Posted on 17 August 2014 by Anton Alipov

Category: History

The Dorabella Cipher: Which Reproduction Is the Correct One?

By chance and Google I recently came across this announcement at the Elgar Birthplace Museum and Visitor Centre's website.

Among different items there is the (alleged) photograph of the famous "Dorabella cipher" (see Day 25 or use Ctrl+F to look for "Dorabella").

It is easily seen that this reproduction is quite different from the one that is usually cited. Not only many characters differ, but even their number differs in the 2nd and 3rd lines. The date is also written differently.

The number of ambiguous symbols in this version is greater than in the version that is usually discussed. But while the latter is 100% not a simple substitution cipher, this one well may be. The used alphabet apparently does not correspond to the version from Elgar's notebook, but this can be just another arrangement, which would thus yield a mere substitution.

The problem with this newly published version is the ambiguity of many symbols, which prevents effective brute force, so perhaps the successful approach would be to try to guess the appropriate alphabet arrangement, checking it against the sequence. The system in the Elgar's notebook was 1-2-3, then 45 degrees clockwise, and 1-2-3 again. It is likely that in this case the arrangement is also not arbitrary. 

But, of course, the first question is whether anybody can confirm that this is the photograph from the true original? Perhaps the simplest way would be to visit or contact the Museum and check with them?..

Could it be that all these years researchers have been working with an incorrect reproduction (which originates from Mrs. Powell's book, I suppose)?! If so, then this is quite disappointing. I would even say that it's chaotic, and the cloak obscures all these letters, if you know what I mean.

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  1. Mark · 8 September 2014, 21:03 · URL

    Yes – I agree that the alleged photograph of the original is confusing as some the arrangement does not match. I note that the original had been lost.

  2. Anton Alipov · 8 September 2014, 23:44 · URL

    Hi Mark,

    Yes the original is considered lost, but in its announcement the museum said that it was the photography of the original that was to be exhibited, and not the original itself.

    Nick Pelling wrote an inquiry to the museum to clarify this matter. Don’t know if he already got an answer, but for sure if there’s something interesting we’ll know from his blog.

  3. Nick Pelling · 29 March 2015, 16:01 · URL

    No, the museum responded to say that it was a mock-up of the cipher that was on display.

    Sorry, I thought I’d mentioned this on Cipher Mysteries, but obviously I hadn’t. :-(


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