I need the help of my readers to correctly decipher two encrypted newspaper ads from 1882.

Frequent readers of this blog meanwhile certainly know the book The Agony Column Codes & Ciphers written by London-based codebreaker Tony Gaffney (under the pseudonym Jean Palmer).


Source: book cover


The book

The Agony Column Codes & Ciphers introduces over a thousand encrypted newspaper advertisements from Victorian England. It’s a treasure trove for everybody interested in authentic cryptograms. Tony has deciphered most of these ads, but there are exceptions. On this blog, I published many an article about these advertisements.

Source: Evening Standard

Many of the encrypted ads covered in Tony’s book contain love messages, which explaines why the newspaper section they were published in was referred to as “agony column”. Other advertisements were placed by business people in order to send news to partners or customers. Ignatius Pollaky, a private investigator of the Victorian era, communicated via encrypted newspaper ads, too, as can be seen in the following example:

Source: Gaffney


Two encrypted ads from 1882

Some of the ads in Tony’s book make long series, the longest of which consists of over 50 parts. The advertisements I am going to introduce today can be regarded as a series, too, but this one has only parts.

Source: Schmeh

Both ads were published in the Evening Standard in 1882:

CEM. – I e g c n e h d n h a o a s s b i s e r c g d h l i h u s a c c b k h e i e . Mon 31st Jul 1882

CEM. – Key 11. – L k e o i s v s t e s o e e m l d y o d b v e n s e d t p l i a a n a e g l m s l y h b r m n e b e m r s e a o u t f W e y r w o i h o a e u v n l e y e. Sat 5th Aug 1882


Words, but no sentences

In his book, Tony writes that both ciphertexts have been created with a transposition cipher. If I write the first ad in columns of three, I get the following result:


This plaintext candidate contains several German words: “Ich”, “habe”, “Glück”, “das”, “irdische”, “genoss”, and again “habe”.

However, these words don’t form a sentence. In addition, some of the letter combinations between the words don’t make sense in German.

Let’s now look at the second cryptogram. Written in columns of three, this message looks as follows:


Again, meaningful words can be seen, this time in English: “Love”, “when”, “kissed”, “you”, “deep”, …

And again, the words are embedded in gibberish and they don’t connect to a sentence. I also tried to write the letters in columns of seven, as suggested by Tony in his book, but this didn’t result in anything meaningful.

Apparently, writing the ciphertexts in columns of three brings us on the right track, but there must be still something wrong. Perhaps, the decryption method is slighly more complex, or perhaps there are letters missing in the ads.

Can a reader help to solve this mystery?

Further reading: An unsolved Pigpen cryptogram from London

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Kommentare (12)

  1. #1 Gerry
    13. September 2020

    If you take only parts of the lines, you can read
    (1) ich habe (2) das irdische (3) genoss (2) en
    (1) i (3) ch habe (1) glu (3) e (1) ck
    gives “Ich habe das Irdische genossen, ich habe Glück.” meaning “I’ve enjoyed the earthly, I’m lucky.”

  2. #2 Gerry
    13. September 2020

    Similarily with blocks of four characters for the second ad you get
    (1) love (2) kiss (3)es to my b (1) elov (2) ed
    giving “love, kisses, to my beloved”, and it ends with “when you love”, but what do the letters in between give?

  3. #3 Matthew Brown
    13. September 2020

    Using a columnar transposition key of 1,4,7,10,2,5,8,11,3,6,9 on the second text yields “Love kisses to my beloved deep and lasting shall be my remembranes of you Write when you leave”

  4. #4 Klaus Schmeh
    13. September 2020

    @Gerry & Matthew: Thanks, this makes sense.

  5. #5 Klaus Schmeh
    13. September 2020

    @Matthew: I guess this is the method Tony decribes in his book. Apparently, I misunderstood it, so I came to a wrong result.

  6. #6 Klaus Schmeh
    13. September 2020

    Is there a simple rule to get from:



    “Ich habe das irdische genossen ich habe glueck”?

  7. #7 Matthew Brown
    13. September 2020

    If you split the ciphertext in half then use the columnar key 132 on each part separately you get “Ich habe genossen das irdische gluck ich habe”

  8. #8 Klaus Schmeh
    13. September 2020

    When I write the first message in lines of three, I get:

    Column 1: Ich habe gluck i
    Column 2: en das irdische
    Column 3: genoss [/] ch habe

    C1, C3.2, C3.1, C2 renders:
    “Ich habe gluck, ich habe genossen das irdische”

    My translation/interpretation:
    “I’m lucky, I have enjoyed my life on earth.”
    This might refer to a person who died recently.

  9. #9 Ralf Buelow
    14. September 2020

    Apparently, the author was a fan of the poet Friedrich Schiller as the German sentence comes from his works, see the second verse of “Des Mädchens Klage” (“A Girl’s Lament”) http://www.zeno.org/Literatur/M/Schiller,+Friedrich/Gedichte/Gedichte+(1789-1805)/Des+M%C3%A4dchens+Klage

  10. #10 Matthew Brown
    14. September 2020

    @Ralf Buelow Ah, interesting. I wasn’t certain which solution was correct, but this clears it up. So to encipher, the plaintext must have first been split in two, then each part written vertically in columns of 7/6/6 then read off horizontally in the order 132.

  11. #11 Klaus Schmeh
    14. September 2020

    >must have first been split in two, then each
    >part written vertically in columns of 7/6/6


    >then read off horizontally in the order 132.
    Ich habe genossen das irdische gluck ich habe

    This is not a complete sentence, it is however an excerpt from a Schiller poem.

  12. #12 Marc
    15. September 2020

    >This is not a complete sentence

    But it works the same way as the second one with key length 11, so it should be the correct decryption.