In 1905, a woman in Dorchester, UK received an encrypted postcard. Can a reader decipher it?

Five years ago, I blogged about two encrypted postcards from Dorchester, UK.

When I checked where in the United Kingdom Dorchester is located, I found that there are two places of this name: Dorchester, Dorset (19,000 inhabitants) and Dorchester, Oxfordshire (1,000 inhabitants). As the county of Dorset is mentioned in the address on both cards, it was immediately clear, which Dorchester was meant here.

Breaking the encrypted message on this card wasn’t very difficult either, as the sender had used the simplest of substitution ciphers: A=1, B=2, C=3, …


Another postcard from Dorchester

After the presentation Elonka Dunin and I gave in the ICCH forum two weeks ago, crypto collector Mark Baldwin thankfully provided me a scan another encrypted postcard from Dorchester. This one was written in 1905. Here it is:

Source: Baldwin

My first question again was, with which Dorchester I was dealing with this time. Considering that the one in Dorset is 19 times larger than the one in Oxfordshire, the a-priori probability was very high that the former was the one in question. My suspicion was confirmed when I read on Wikipedia, that an area in Dorchester, Dorset is named “The Grove”. This expression is mentioned in the recipient’s address.

My next question was whether there is any connection between this postcard and the two other Dorchester cards mentioned above. As far as I can tell, this is not the case. The recipient, the encryption, and the handwriting all are different.


How to solve it

The most important question is, of course, how this card can be deciphered. Mark Baldwin told me that he has solved many encrypted messages of this kind, but this one has proven particularly difficult. This is because the encrypted part of the text consists of only 40 letters.

The cipher itself is probably a simple letter substitution and a variant of the pigpen cipher. If enough ciphertext is available for analysis, such a method is usually easy to break – but this is not the case here.

Can a reader solve this crypto mystery anyway? Perhaps, it is possible to guess the word between “asked” and “and”. This word has the pattern 12334 and probably stands for a name. HARRY, NELLY, BARRY, and SALLY seem possible.

Any other ideas? If so, please leave a comment.

Further reading: Unsolved: An encrypted postcard sent to Northern Ireland in 1920


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Kommentare (5)

  1. #1 Calin
    1. November 2020

    Die Buchstaben sind ähnlich wie in die alten Freimaueralphabeth aber ich bin nicht sicher.


  2. #2 Matthew Brown
    2. November 2020

    Using the fact that most 5 letter names of that pattern end in a Y I tried looking for a name beginning with Y for the final word, but couldn’t find any, then I guessed the word YOURSELF which also revealed USUAL as the 3rd word.


    Trying to re-create the pigpen might help fill in the remaining blanks?

  3. #3 Thomas
    2. November 2020
  4. #4 Klaus Schmeh
    2. November 2020

    @Thomas: I’m afraid you’re right. I didn’t realize that the card introduced in this post is identical with the one I found on a website two years ago.
    The solution Thomas and Armin found in 2018 is:
    “In the Walks at the usual time tonight.
    I asked Sammy and he said it was not he that Adam. Have you been talking to yourself since Monday.”

  5. #5 Klaus Schmeh
    8. November 2020

    Mark Baldwin via email:
    Congratulations to whoever cracked the cipher – well done!
    I do, however, find the middle sentence difficult to understand.