Ciphers & Keys

The most cursory glance inside the Triangular manuscript will show that it is composed in cipher. As we discussed in previous chapter, there are several manuscripts out there, each slightly different from the other. Perhaps not too surprisingly, the same goes for the ciphers and their keys.

For the first time ever, we present here three cipher keys from different sources for your study and contemplation.

MS 209

If you have examined the sources available online at length, you may have come across this key, which once accompanied MS 209. Written in clear hand, it displays the French letters followed by the cipher key equivalent.

We see that letters K and W are present but do not have cipher equivalents. We notice that letters G, H, I, S, and Y as well as possessive contraction d’ (Eng: “of” or “belonging to”) have more than one cipher symbol associated with them. Pay attention to the second symbol for letter H – a sort of twisted spiral with a downward stroke and a serif on the bottom. This symbol does not appear anywhere in this manuscript, yet, curiously, it is present here. Similarly, notice the possessive contraction d’ and its two cipher equivalents. These two do not appear anywhere in this manuscript. Last, notice that the last cipher key, an elaborate ampersand, is supposed to stand for “etc.” or “and so on.” This translation is not correct: the symbol does appear in the manuscript but its meaning is “and” (Fr: “et”) rather than “and so on” (Fr/Lat: “etc”).

MS 210

We now come to MS 210 and its key. A quick look shows us similarities to the one in MS 209. Yet a thorough examination shows important differences.

Generally speaking, the writer took greater care with tracing of the cipher symbols and while they seem to be written on simple notebook paper, they are crisp and clear.

Similarly to MS 209, the writer prepared a space for letter K but never filled its cipher equivalent. They did not, however, make the same effort for letter W, which does not appear in the manuscript. Letters G, H, I, S, Y and contraction d’ still have two symbols each. Letter H and contraction d’ have similar secondary symbols that do not appear in the manuscript. Initially, they seem to have missed the cipher symbol for letter X and this is (later?) added in pencil. Similarly, symbol for “per” (Eng: “by” or “in the name of”) is corrected to “nom” (Eng: “name”) and symbol for “etc.” (Eng: “and so on”) is corrected to “et” (Eng: “and”). These corrections suggest a greater care and understanding of the underlying text. Before we read too much into this, we should again remark that the lack of cipher symbol for letter K is puzzling, as this letter appears multiple times in the manuscript. Its absence in the key indicates that whoever was preparing it did not cross-check with the actual text or, more likely, did not understand the words they were translating/deciphering.

Wellcome 4668

Along with hastily written translation of the text, Wellcome 4668 offers a visually superb key. It is evenly spaced, well drawn, and does not exhibit the hesitancy of the previous keys (e.g. multiple cipher symbols for each letter).

The format is slightly different: cipher symbol first and French letter second, evenly divided into two sections of 14 and 11 glyphs. Letters K and W are absent without any indication of lacuna for later filling. We see a slight correction for letter X, written in pencil, in a style similar to MS 210. Ampersand (symbol &, shorthand for “and”) appears after letter Y. Letter J follows, suggesting a phonetic rather than alphabetic approach. Letter K is absent along with Z and contraction d’, although there is a pencil note with a symbol for this on the right side without explanation. Contraction “per” seems corrupted to “pour” (Eng: “for”).

For those knowledgeable in this domain, we also present a partial watermark of the paper.

A sign of the crown with words ???inal ??? Mill shows through.


Examining three known cipher keys we see that all, without exception, show some errors and omissions, though they diverge enough to suggest their own histories. None provide a full key. None even include all the cipher symbols present in each manuscript. Overall, we get an impression of cipher key kept or maintained separately from the ciphered text without a full understanding of the latter.

However, any one of these would be sufficient to get a good basic understanding of the text on its surface level. In other words, they serve as a first hint that draws the curious into the mystery of the Triangular Book.