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:
- The rise of other communication channels such as
reliable phone service, and the resulting decrease in
telegram use in general.
- Even in the world of the telegraph, the automation of communications meant that
a trained code clerk started costing more than the savings in telegram costs.
- In those cases (mainly military/diplomatic) where secrecy was
important, mechanical encryption (mainly rotor-based) systems tended
to be easier to use and more secure. Of course, these have since been replaced
by complex computerized systems such as
DES (example) and AES (example).
- When space is a concern, computers are much better at working with
abstract letters than dealing with the meaining of phrases.
Even today, it would be difficult to get a computer to automatically encode a
message using a code book like this one (decoding would be a lot easier).
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).
The parts of the page have the following meanings:
- Message: ENRIQUE STREAMLET SOLSTICE ...— This represents the telegram as it would be sent.
Since Morse code doesn't distinguish uppercase and lowercase
letters, the message is displayed in uppercase.
- Next comes the various code words (along with the code numbers and phrases) that make up
the message. The "Delete" button can be used to remove each part of the message.
- The "Add Uncoded Text" button and textbox are used to include names and phrases
that are not in the code. How to use this button is better seen in the examples of
encoding and decoding messages. The the first entry in the sample message,
"Enrique", was added using by typing "Enrique" in the text box and pressing this button.
- Next come a set of buttons for navigating around the various pages. These buttons appear
at the top and bottom of each page.
- Introductio n— Takes you to this introductory page
- Table of Contents — Take you to the table of contents page, which can help
you determine what page may contain the table you want
- Vocabulary Index — This is a list of the keywords used to organize the
phrases. So if you are looking for phrases corresponding to "Cargo", you can
use the vocabulary index to know that you should start on page 50.
- Previous Page — Take you to the previous page (308 in this example).
- Next is a textbox to display the current page number. To go to an arbitrary page,
you can enter the page number here and press the "Go" button.
- Next Page — Take you to the next page (310 in this example).
- Then is the contents of the current page. The "Add" button to the left of each phrase
will add the corresponding phrase to the end of the message. If the current page
has two columns, There is an "Add" button for each column.
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:
||Order(s) not yet to hand
||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.
||What has become of the shipment per
||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
||10th day of August
||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
SNIVELLER ASSUME GLOOMINESS EXPERT
A few notes:
- If there are proper names or other words that don't correspond to anything in
the code book, they are typically inserted as plain text in the appropriate part of
the telegram. The "Add Uncoded Text" textbox and button are available for adding
these words to your message.
If certain names or phrases occur frequently in your messages,
a user would typically add them to the book at designed places in the Addenda,
along with the people receiving the messages.
Some sample additions are given in on pages 313 and 451.
- Remember that in Morse code there are not separate uppercase and lowercase letters.
- We have taken a message of 16 words and encoded it with four words, for a considerable savings.
- Yes, the count of 16 words in the original message is correct—Under
the telegraph regulations of the time, "th", each digit, and each punctuation mark would count
as a separate word.
So "10th" is considered three words: "1", "0", and "th". Of course, if it was written
out as "tenth", that would qualify as one word.
- You may have been expecting five-letter code words like 'TEHOX'. At the time this
code was created, code words were required to resemble genuine words.
Later on, the regulations were changed to permit the five-letter code words we are
more familiar with, and the 6th and 7th editions of the ABC code use them.
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
Decoding a Message
Suppose we receive the message:
GENTLENESS RABAISSER BATTLE CREEK ARABISM
THOMPSON TOLLBOOTH TREACLE
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:
||Can you go
||(Proper name, not a valid code word)
||Await arrival of —
||(Proper name, not a valid code word)
||Three o'clock, P.M.
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.
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