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telegraphic codes and message practice

introduction

directory of scans and transcriptions of codes
by year of publication, points to my (uneven) discussions, and to location of digitized codes. divided by
telegraphic codes and
signal codes

grouped and/or extended discussions
A.B.C. Telegraphic Codes   (seven editions 1873-1936)
A. C. Baldwin (1804-87) — pastor, telegraph lexicographer, poet
J. S. Buell   (his code and prospectus, 1860)
Frederic George McCutcheon   (his codes 1885-1908)   new / October 2013
Edmund Peycke   (his codes 1900-1918)

catalogue codes   new / October 2013
cotton codes
figure codes   new / December 2013
mining codes
observational codes   (various, including 1896, 1939; the category is meant also to include ice and astronomical codes)
ice codesInternational Code for Polar Ice (Kobenhavn 1937)
railroad codes

condensers
used to convert figures (generated by figure codes) into secure artificial codewords
(connection with rotor-principle cipher machines)

specimen pages
descriptions, analysis and images of various codes (many unavailable online); provides overview

the universal telegraphy of Escayrac de Lauture   (1826-68)

elementary signs
letters
pictures 1   (1910-24; include lead type)
pictures 2   (1920-30s; integrated phototelegraphic systems)
signs

margins
chess codes
A C Booth, Picture Telegraphy
telautography

other
resources   (contemporary treatments, &c.)
telegraphese and telegraphesecaveat emptor — .pdf
tweets — #codephrase
 

summary

Dictionaries of phrases and codewords or cipher components were commonly used in the age of telegraphy to compress messages and thereby economize on wire costs, and to achieve some secrecy for communications.

There were different kinds of codes, different arrangements of phrase matter, different means of assembling and dis-assembling messages. Typically, a sender would choose from the dictionary’s selections those phrases or expressions (about the quality of cotton, for example) that satisfied his intentions, and take the codewords associated with the selections. It is the coded message, packaged for transport, that would be processed and sent along its way by the telegraph or cable company. The recipient of the message would unpack its original meanings by looking the code words up in another copy of the same dictionary — they were listed in alphabetical order — or by following a sequence of other procedures to arrive at the meaning.

Thousands of codes were published or issued privately, but they are largely forgotten now. They present a finely-grained window into their respective domains and their time. And they provide instances of sometimes stunning visual, technical, lexicographic and unwitting poetic achievement.

A list of codes for which a digital scan is available can be found here. For a number of these codes, I provide some descriptive and analytical information, as well as images showing characteristic details (e.g., use of tables, phrase sequences, etc.).
 

20131026