This might be the cryptogram discovery of the year: a manuscript containing some 7000 illustrations, many of them with encrypted (?) captions. Can a reader make sense of these unusual artworks?

Prof. Robert Goulding from the University of Notre Dame has made me aware of a crypto mystery hitherto unknown to the codebreaking community. A friend of Robert’s, rare book dealer Heather O’Donnell of Honey & Wax Bookseller in Brooklyn, has come into possession of a very strange manuscript, titled Europa Redux. It was made from 1940-46, apparently in Switzerland. It is not known who the creator was, where exactly the manuscript was produced, and what it was made for.


The manuscript

The Europa Redux Manuscript contains of some 7,000 illustrations, about 3×3 centimeter in size, many of which are captioned in what appears to be a strange language. Every one of the 7,000 drawings represents a well composed artwork.

Source: Honey & Wax Bookseller

A selection of illustrations from the Europa Redux Manuscript is available on Instagram. The manuscript was recently exhibited at a New York book fair, as can be read in a report published by The Magazines Antiques. In this article, we read: “The faultless compositional strategies employed by the artist, taken together with the fact that early panels are clearly copies of European tourist brochures, would seem to indicate the hand of either a professional illustrator or a copyist.”

Source: Honey & Wax Bookseller

Encrypted words?

For this blog, of course, the captions in the Europa Redux Manuscript are the most interesting part. They appear to be a complete mystery. The captions that can be seen on Instagram mostly consist of one to three words. All these words, such as ENVERAD or WORNDÄH, have no meaning in any language spoken in Switzerland, but are pronouncable. This means that we are not dealing with an ordinary letter substitution (MASC), polyaphabetic cipher or digraph subtitution. A transposition cipher based on a fixed set of rules isn’t possible, either.

It seems possible, however, that each caption word was derived from a meaningful expression by anagramming, i.e., by transposing its letters in an arbitrary way. The website Anagramme Expert provides a tool that searches for anagrams of a given set of letters. As a first test, I entered the word KOUNDRUIHA, which can be seen in the following illustration. To my disappointment, Anagramme Expert didn’t find a meaningful word consisting of the same letters.

Source: Honey & Wax Bookseller

The anagram hypothesis is discussed on Instagram, too, but apparently none of the captions can be derived from meaningful words just by changing the order of the letters. This is also the case for the expression TRADI MEO, which can be read in the following picture:

Source: Honey & Wax Bookseller

Some have suggested that the strange words in the Europa Redux Manuscript are taken from children’s language. At least for the following picture, this is plausible:

Source: Honey & Wax Bookseller

OASTI EASTI could be the little children’s version of “Osterei” (“easter egg”).

And then, there is, of course, also the possibility that all these captions have no meaning at all. In my view, this is even the most likely explanation. However, such a hypothesis is hard, if not impossible to prove.

I have put the Europa Redux Manuscript on my encrypted book list (ID 00102). Can a reader say more about it? Both information about the captions and about the origin of the book would be highly appreciated.

Further reading: Alster bottle post mystery: Two more bottle posts found


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Kommentare (10)

  1. #1 Paula
    10. März 2020

    „in any Language…“?
    I don‘t believe that it is Jenisch, but how can this been proved?
    Some of them visited schools, Even in these years!

  2. #2 ShadowWolf
    10. März 2020

    While I don’t currently have any other languages except English, these are possible anagrams of ENVERAD.

    I have the software to do this in virtually any language if I can find a corpus for it.


  3. #3 Magnus Ekhall
    11. März 2020

    Is that the Matterhorn being depicted and labelled “Mittingsaia” perhaps?

  4. #4 Richard SantaColoma
    11. März 2020

    Maybe the reason this resembles an actual brochure is because it is an artist’s layout FOR a brochure that was later printed? In other words, this came first.

    And that artist would not necessarily be required to know the spelling or wording of the captions, but only loosely represent the letter color, font, size.

    This would be the sort of thing that was then submitted for approval by whomever had ordered the brochure.

    The “words” are certainly, but loosely, mimicking the subjects of the images…. like a words vaguely resembling eggs and Easter in several languages…. but no one in particular.

  5. #5 Robert Goulding
    University of Notre Dame
    11. März 2020

    It’s 7000 tiny illustrations, of thousands of things in dozens of genres. One page of the huge manuscript is inspired by travel brochures. It was definitely not something prepared for printing.

  6. #6 Richard SantaColoma
    11. März 2020

    You make a good point, Robert.

    The style is still evocative of layout art to me, whether or not it was made for any specific, actual products. But I also admit I can only guess why that would be, in this case. A portfolio? Demonstration? Samples?

    It is just my impression, I admit I can’t know.

  7. #7 Esme
    12. März 2020

    I think the words are „Verballhornungen „ of Swiss words, sometimes German ones, sometimes French Or Italian. There is for example a Lady that Sems to dance, wehre it says „ the walace“. This Could be the walse (der Walzer)

  8. #8 Esme
    12. März 2020

    Gugim Dehm Shows several Windows. Could mean „guck in dem“ – Look into this

  9. #9 Mamarok
    12. März 2020

    Is the date of this certain? Because it makes me think of Dadaism, which originated in Switzerland roughly 25 years earlier. It also makes me think ofügerli by Franz Hohler which is a made up text of words sounding like Bernese dialect, but having no meaning at all. Couldn’t this just be a similar work of art with no cryptographic background at all? A Grammelot text with illustrations so to say…

  10. #10 Reinhard Sacher
    14. März 2020

    Seems to me like a showcase of a design-layout artist with dummy-text, aka “lorem ipsum”, demonstrating his/her abilities and ideas to potential customers.
    But nothing cryptic. My guess.