The Donaldson Guide… to which is added the Complete Code of the Donaldson Cipher.
Cincinnati, Ohio: W. H. Donaldson, 1894
7w x 10 1/2 inches;
theatrical, pp 4-52 of a 418-page compendium entitled, in full :

The Donaldson Guide,
containing a list of all opera-houses in the United States and Canada, together with description of their stages, their seating capacity, and the names of the managers of each; the populations of cities, and the names and populations of adjacent towns to draw from; the names of city bill-posters, baggage expressmen, hotels, boarding-houses, newspapers, vaudeville resorts, museums, beer gardens, fairs, race meetings, circus licenses, and miscellaneous facts, dates, etc., of great value to managers, ¶ in conjunction with
The Showman’s Encyclopedia,
a compilation of information for showmen, performers, agents, and everyone identified with the theatrical, vaudeville, or circus business, such as ticket tables, interest tables, the address of show-printers, costumers, dramatic agents, theatrical architects, scenic artists, aeronauts, playwrights, etc., ¶ and the
International Professional Register,
a directory of the names and address of dramatic people, variety people, minstrel people, freaks, acrobats, operatic artists, musicians, and farce-comedy artists, ¶ to which is added
The Complete Code of the Donaldson Cipher.

The code is in two parts, a Key to Cipher arranged thematically, and an Index to Cipher arranged alphabetically (for codewords) pp33-52. Listed below are the thematic heads; here and there including some example code/phrase pairings, and some bracketed [notes].

Actors and Actresses.
Addresses. [mostly theatres, some printers]
Agency Business.
Agents — Kinds of
Cradle / Must be a hustler, and strictly sober, reliable and industrious
Craft / Who knows New England thoroughly
Agent — To Manager.
Fact / A troupe of Arab performers who are first-class
Attractions — Kinds of.
Xanthic / Provided you will agree not to allow any other tent show on any portion of your boards from ow until our paper goes up, during our showing, and for five days after our date of exhibition
Burlesque People.
Quotidian / Burlesque people in all branches
Quotient / Shapely burleque women who can sing
Quoting / A few good-looking extra women
Ugly / Preference given to those who can do a turn in the olio
Ulcer / All ladies must go in the march and work in first part and afterpiece
Ulna / All ladies must entertain in the wine room
Ultime / Ladies not required to go in the wine room
Business Manager.
Calcium Lights.
Circus Agent.
Circus Manager.
Circus People.
C.O.D. Shipments.
Couriers. [a category of printing]
Dates — Printing House.
Dates — Calendar.
Dodgers. [a category of printing]
Dramatic People — Men.
Dramatic People — Women.
Engagements — Artist to Manager.
Engagements — Manager to Artist.
Financial Straits.
Free List.
Heralds. [a category of printing]
House Show.
Instructions — Managers to Agent.
Letters — Styles of.
Lithograph Boards.
Local Manager.
Managers—Of Combinations.
Managers—Of Opera-Houses.
Managing Editor.
Medicine Show.
Minstrel People.
No. — (Street Numbers, Catalogue Numbers, Etc.)
Operatic People.
Cutter/ What opposition have we at
Cynic / Who have we got against us at
Flog / I anticipate opposition with
Orders. [all printing related]
Property Man.
Qualification of People.
Repertoire People.
Reports — Of Agents.
Shipping Instructions.
Shows — Kinds of.
Side-Show or Museum.
Edge / Freaks, curiosities, and features of all kinds for the side-show.
Edging / A strong feature for the side-show
Sizes — In Inches.
Sizes — In Feet.
Space. Relating to Newspaper Advertisements.
Special Delivery.
Stage Carpenter.
Stands. [printing related]
Streamers. [printing related]
Time — Of day.
Traveling Managers.
Two Weeks’ Notice.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Variety People.
Window Work — Lithographs.

W. H. Donaldson (1864-1925) was the energetic co-founder of The Billboard in 1894. Its first issue (of November 1, 1894) bore the title Billboard Advertising A Monthly Resume of All that Is New, Bright, and Interesting on the Boards Devoted to the Interests of Advertisers, Posters, Printers, Bill Posters, Advertising Agencies, and Secretaries of Fairs. The publication title changed to The Billboard in 1897.

