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):

Left edge:

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:


“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


Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Kommentare (4)

  1. #1 Tobias Schrödel
    5. Februar 2019

    BTW .. the position of the stamp also means something. But as there are more than one explanation, we will not find out, which system was used. Could mean “are you faithful?” or “see you soon”. There were many of these “Briefmarkensprache” (stamp language) instructions. How ever, I am certain, the stamp was positioned like this by purpose.

  2. #2 SLJ
    7. Februar 2019

    Any way to better see those few numbers after the 18 in the bottom right corner? Think we almost have it.

  3. #3 SLJ
    8. Februar 2019

    “Dearest Lina – because I just thought of you I will send you this card although it is 12 am”

    Liebste Lina – Weil ich soeben an dich gedacht habe will ich dir diese karte senden. Es ist zwar (schon?) 12 uhr

    Bit of a guess on a couple of the words because we can’t see the numbers. The i/j didn’t behave the same either, did a bit of tweaking.

  4. #4 Klaus Schmeh
    11. Februar 2019

    @SLJ: Thank you very much! This mystery is solved.