A.B.C. Telegraphic Codes, seven editions 1873-1936
This page brings together all seven of the ABC code editions, plus the related A1 code, two of which are not available in digital versions at this time. The fourth and fifth editions were widely used, judging by the number now available in libraries and in the used book market — each of my four copies of the fourth edition is annotated/customized, in two of them quite heavily.
A summary of the various editions, emphasizing their growing length (in pages and in items) and the changing nature of their codewords, is presented below.
|edn||year||pages||codeword type, regime||codeword ranges||sections, page ranges||no of entries||observations|
|ABC 1||1873||216||Webster, including proper names||Abacot > Zigzag|
Aalar > Timanthes
|A substitution cipher (pp v-vii in this edition) appears in ABC2 and ABC3, and is removed in ABC4.|
|ABC 2||1874||312||Webster, including proper names||Aaronical > Zounds|
Aalar > Vulturtius
Zabdiel > Zytomiers
carefully revised and considerably enlarged
|ABC 3||1876||312||Webster, max 10L|
St Petersburg 1875
|Aaronical > Zounds|
Aalar > Vulturtius
Zabdiel > Zytomiers
|differs from 1874 edition only in occasional changed codewords|
|ABC 4||1881||480||Webster (part 1)|
Euro languages (part 2), max 10L
|Aaronical > Zigzag|
Bugbear > Wryness
Ababilo > Tereniabin
Minutaglia > Zygomatic
|I vocabulary 1-310|
I addenda 313-332
II (stocks &c) 337-447
II addenda 451-480
|large revision and expansion of previous editions|
|A1||1887||1240||Euro languages, max 10L|
|Abacanando > Zabucando|
Alumbre > Truhaneria
Truhanesco > Verhungern
|I vocabulary 1-702|
II (stocks &c) 705-1184
II addenda 1187-1240
|enormous expansion; superscript to each codeword indicates Euro language from which it is taken|
|Night Signal Code||1894||xi + 40||lights, and flags|
|signal numbers and letters||emergency signals x-xi|
I vocabulary 1-25
|some sections incomplete; prospectus|
|ABC 5||1901||1400||Berne |
|Aavora > Zaboli|
Afterwelt > Ruisset
Ruisvoren > Stygnes
|I vocabulary 1-768|
II (stocks &c) 771-1313
II addenda 1317-1400
|now competing with Western Union, Liebers, et al codes; not large change from A1 (1887)|
5th ed., improved by the addition of five-letter codewords opposite the full codewords and part III.
|ABC 6||1920||1386||5L (2L difference), anticipating Paris 1925, Cortina 1926||ABAAB> ZYZYO|
IJAAW > IUZYZ
terminal index (146pp)
half code word(s)... having the appearance of real words(pronounceable)
|ABC Numeral System||1923||437|
|provides same 5L codewords as used in Fifth Edition Improved (1915); can be used to make the Fifth Edition (1901) a 5L code.|
|ABC 7||1936||747||5L (2L difference)||AACAC > MEKUB|
MEKXE > ZAGFA
ZAGID > ZYZYR
|1 shipping/insurance 1-379|
2 trade/gen phrases 381-727
The ABC codes bore the name of William Clauson-Thue (1834?37?-1907). His death noted in The London Gazette (May 31, 1907; pdf here), in a notice for claims/demands on his estate. There too is mentioned Florence Charlotte Elizabeth Clauson-Thue, presumably his daughter. F. C. E. Faulkner is listed as one of two proprietors in the sixth (1920) edition, and proprietor in the seventh (1936) edition.
|1873||ABC Universal Commercial Electric Telegraphic Code||general||London||google | archive.org|
Specially adapted for the use of Financiers, Merchants, Shipowners, Brokers, Agents, &c — Simplicity, Economy & Secrecy
W. Clauson-Thue. London: Rock Terrace, Talfourd Road, Peckham, 1873
Bodleian copy (196.e.26)
|1874||ABC Universal Commercial Electric Telegraphic Code, second edition||general||London|
Specially adapted for the use of Financiers, Merchants, Shipowners, Brokers, Agents, &c — Multum in Parvo — Second Edition.
W. Clauson-Thue. London: Eden Fisher, 1874
Bodleian copy (196.e.35)
Excluding front matter, this is 312pp, versus 216pp in the first (1873) edition.
Note to the Second Edition explains this to have been
carefully revised and considerably enlarged by numerous additions adapted to suit the requirements of all branches of commercial interest... There is also an explanation of the requirement by telegraph administrations that words that can be found in Webster’s are charged at an ordinary (presumably advantageous) rate. It appears that codewords generated by a cipher table at pp viii-ix would not satisfy that requirement.
