☛Telegrams were charged by the word, creating a strong incentive to pack as much meaning into an individual word as possible. Code-books were created so that two people using the same code could communicate very cheaply. If you agree, for example, that “shaggy” will mean “Do not sell on any account until further advice,” you have saved yourselves the expense of eight words. We have arranged these books by date, since it seemed the least arbitrary of all the arbitrary arrangements we considered. Today they are a priceless resource for historians and novelists: they tell us what sorts of messages people in various industries at various times considered it most important to be able to exchange efficiently.
A. Chesebrough’s Private Telegraphic Code. San Francisco: A. J. Bancroft & Company, 1878. —A short code book for a shipping business. “Abdication” means “To Cork for orders to discharge in the U. K., with option of charterers to order her to Liverpool direct before sailing, at 2s. 6d. less; and 5s. extra, if ordered to the continent to discharge between Havre and Hamburg, both ports inclusive.” This represents a considerable savings in telegraph charges.
The ABC Universal Commercial Electric Telegraphic Code specially adapted for the use of financiers, merchants, shipowners, brokers, agents, &c. Multum in parvo. Simplicity and economy palpable, secrecy absolute. By W. Clauson-Thue. Fourth edition (third issue). London: Eden Fisher & Co., 1881.
Telegraphic Code, to ensure secresy in the transmission of telegrams. By Robert Slater. Third edition. London: W. R. Gray, 1888. “This is a Telegraphic Dictionary of the English Language, in which every word is numbered. The method of using it is by means of a variable or Key-No., previously understood between correspondents, and agreed to be added to or deducted from the number in the Dictionary of the word telegraphed. Thus a numbered ‘Code-Word’ is telegraphed to signify another numbered ‘Code-Word’ not telegraphed, but indicated by the Key-No. It is obvious that the meaning of a Telegraphic Message or Written Despatch, cannot be discovered without the Key-No.”
Private Telegraphic Code. Williams, Brown & Co. San Francisco, California. 1891. —A code for a firm of wholesale grocers.
Columbian Code. Property of Steinwender, Stoffregen & Co., 87 & 89 Wall Street, New York. New York: Code Press of Henry Harvey, 1894. —A code specially adapted to the coffee trade. For example, “Kalmia” means “Cash as removed, full settlement within 30 days; basis 60 days notes, less discount at the rate of 8% per annum for the unexpired time. Bill to date when coffee is all in store. Buyers to have benefit of unexpired storage and fire insurance, and same time to weigh as wanted.”
Low’s Pocket Cable Code (alphabetical) specially adapted for American travellers. New York and London: Edwin H. Low, 1894.
The New General and Mining Telegraph Code. By C. Algernon Moreing and Thomas Neal. Alphabetically arranged for the use of mining companies, mining engineers, stockbrokers, financial agents and trust and finance companies… Ninth edition, 1905. New York: American Code Company. —The American Code Company offered the service of compiling a private telegraphic code like this for your firm, and seems to have been very successful.
The Standard Cipher Code of the American Railway Association for the use of all departments of the railway service. Compiled under the supervision of the Committee on Standard Cipher Code of the American Railway Association. 1906. —“Dustbrunt” means “In order to make drawings, the following additional information is required.”
McNeill’s Code. (1908 Edition.) By Bedford McNeill. Safety and secrecy. London: Whitehead, Morris & Co.; New York: The Hill Publishing Company, 1908. —More than 1900 pages of things that sound like words. For example, “Insueveris” means “Have samples been examined for platinum?” “Mutterzug” means “Can you make any suggestion which would enable us to secure justice?”
Bentley’s Complete Phrase Code, (nearly 1000 million combinations) with at least 2 letters difference between each half-code word. Compiled by E. C. Bentley. Telegrams can be expressed verbatim with a minimum saving of 50%. Any two Code Words herein (having 5 letters in each) can be joined together, either before or after one another, and be telegraphed as ONE WORD of 10 letters: The user therefore compiles his own Phrases verbatim, if those in the Code are not applicable, with a minimum saving of 50 per cent. New York: Rose Publishing Company, . —This is a compilation of five-letter nonsense words, each of which stands for a word or phrase. A pronounceable nonsense word of up to ten letters could be sent at the rate of one “code word,” so that two code words of five letters each counted as only one code word.
Private Telegraphic Code of the Irving National Bank, New York. For confidential use. Compiled and printed by American Code Co., Inc., 1919. —1800 pages.
The Motor Trade Telegram Code, allowing all matters of technical, commercial and general information to be expressed practically verbatim in code language with the maximum of economy and simplicity. Compiled by W. M. Saunders for the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, Limited. Copyright 1921 by D. Van Nostrand Company. —Another compilation of five-letter nonsense words.
Universal Trade Code. New York: Code Compiling Company, 1921. —That there was a “Code Compiling Company” at all tells us what an enormous interest there was in telegraph codes.
Private Telegraph Code of Libby, McNeill & Libby, Chicago. New York: Ernest E. Peterson, .