mcvey home

telegraphic codes and message practice


directory of scans and transcriptions of codes
numerous recent additions ( 20240116 )
by year of publication, points to my (uneven) discussions, and to location of digitized codes. divided by
telegraphic codes and
signal codes

recent developments (and news)
about (the directory of digitized codes, etc.)

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)
Mercuur and Kleine Mercuur codes   (1891-1913)
Edmund Peycke   (his codes 1900-1918)
South and Southeast Asian codes   (India so far, 20240116)
William Shepard Wetmore   (his codes 1873-1880)
the universal telegraphy of Escayrac de Lauture   (1826-68)
The China Republican Telegraphic Code (1915)     (preliminary, needs a lot of work)

catalogue codes
cotton codes
figure codes  
government and colonial administration codes   new / 3 October 2018
ice codesInternational Code for Polar Ice (Kobenhavn 1937)
mining codes
observational codes   (includes weather and astronomical)
police and forensic codes
railroad codes
religious /missionary codes

signal codes
a new and improved signal codes page is under development; refer to main directory of scanned telegraphic and signal codes first.

notes on all other scanned codes   (see directory first)

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

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

chess codes
A C Booth, Picture Telegraphy

resources   (contemporary treatments, &c.)
telegraphic codes in literature     (deleted once; gradually restoring and augmenting as of 4 sep 2016)
telegraphese and telegraphesecaveat emptor — .pdf
tweets — #codephrase


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.).