Red marks indicate codewords that have changed between the two editions, owing to new ITC rulings on acceptable words.
|1876||The ABC Universal Commercial Electric Telegraphic Code (third dition)||general||London: Eden Fisher|
Specially adapted for the use of Financiers, Merchants, Shipowners, Brokers, Agents, &c. —
Multum in Parvo. Third Edition.
Bodleian (196.e.41) copy
The third edition was undertaken to ensure that
words in Extra-European messages not exceed ten letters, as stipulated by the Telegraphic Conference (St. Petersburg, 1875, which fixed the maximum length of
words at 16 characters (10 characters in messages sent outside Europe — and thus likely to involve cable. The preface refers to a Supplement that had provided altered code words, but those alterations are incorporated in their proper places in this edition.
|1881||ABC Universal Commercial Electric Telegraphic Code, fourth edition||general||London: Eden Fisher||google | archive.org|
The Google scan is of a Harvard copy of the
American edition, American Code Publishing Co., 83 Nassau St. New York. (1899) (KE 3116)
The archive.org scan is of Nicholas Gessler’s copy of the
Third Issue of the fourth edition, London, Eden Fisher & Co., 1881, and is from the DULTC collection. This copy contains typescript additions in back, and between pages 311 and 359 (names and locations of firms.) Such additions, typescript and penned, are not uncommon in this edition — both of my own two copies were augmented in these ways. The title page is stamped Robert Sheehy, San Francisco, Sep 14 1881; the copy also contains (pasted in?) a handwritten note from one Wilfred B Chapman to Sheehy, dated 22 July 1881, explaining use of code, and usage of switchwords from a code currently and use, and this ABC code, so that both might be used safely together.
Part I. Vocabulary 1-310; Addenda (Skeleton Code to Part 1) 313
Part II. (Stocks, Railways, numbers, quantities, etc.) 337 > end English and European dictionary and artificial codewords.
1 Aaronical / Abandon 25388 Zygomatic / blank
Its fourth edition is my own favorite of the ABC Code, it wouldn’t be until 1901 that a fifth edition appeared. Both copies in my collection were heavily annotated/augmented/repurposed.
An online encoding/decoding utility, based on the ABC Fourth, can be found here. The idea appears to be, to use the code more like a
texting utility, for assembling a message piece by piece. Some earlier patents (ccl 380/56) would seem to have anticipated the idea —
|US 1,570,178||1926||F. Prevost||Code Machine|
|US 1,598,437||1926||K. S. Guiterman||Coding Device|
|US 1,749,933||1926||H. R. Barnett||Apparatus for selective verbatim coding and decoding|
I doubt these devices went into production. Usage of the codes was as much an art as a rote look-up-and-click operation. Will need to spend more time with this.
At least one other
automated utility is based on a telegraphic code — tweetcode based on the Anglo American Telegraphic Code (1886, 1891); its appearance may have followed Ben Schott’s op-ed article on that code.
|1888||The A1 Universal Commercial Electric Telegraphic Code||general||London: Eden Fisher||none|
...specially adapted for the use of financiers, merchants, shipowners, underwriters, engineers, brokers, agents, &c. / Multum in Parvo. Simplicity and Economy Palpable, Secrecy Absolute. By W. Clauson-Thue, F.R.G.S. Author of the No scan found as of 30 May 2012. My own copy is the So how is the A1 Code distinct from the first four editions of the ABC Code? Does it point in the direction of the fifth edition (1901)? The two most apparent differences between this code and earlier ABC codes are its size (25cm vs 22cm height for the 4th edition, 1240 vs 480 pages), and the use of superscript figures for every codeword, to indicate its language — 1, French, 2, German, 3, Italian, 4, Portuguese, 5 Spanish — thereby bringing the code into unchallengeable conformity with ITC rules. Phrase selections are emended, mainly enlarged but with some deletions. I presume that the A1 Code was developed to keep pace with changing regulations about acceptable codewords, as well as competition with other codes.
...adapted for use between vessels at sea and/or stations on land, also for Naval and Military Purposes, by W. Clauson-Thue, F.R.G.S. author of the ABC and A1 Telegraphic Code. London: Eden Fisher & Co., 50 Lombard Street, and 97 Fenchurch Street, 1894. Have examined photocopy provided by the British Library, whose copy bears accession (date) mark This code is technically a signal code, but is included here because it is the work of W. Clauson-Thue. It is designed to be worked with three lights (red, white and green) set not less than six feet apart, but might also be The code is structured as a conventional signal code: Other sections of the code are detailed below.
