In 1908, an ecrypted postcard signed with “Somebody” was sent to a sobriety organisation in Northern Ireland. Can a reader decipher it?

Let me first mention that my US friend Bill Briere has published a series of six crypto challenges on Linkedin. If you’re looking for some distraction in this time of the coronavirus, consider these puzzles. But be aware: “They’re very challenging,” Bil writes, “so don’t get discouraged if you can’t solve all of them right out of the gate.”


A postcard sent to a temperance institute

The cryptogram I’m going to introduce today once again stems from Reddit. It’s an encrypted postcard posted by a user named Dazeofthephoenix four months ago. As it seems, it is still unsolved, which is quite unusual. Perhaps, it is particularly difficult to break.

Like many times before when I wrote about postcards, I needed to take a geography lesson in order to learn in which part of the world this card was sent and received. This time I had to check where Islandmagee and the town of Larne are located. Here’s what I found out: Islandmagee is a Peninsula on the northeastern shore of Northern Ireland; Larne is a town nearby.

As you can see, … 

… the postcard in question was stamped on Islandmagee and sent to a Miss Annie Kear living in Larne. The honorific “Miss” indicates that the recipient was not married. This suggests that this encrypted postcard was, like many others, sent by a young man to his lover.


The message

Let’s take a closer look at the message:

The ciphertext consists of letters and digits. My guess is that the sender used a simple substitution cipher (MASC). I have seen cryptograms of this kind that are very simple (for instance, each letter represents itself, while the numbers stand for E, T, A, and O), but this one appears to be more complex.

The message is signed with “SOMEBODY” and “Ask Pearl”. Unless the ciphertext contains the name of the sender, we might never learn who wrote this unusual postcard.

The most interesting part about this postcard is the term “Temperance Institute” mentioned in the address. I have never heard of such an organisation before. Apparently, the purpose of a temparance institute was to fight the evil of alcohol drinking, with most of these institutions having a Christian backgroud. Perhaps, Annie Kear worked for the Larne Temperance Institute when she received this postcard from her lover.

Can a reader break this cryptogram? Does a reader know more about temperance institutes? If so, please leave a comment.

Further reading: Two unsolved encrypted postcards from London and Chicago


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Kommentare (6)

  1. #1 David Oranchak
    13. Mai 2020

    Here’s a transcript and partial decrypt:

    894RPV YIN 24N1 K34ND TIHS N341 VIPNO K3N94KV V93 ZADD N341 89AO DIS3 YNIE

  2. #2 Gerry
    13. Mai 2020

    I think it is Annie KERR, not Kear. There are quite some entries on familysearch with this name in Larne and the surrounding Country Antrim (and none for Kear).

  3. #3 David Oranchak
    13. Mai 2020

    Some corrections and speculations:

    894RPV YIN 24N1 K34ND TIHS N341 VIPNO K3N94KV V93 ZADD N341 89AO DIS3 YNIE

    Putative decryption, while enforcing rule that each cipher letter has a distinct plaintext letter:


    These letters are currently unassigned: BGJQUVXYZ

    Thus LO?E likely can only be LOVE (LOBE is possible but doesn’t make sense).
    If it is LOVE then TIHS = ?O?V which doesn’t match any common words. However, “YOU’VE” misspelled as “YOUV” uses only the unassigned letters and fits with the other words. So now we have:


    That leaves 89AO=THI? and VIPNO=SOKR? but I can’t find a good resolution while keeping to the “don’t reuse plaintext letters in the key” constraint.

  4. #4 Thomas
    14. Mai 2020

    David: Congratulations! The “sokr.” thing is quite strange. Even provided he mixed up 0 (zero) and O (letter), there seems to be no reasonable solution.

    Gerry: Maybe ‘Kerr’ is correct: Curiously, there is an Annie Kerr obituary, the funeral service was held in the Salvation Army Hall in Point street (where it was already in 1908 and also the ‘Temperance Institute’ was located): Though it wasn’t the same person (2017!), the name ‘Kerr’ does occur in Larne, too.

  5. #5 Kerberos
    14. Mai 2020

    Hallo Klaus,
    “Temperenzler” hießen die bei uns, und waren nicht
    wischiwaschichristlich, sondern protestantisch bis
    pietistisch vom Hintergrund.
    Derlei Organisationen (auch der Boykottaufruf der SPD
    um die Jahrhundertwende gegen den Schnaps) waren
    von großer Bedeutung im Kampf gegen den Alkoholismus.
    Die Angst um den Führerschein war dann der nächste Schritt.
    Jeder der die Zeiten vor ca 1970 nicht mehr erlebt hat, kann sich
    kaum vorstellen, wie verbreitet die Sauferei im Alltag war.

  6. #6 Bill Briere
    Wyoming, USA
    15. Mai 2020

    Klaus, thanks for the mention at the top of your article.

    It should be noted that these cryptograms are all simple substitution ciphers (with hints included). I put them together as a way to introduce people to our fun hobby.

    Beginners will certainly find them “very challenging.” Readers of your blog are in an entirely different category, though. Present company might find them fun, but not very challenging.