In 1890, a year after her wedding, a Bavarian princess received two encrypted postcards. Can a reader decipher them?

Today, I’m going to introduce another series of encrypted postcards from the collection of my friend Tobias Schrödel. For those who don’t know him yet: Tobias is a successful comedy hacker and crypto expert.

Source: Schrödel (used with permission)

In addition, Tobias is the author of the world’s best crypto bibliography. His catalog contains about 550 records.


Two encrypted postcards

The encrypted postcards I am going to introduce stem from a large set of scans Tobias provided me. Both cards were sent to a German “Fürstin” (princess). Here are the address sides:

These cards were sent in 1890 (though I’m confused by the upper stamp on the first card, which shows the year 1889), which means that they belong to the oldest encrypted postcards I know. They were sent from the town of Dolní Beřkovice in northern Czechia. The sender is not mentioned.

The recipient was a princess Wrede-Lobkowitz living in Ellingen in the German state of Bavaria. The first name of this lady is not mentioned. However, via a German Wikipedia article, I found out that in 1889, a German aristocrat named Carl Philipp von Wrede (1862-1928) married a certain Maria Anna von Lobkowicz (1867-1957). It seems likely that Maria Anna was the person the cards were sent to. Perhaps, her husband Carl Philipp was the sender.


The cryptograms

Let’s now look at the message on the first card:

The letters are probably the initials of person names. The numbers apparently represent a date: 26/7/1890. This confirms that the first card was written in 1890, not in 1889, as the upper stamp on the address side says.

It might be possible to decipher the symbols if one looks at the second card, which contains more writing of this kind:

Perhaps, these symbols represent a MASC-encrypted text. I assume that a single vertical line separates letters, while a double line separates words. Combined, the two cryptograms consist of almost 40 letters, which might be enough to solve them.

There is also sentence written in the clear (probably in German), but to my regret, I can’t read it.

Can a reader help to solve the mysteries behind these postcards?

Further reading: Who can solve this encrypted postcard from WW2?


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Kommentare (10)

  1. #1 Peter Herden
    21. August 2019

    Translation of the plaintext:

    Tarn(?)sprechung ohne an(?)sprechung ist undenkbar
    ~ disguised-speaking without speaking-to is unthinkable

    I really hope this is correct as the handwriting is awfully difficult to read. There are very few German words ending with -sprechung and both used here seem to be made up and a hint at the key.

  2. #2 Gerry
    21. August 2019

    Starting with the last word and ignoring different locations of the dots I get


  3. #3 Gerry
    21. August 2019

    Slight correction:

    The system is simple, if you ignore the positions of the lines and the dots. It starts with one dot for A, two dots for B (until D), then one line is E, a line and a dot is F (until I=J), two lines is K …, 3 lines is P, four lines is U, until finally 5 lines equals Z. So the sender seems to be ZM which suggests that it was not Carl Philip von Wrede.

  4. #4 Kyrmse
    São Paulo - Brasilien
    21. August 2019

    Instead of “Tarnsprechung” [What is that?!] I read “Correspondenz”.
    Anstelle von “Tarnsprechung” [Was ist das?!] lese ich “Correspondenz”.

  5. #5 Thomas
    21. August 2019

    The plaintext in Kurrent:

    ‘Correspondenz ohne Respondenz ist undenkbar.’ Something like: Correspondence without response is unconceivable.

  6. #6 Thomas
    21. August 2019

    Maria Anna’s brother Ferdinand von Lobkowitz,, and his family were living in the castle of Dolni Berskovice. Most likely the card came from there. “P.F.” might stand for “Prinz Ferdinand”, “I” for his wife Ida, “Z” and “PLS” for the other brother Zdenek and his wife Paula von Lobkowitz-Schönborn. Judging from the encrypted text, her siblings missed a response to a preceeding letter.

    According to the key figured out by Gerry (great job!), the characters under PF stand for HO. I presume the circle with the stroke stands for ch, so that it reads “Hoch!”

  7. #7 Kerberos
    21. August 2019

    The Plaintext
    looks typical for someome switching to and back from
    Sütterlin to latin Alphabet.

  8. #8 Thomas
    21. August 2019

    The second card has a postmark from Brüx (czech. Most). Near Brüx the Lobkowitz family had another castle, Eisenberg. Judging from the adresses, the writer of both cards was the same, presumably Prinz Ferdinand (P.F.). Here a Kurrent handwriting example from him: What do you think, does his handwriting resemble to the Kurrent part of the second card?

  9. #9 Thomas
    22. August 2019

    Probably the encrypted initials ZM stand for her second brother, Maria Zdenko (Czech. Zdenek) v. L. ( who also lived in the family’s castle in Dolni Berkovice. Maybe the background of the congratulations was that Maria Anna was expecting her first child (born on Sept. 14, 1890).

  10. #10 Christof Rieber
    22. August 2019

    Antworte mir auf meine Brief

    (credits to Gerry, who was one day faster)