Donaldson’s positioned himself at the center of the amusements world, and this volume and the code it contains express that deployment. The code evidences familiarity with typical communications; the encyclopedia demonstrates Donaldson's expertise (and may derive from his own self-education in the business); the professional register puts himself at the center of a network of participants in this world (that would later manifest itself in The Billboard in its inclusion of notices about marriages, births, divorces, classified advertisements of products and at liberty announcements of availability for work. Most importantly for my purposes, the volume (and its connection, via Donaldson, to The Billboard) locates a communication code within a domain of vital professional activity.

Jere C. Mickel devotes several pages to Donaldson and The Billboard in his Footlights on the Prairies (1974). Having looked through a few issues from 1925, it does not surprise me that Mickel would devote a good part of the passage to the fascinating classified advertisements, including some transcriptions. 1

The Billboard ran an obituary in its August 8, 1925 number, accompanied by a memorial to this Counselor, Friend and Guide by Clyde Phillips, who edited the paper from 1902-1912. From the full page obituary, this —

Mr. Donaldson was 61 years old. The son of William M. Donaldson, he was born in Dayton, Ky., April 19, 1864. After completing his education in Dayton he went to work for his father, who then was conducting an art store and picture-frame establishment in Cincinnati. A short while later the father established a poster business at 127 East Eighth Street, Cincinnati, which was the beginning of the now widely known firm of the Donaldson Lithographing Company of Newport, Ky. The deceased continued to work for the father, acting as salesman, and with his remarkable capabilities he became was many considered the best poster salesman in the country. In 1894 he and James Hennegan founded The Billboard, which had a humble beginning. The first issue bore the date of November of that year, and was turned out at 127 East Eighth Street, Cincinnati, containing only eight pages, its contents being devoted entirely to billposting, poster printing and advertising agency interests, and tho this department was later relegated to the minor importance of one of the auxiliary features, the paper long continued to be the only reliable organ of the billposting business, which was then in the formative period of its existence. It easly disagreed with the leading spirits of the Associated Billposters’ Association. The issue was the close association idea which obtained versus the open association scheme which The Billboard championed. The split thus occasioned led to the publishers of The Billboard divorcing it from all office and active participation in the field of outdoor publicity, altho it has never ceased to take a friendly and lively interest in billposters and billposting affairs.

Billposters were the occasion, if not the instrument, of The Billboard’s birth.

This was The Billboard’s first declaration of independence...

The Billboard was started as a monthly. It was still being issued monthly when an agricultural fair department and a little later a circus department were added to its editorial features. When James Hennegan retired and W. H. Donaldson assumed the entire indebtedness of the paper as an alternative for buying his partner out (for the concern was insolvent) The Billboard was printing a few hundred copies monthly. As interest in the newly created fair and circus depatments grew the circulation automatically increased by leaps and bounds, and Mr. Donaldson was so encouraged to break into the theatrical field with it. Here success also attended his temerity. Meanwhile the street fair vogue came on and The Billboard became the medium of its expression. This marked the beginning of the years of plenty following the years of famine. The Billboard installed its own plant and moved into more commodious quarters, at the same time opening branch offices in the larger cities.

Then the moving picture vogue came on. The previous years of plenty were as empty as a drained flask compared to those bounteous ones which followed...


There follows a description of Donaldson’s later years, at Ft. Thomas, Kentucky, and later New York City, spending several weeks in Florida each winter before ultimately taking up permanent residence there. He died at his home in Sarasota, Florida on August 1, 1925. The article names survivors, including his wife Jennie Hasson, a daughter (Marjorie), three brothers and two sisters.

Donaldson is not to be confused with the celebrated balloonist of the same name, who made three ascensions in Cincinnati in 1874, when our W. H. was ten. 2 and 3

  1. Mickel may have depended largely on the expanded 40th Anniversary and Holiday Greetings issue of December 29, 1934, which contains a facsimile of the first number of November 1, 1894 (all eight pages), and sections on Burlesque; Carnival; Circus; Coin-controlled machines; Endurance shows (walkathons); Fairs; Historical (The Billboard); Labor (History of Theatrical Unionism); Legitimate (Broadway); Magic (by Dr. Henry Ridgely Evans); Motion picture; Museums (including freak shows); Night spots (music halls); Parks—pools (amusement rides, Progress of the Swimming Pool by Harry A. Ackley); Pipes; Radio—orchestra; Repertoire; Rink (skating); Rodeo; Stock; Tabloid; and Vaude (The Evolution of Salaries in Vaudeville by Sidney Harris, The History and Evolution of Vaudeville, and Vaudeville’s Contribution to Other Branches of Show Business). This is a fascinating issue, in which notices of marriages and divorces no longer appear. (Want to determine when those were dropped.)