A B C Telegraphic Code
[Am. Ed.] — New York : American Code Company / 83 Nassau Street. Price, $7.50, net. — surely a much later printing (1900-1920?). Have examined Harvard (Cabot) copy Eng 4348.88.3, which is the 1888 London edition; BL shelfmark
General Reference Collection 1560/705.
xviii, 1240 p. 24 cm.
The ABC & A1 Universal International Night Signal Code nautical London: Eden Fisher
xi + 40 pages.
6 Fe 94.
adapted for day use by using the flags of the International (Commercial) Code of Signals. The three light signals are used, without representing figures, for 24
emergency signals as shown immediately below.
emergency signals for critical terms, followed by phrase and specialized vocabularies (involving more signals). The phrase vocabulary might have been selected from nautical content in the ABC 4th or the A1 codes.
Emergency (light) signals, The ABC and A1 Night Signal Code (1894)
category total signals / used
x-xi emergency signals
25 pages, 50 lines (phrases) per page
4 letters (flags)
1250 signals and phrases
Nautical phrase vocabulary (see above).
Longitudes East and West of Greenwich
98 signals, 90 longitudes
e.g., 3130 FBKC / 1 degree East
30 Latitudes North and South of Equator
96 signals, 99 latitudes
e.g., 2385 FBRC / 1 degree North
31 Products and Commodities
100 signals, 100 commodities
e.g., 2581 GCDR / Percussion caps
incomplete list (ends at India-rubber, Kentridge), suggesting the entire volume is a prospectus
32 Ports, &c.
100 signals, 100 ports
2734 HDBC / Aberdare through 2905 HDLQ / Zanzibar
33 Ship’s Gear and Parts
100 signals, 100 terms
2906 JHBC / After through 3087 JHLQ / Keel
another instance of incompletedness
34 Ship’s Machinery
50 signals, 50 terms
3089 KLFB / Air pump through 3270 KLPQ / Piston stroke
35 Shipowners and Navigation Companies
50 signals, 50 firms
e.g., 3291 LMNW / China Merchants’ Steam Nav. Co., Shanghai
36 Yacht Clubs
50 signals, 50 clubs
e.g., 3491 MHFK / Royal Jamaica Yacht Club, Kingston, Jamaica
37 Classification of Vessels
100 signals, 100 classifications
e.g., 3598 NDLC / Bureau Veritas
38 Per centages
e.g., 3924 PKLS / 1 1/4
100 signals, 70 package terms
e.g., 4017 RMNQ / 7 lbs. each
40 Spelling-out tables
100 signals, 100 spelling particles
4175 SPBC / A, 4176 SPBD / Ab through 4357 SPJN / Wol
No scan found as of 30 May 2012. My own copy is the
So how is the A1 Code distinct from the first four editions of the ABC Code? Does it point in the direction of the fifth edition (1901)?
The two most apparent differences between this code and earlier ABC codes are its size (25cm vs 22cm height for the 4th edition, 1240 vs 480 pages), and the use of superscript figures for every codeword, to indicate its language — 1, French, 2, German, 3, Italian, 4, Portuguese, 5 Spanish — thereby bringing the code into unchallengeable conformity with ITC rules. Phrase selections are emended, mainly enlarged but with some deletions.
I presume that the A1 Code was developed to keep pace with changing regulations about acceptable codewords, as well as competition with other codes.
...adapted for use between vessels at sea and/or stations on land, also for Naval and Military Purposes, by W. Clauson-Thue, F.R.G.S. author of the ABC and A1 Telegraphic Code.
London: Eden Fisher & Co., 50 Lombard Street, and 97 Fenchurch Street, 1894.
Have examined photocopy provided by the British Library, whose copy bears accession (date) mark
This code is technically a signal code, but is included here because it is the work of W. Clauson-Thue. It is designed to be worked with three lights (red, white and green) set not less than six feet apart, but might also be
The code is structured as a conventional signal code:
Other sections of the code are detailed below.
|Pages 7 (from Vocabulary) and 37 (Classification of Vessels) — not spread — from The ABC and A1 Night Signal Code (1894)|
As is the convention with signal codes, no digit (or letter) is repeated in any of these signals.
|1901||The ABC Universal Commercial Electric Telegraphic Code (Fifth Edition)||general||London: Eden Fisher|
The ABC Universal Commercial Electric Telegraphic Code, specially adapted for the use of financiers, merchants, shipowners, underwriters, engineers, brokers, agents, &c.; suitable for everyone. Multum in Parvo. Simplicity and Economy Palpable, Secrecy Absolute.
original at Cabot Science Library, Harvard University
i-xx, , 1-1400;
16cm (6.25 in) w x 23.5 cm (9.25 in) h
|1919||The ABC universal commercial electric telegraph code, specially adapted for the use of financiers, merchants, shipowners, underwriters, engineers, brokers, agents, etc., etc., suitable for every one. Multum in parvo. Simplicity and economy palpable, secrecy absolute.||general||New York: American Code Company||
No date on title page (my copy), that lists distributor as "The Codem Company / 24 Stone St. / New York City, U.S.A.
