Note 4/20/17: Due to circumstances I have had to move my web pages here.

Note 2/14/18: Site got too busy for the free hosting, so going to a better server


This is a web-based version of the "A B C Telegraphic Code, Fourth Edition". A PDF of this book is available at Google Books for those who want to view an electronic copy of the original. I have tried for the most part to mimic the formatting of the original, although there are a few places where there are noticeable differences. One common situation is for longer phrases; the original would use smaller type and/or put the final word(s) at the end of the previous or next line, while I allow the phrase to wrap to the next line.

Notes about Commercial Codes

The use of a code to transmit messages was primarily driven by making the message shorter, due to the expense of sending a telegram. Especially if you were sending messages across the Atlantic, each word in a telegram could cost the equivalent of several dollars per word.

From the late 1800's into the mid 1900's, there were a large variety of codes available. Some were general-purpose codes like this one, others were focused on certain industries. There were also the military and diplomatic codes that common in that period as well.

As you look at this code, remember you are dealing with a document from 1880. Due to the nature of this code, there are some (not many) places in the main code that would be controversial today. The main exception is that the list of products and commodities lists a number of items such as lion skins or tobacco whose sale we discourage or forbid today. The age and origin also shows up in a few other places, for example the spelling "to-day" is used consistently.

Another thing to remember is that there are a number of terms such as "demurrage" or "general average" that have a technical meaning in the area of commerce or insurance. You can look up definitions for those terms on the Internet.

Why did codes disappear? Here are some of my ideas:

Using these Pages

When you are in the process of encoding a message, the top part of the page will look something like the following: (Note: In this example, only the navigation buttons are active, and the message is fixed).

13751StreamletIs stranded, but do not expect any damage
13325SolsticeGot on shore through fault of pilot
14643TurtleTug(s) now assisting
15419WorthilyI (we) write you full particulars

CodeNoCode WordWreck—continued
15401WorkableCustoms authorities have sold the wreck
15402WorkboxCustoms authorities have sold all goods salved
15403WorkerConsul has engaged men to salve wreck
15405WorkhouseIs wrecked at —
(Rest of page omitted)

The parts of the page have the following meanings:

Encoding a Message

The book includes an example of encoding messages on page vii. Here is my own example of encoding and decoding messages.

Suppose we want to send a message: "The goods ordered on August 10th have not arrived, tell me why."

we can start by looking for phrases related to orders or goods, and there are two phrases that are applicable to this situation:
Page CodeNo Code Word Phrase
198 9851 Outpouring Order(s) not yet to hand
133 6611 Gloominess Goods not yet to hand

If we think about synonyms and other words that might be helpful, we can find two more possibilities under the term shipment.

Page CodeNo Code Word Phrase
265 13243 Sniveller What has become of the shipment per
266 13280 Socratique The shipment(s) of —

It may seem that coming up with the possible alternatives may be difficult, especially since there is no search button, but remember that if you are frequently sending and receiving coded messages, you would quickly learn where to find things, especially those phrases that apply to your area of business (Think of how easy it is to remember the various abbreviations we use in text messages or chat rooms).

Finishing the message (in less detail), we can use the phrases

Page CodeNo Code Word Phrase
28 1390 Assume 10th day of August
115 5704 Expert Should like to have explanation

So assembling the message as "What has become of the shipment of August 10th, the goods are not at hand, I would like to have an explanation." we could encode it as:

A few notes:

If we (for some reason) wanted to send code numbers rather than code words, the message would become (adding leading 0's so all numbers are five digits):
 13243 01390 06611 05704 

Another example: After the sinking of the Titanic, J Bruce Ismay, the Managing Director of the White Star Line sent the following telegram from the Carpathia to the office in New York: "Deeply regret to advise you Titanic sank this morning after collision with iceberg, resulting in serious loss of life. Full particulars later, Ismay". If we wanted to send this message using this code, the message might be encoded as:
Which is equivalent to "Very grieved to inform you/Titanic/Has been in collision with an iceberg/Sunk at sea/This morning/Great loss of life/Further particulars will be sent soon as possible by telegraph/Ismay".

Decoding a Message

Suppose we receive the message:

Take each of the code words, and look it up in the code book. The code words are in sorted order for the vocabulary section, and then separate areas for the addenda and various tables in Part II of the book. Looking each word up, we find:

Page CodeNo Code Word Phrase
133 6530 Gentleness Can you go
226 11297 Rabaisser Railway station
Battle Creek (Proper name, not a valid code word)
25 1218 Arabism Await arrival of —
Thompson (Proper name, not a valid code word)
288 14374 Tollbooth Three o'clock, P.M.
290 14496 Treacle Train

So this message is asking to go to the train station at Battle Creek, and meet Thompson, who should be arriving on the 3:00 train.

If we get a message using numbers, the process is again similar to handling code words, but actually a little easier since the code numbers are in strict order throughout the book.

Return to my home page

Send Mail