Thomas
    11. Oktober 2017

    Based on the encryption of 1902 the signs for 0 and 2 can be added (like Tony did in #14):

    On the Jessie page under the flowers on the right it reads: “Interred in Fulham cemetery 1 October 1902”

  22. #23 Tony
    11. Oktober 2017

    I’ve just downloaded the 175 pages and
    Jessies age is given in clear on page 128
    as 34 though it could be read as 36

  23. #24 tomtoo
    12. Oktober 2017

    Amazing !

  24. #25 Tony
    12. Oktober 2017

    At the top of the VICTORIA page are 2 numbers – from what we already
    know we can fill in 183? – 1901
    Victoria reigned from 1837 – 1901
    Beneath this is a 2 digit number which must be either 75 or 76 but I can’t
    think what his stands for.
    So I now have the number sequence as 9?3?427180

  25. #26 Hans
    12. Oktober 2017

    Does anyone have an idea what the ten symbols below the numbers and again on the bottom of the letters column could possibly mean?