1420 pp. (not counting facing pages added to tables at 1125-1313, in order to accommodate 5L codewords.).
This version apparently was not authorized (by whomever had the authority to do so) in the U.K. The 5L additions were done by the American side, and the edition did not circulate in the U.K. See discussion in penultimate paragraph of Mrs. M. D. Scott, “Cables and Codes,” in Office Appliances (October 1921) : 21, 192, 195
|1920||A B C Universal Commercial Telegraphic Code, sixth edition||general||Hathi|
Specially Adapted for the Use of Shipowners, Bankers, Merchants, Brokers, Underwriters, Solicitors, Engineers, Forwarding Agents, and Tourists, Etc., and as a General Code Suitable for Everyone: Multum in Parvo...
London: Eden Fisher & Co., Ltd.; New York: The Macmillan Company, American Code Company (stamp). 1920
original Princeton University HE 7673 C57
Was once available via Google Books, then (as of 6 March 2010) not; now (11 December 2010) available via HathiTrust Digital Library.
Five-letter (artificial codeword) edition, two-letter difference. Pages 1-1386 for entries 00000 ABAAB through 88849 IUZXL. Inline tables, rather than segregated as in previous editions of the ABC Code.
Terminal index separate pagination i-cxlii.
Two-letter Morse similarities listed cxlii-cxlvi.
from page vii,
The five-letter codewords used in the A B C Code, 6th Edition, are composed of groups of letters having the appearance of real words and are built on the principle of at least a two-letter difference in each five-letter codeword.
As a further safeguard against possible error, a great effort has been made to construct the codewords so as to counteract possible transmutations of the two-letter Morse groups, by the automatic check of a third letter and where this has not been possible, to eliminate such words from the Code. Consequently less than one per cent can have been left in the entire work. (See end of Code for the Morse Alphabet and the two-letter Morse Similarities.) In addition, every effort has been made to eliminate from the codewords five-letter words having a commercial meaning in the following languages : English, French, German, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian; as well as the five-letter names of the principal Ports and Places of the World.
|1923||A B C Numeral System : consisting of more than 100,000 five-letter code words numbered consecutively, each word differing from all others by at least 2 letters, with mutilation table for the correction of errors in transmission.||condenser||American Code Co. (New York) and Western Union Code Co. (London)||Oxford (under title ABC Numerical System)
my copy “Withdrawn” ex Library of the University of Detroit; blue rubber stamp serial number 14722; bottom of title page bears pasted label :
C. Bensinger Co. / Code-Book Supply Dept. / 15 Whitehall St. New York City.
and contains a Part III, Copyrighted, 1912 by the American Code Co (Inc) — hand written above type — being "variations of Portuguese and Brazilian currency, weights in kilos, and various kinds of packages and units" (pp 1401-1420, as found in the Fifth Edition Improved (1915)
5L codewords for figures 00000 aacab through 103084 uzzoi
the 5L codewords are same as in ABC Code Improved, and allow (via the figures) the Fifth Edition to be used as a 5L code. the virtue would be creating 10L codewords ("sending two words for one").
|1936||The Seventh Edition Five-Letter ABC Universal Commercial Telegraphic Code||general||London: Sir Isaac Pitman||none|
Edited by William Droege. Publishers: Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons Ltd. London.
Enormous book, 25cm x 32cm; i-xxviii; 1-747.
Five letter code, observing the two-letter difference principle
with a minimum of two vowels in each five-letter codeword. Constructed in two parts:
Part I — Shipping and Insurance (pp 1-379);
Part II — Trade and General Phrases (pp 381-747).
These are preceded by an index of tables for Part I, and a separate index of tables for Part II. Pages vii-xxvii provide an Extended Index of Vocabulary. A standard
Key to Codewords (mutilation table) is folded into the back.
|stickers, found inside copy of ABC Code (seventh edition, 1936), at Yokohama National University Library, 3 August 2014|
18 April 2020