1883. Telegraphic Code, J&W.R. Wing. New Bedford Mass and San Francisco Cal.
24mo, 14 cm. 62-page handmade notebook, with manuscript entries on lined paper.
This book contains telegraph codes for whale ships of the Joseph & William R. Wing Company, the largest whaling firm in America in the second half of the 19th century. From 1852-1914, the Wing Company supported or outfitted 236 whaling voyages and was one of the last whaling companies operating in the U.S. The words and phrases being coded give an excellent overview of the trade at the end of the 19th century. The book begins with 12 pages of General Remarks such as, Accord Letter from London on good market for bone. Following this section are codes for specific vessels in the Wing fleet. Cabbage, for example, pertains to the Bark Atlantic. It translates to Captain Mitchell does not go again. Following these sections are codes devoted to specific aspects of the trade, such as Reporting Sperm Oil or Price Whalebone There doesnt seem to be any cryptographic sophistication to these codes; they are merely words to which the author has assigned the agreed-upon meanings detailed here. Presumably, code words were transmitted from vessel to vessel or from vessel to shore using signal flags and some version of the Commercial Code, which was in universal use at that time. For example, the “New Bedford, Fairhaven and Dartmouth Signal Book” (See item #17 in this list.) describes “Merchants’ and Ships’ Telegraphic Signals” – a system using combinations of 6 flags. As with manuscript code books for naval and military use, these manuscript whaling signal books probably would have been destroyed after use, in order to prevent signals from falling into the hands of competitors. They are certainly scarce. This is the only example of such a manuscript code book for whalers that Ive ever seen. In addition, this copy has the distinctive ownership sticker of Barbara Johnson, one of the great whaling collectors of the 20th century. Bound in card stock, probably handmade. Very good condition.