    The article on museums has no by-line, but consists mostly of extracts from an article by Barry Gray from The Billboard of December 8, 1928, entitled The Good Old Days of Dime Museums — and wonderful extracts they are, to be treated elsewhere in these pages, at another time. (The only connection to telegraphy would be mentalist acts, in which patter was a form of telegraphic code.) I cannot resist transcribing a couple of paragraphs entire, however:

    Among the miscellaneous curio-hall attractions we had Old Zip, Barnum’s What Is It?; Krao, Missing Link; Asbury Ben, Leopard Boy; also an entire family of spotted or leopard people; the Anderson Family; Ursa, the Bear Woman; Eve, the Snake Woman; Johanna, the Gorilla Woman; Eli Bowen, legless and armless wonder; Walter Stuart, a similar attraction; Gabrielle, half-woman; Laila Coola, double-bodied wonder; Joseph Libera, similar anomaly; Francisco Lentini, three-legged boy; and an extensive list of what were known as platform acts to draw from, such as magicians, sword swallowers, strong people, etc...

    The highest position about the museum, next to the manager and press agent, was the lecturer, usually termed the Professor... Some of the lecturers of the good old days were Jules Offner, Harry Walker (formerly a partner of mine), Professor Langdon, the poetical lecturer; Professor Hutchings, at Austin & Stones; Professor Mitchell, Smith Warner, Charley Bell, Doc McKay, Frank Stanley, of Davis’, Pittsburgh; E. M. Stanley, of the Vine Street, Cincinnati; Milton P. Lyons, of Bradenburg’s, Philadelphia; not forgetting our old friend, George Dexter, of Huber’s, New York, who recently passed away at a good old age...

  2. Internet queries into Donaldson’s life did bring up another episode:

    $25,600 Theft in Car, Mystery to Police.
    Billboard Publisher, Robbed on Train, Denies Suspecting Young Woman Intruder.

    William H. Donaldson, publisher of The Billboard, who with his wife was robbed of jewelry worth $25,000 and $600 in cash in a stateroom of a New York to Boston sleeping car under mysterious circumstances a week ago, denied last week that a stylishly gowned, pretty young woman who momentarily intruded into the stateroom was suspected of the robbery. Donaldson has offered $4,000 reward for the return of his wife’s jewels and his own gold watch.

    He said it was true a young woman did open the door, apparently discover she was in the wrong room, utter a quick apology and withdraw. He said, however, that the money was taken from the pocket of his trousers and the jewels from a bag which hung near the door and that there was no possibility that the young woman could have got them in the second she was in the room.

    The robbery was committed as Mr. and Mrs. Donaldson were journeying to Boston as the start of a New England jaunt in celebration of their thirty-sixth wedding anniversary. The police of Boston and New York have been asked to search for the jewels, which included a pearl necklace, a diamond bar pin, a diamond bracelet, and several diamond rings. Neither he, his wife, nor investigators for the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad and the Pullman Company has any idea how the theft was accomplished.
      —   The New York Times, July 4, 1921

  3. The story takes an interesting turn two days later —

    Appeals to Jewel Thieves
    Ex-Confidence Man Asks Return of $35,000 Donaldson Gems.

    Through an appeal to the underworld, of which he himself formerly was a denizen, James Curran, alias Jimmy the Trusty, of 275 West 122d Street, undertook last night to bring about the restoration to W. H. Donaldson, publisher of The Billboard, a theatrical paper, of $35,000 worth of jewelry which was stolen from Mrs. Donaldson’s stateroom on a New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad train bound from New York for Boston on the night of June 23.

    Mr. Donaldson often has assisted ex-convicts and it was at the instance of such a man, who is now in his employ, that Jimmy the Trusty, who is a reformed confidence man, decided to appeal for the return of the Donaldson jewels.
      —   The New York Times, July 6, 1921

    Who was the attractive young woman? Were the jewels restored? No answers, yet.


All of the above will move to a more appropriate location, in due course.