Here’s something I stumbled upon recently: a Victorian code world of gloves, handkerchiefs, hats, eyes, parasols and even stamps. Basically, the 1890s saw a craze for flirtation codes, using everyday objects close at hand to signal your romantic intentions and responses. I particularly like the specificity of “I will be at the gate at 8 p.m.”, but I guess that’s just me. 🙂

There were numerous variations of these: usefully, an 1891 edition of the Taranaki Herald (New Plymouth New Zealand) lists several such codes, which I have transcribed below:-


Holding with tips downward - I wish to be acquainted.
Twirling around the fingers - Be careful! We are watched.
Right hand with the naked thumb exposed - Kiss me.
Left hand with the naked thumb exposed - Do you love me?
Using them as fan - Introduce me to your company.
Smoothing them out gently - I wish I were with you.
Holding them loose in the left hand - Be contented.
Biting the tips - I wish to be rid of you very soon.
Folding up carefully - Get rid of your company.
Striking them over the hand - I am displeased.
Drawing half way on left hand - Indifference.
Clenching them (rolled up) in right hand - No.
Striking over the shoulder - Follow me.
Ends of tips to lips - Do you love me?
Tossing them up gently - I am engaged.
Turning them inside out - I hate you.
Dropping both of them - I love you.
Tapping the chin - I love another.
Putting them away - I'm vexed.
Dropping one of them - Yes.


Drawing across the lips - Desirous of an acquaintance.
Drawing across the eyes - I am sorry.
Taking it by the centre - You are willing.
Dropping - We will be friends!
Twirling in both hands - Indifference.
Drawing across the cheek - I love you.
Drawing through the hands - I hate you.
Letting it rest on the right cheek - Yes.
Letting it rest on the left cheek - No.
Twisting in the left hand - I wish to be rid of you.
Twisting in the right hand - I love another.
Folding it - I wish to speak with you.
Over the shoulder - Follow me.
Opposite corners in both hands - Wait for me.
Drawing across the forehead - We are watched.
Placing on the right ear - You have changed.
Letting it remain on the eyes - You are cruel.
Winding around the forefinger - I am engaged.
Winding around the third finger - I am married.
Putting in the pocket - No more at present.


Carrying it elevated in left hand - Desiring acquaintance.
Carrying elevated in right hand - You're too willing.
Carrying closed in left hand, by side - Follow me.
Carrying in front of you - No more at present.
Carrying over shoulder - You are too cruel.
Closing it up - I wish to speak with you.
Dropping it - I love you.
Folding it up - Get rid of your company.
Letting it rest on the left cheek - No.
Letting it rest on the right cheek - Yes.
Striking on hand - I am much displeased.
Swinging it to and fro by the handle on the right side - I am married.
Swinging same on left side - I am engaged.
Tapping the chin - I am in love with another.
Twirling it around - We are watched.
Using as a fan - Introduce me to your company.
With handle to lips - Kiss me.
Putting away - No more at present.


Carrying right hand in front of face - Follow me.
Carrying in left hand - Desirous of an acquaintance.
Placing it on the right ear - You have changed.
Twirling it in left hand - I wish to get rid of you.
Drawing across forehead - We are watched.
Carrying in right hand - You are too willing.
Drawing through the hand - I hate you.
Twirling in right hand - I love another.
Drawing across the cheek - I love you.
Closing it - I wish to speak to you.
Drawing across the eye - I am sorry.
Letting it rest on right cheek - Yes.
Letting it rest on left cheek - No.
Open and shut - You are cruel.
Dropping - We will be friends.
Fanning slow - I am married.
Fanning fast - I am engaged.
With handle to lips - Kiss me.
Shut - You have changed.
Open wide - Wait for me.


Carrying it in the right hand - Desirous of an acquaintance.
Carrying it in the left hand - I hate you!
Running the finger around the crown - I love you.
Running the hand around the rim - I hate you.
To wear on the right side of the head - No.
To wear on the left side of the head - Yes.
To wear on the back of the head — I wish to speak with you.
To incline towards the nose — We are watched.
Putting it behind you — I am married.
Putting it in front of you — I am single.
Carrying in the band by the crown — Follow me.
Putting it under the right arm — Wait for me.
Putting it under the left arm — I will be at the gate at 8 p.m.
Putting the hat on the head straight — All for the present.


Winking the right eye - I love you.
Winking the left eye - I hate you.
Winking both eyes - Yes.
Winking both eyes at once - We are watched.
Winking right eye twice - I am engaged.
Winking left eye twice - I am married.
Dropping the eyelids - May I kiss you?
Raising the eyebrows - Kiss me.
Closing the left eye slowly - Try and love me.
Closing the right eye slowly - You are beautiful.
Placing right forefinger to right eye - Do you love me?
Placing right forefinger to left eye - You are handsome.
Placing right little finger to the right eye - Aren't you ashamed?

All of which is a lot like all the foolishly faked-up floriography that Victorians loved so much: but why say it with flowers when you can say it with a fan?

Anyway, I have to say that these promenading picayunes pale into paltriness compared with something else I found in the same web-trawling session: the (frankly astonishing) secret world of stamp codes.


You’ve already guessed when these flourished (same as above), what they said (same as above) and how they worked (same as above): all I can add is that here’s a link to a truly epic webpage devoted to a whole variety of stamp codes, highly recommended. Fabulous stuff… enjoy! 🙂

12 thoughts on “Flirtation codes!

  1. bdid1dr on July 20, 2013 at 3:48 pm said:

    I see that the same male figure appears in the displayed example. So, I wonder if the same codes would apply if the stamp had a female figure — and if the numismatic value would be either one cent or three cents? We have an expression, here in the US: “I wouldn’t give two cents……”

    In my collection of antique female accessories, I have an ostrich feather/tortoise shell fan. Ennyway, this time around, lets all avoid any discussion of the secret language of flowers! Puhleeze!

  2. Tricia on July 20, 2013 at 3:56 pm said:

    frank-ly my dear..

  3. Tricia: philately will get you nowhere here. 😉

  4. Nick, now to apply that stamp code to solving the Dorabella cipher…..

  5. LOL. I’ve been sending back ‘I love you’ to everybody who managed to bill me. Bummer! All I had to do was just turn the stamp towards ‘do not write to me anymore” 🙂

  6. Ellie: nominated for “Comment Of The Year”. 😉

  7. Lucky for the crib! Quite another message could be taken from a horizontal stamp. 😉

  8. Diane on August 1, 2013 at 2:10 pm said:

    Dear Ellie,
    I’m interested by the readiness with which you draw attention to your gender-specific qualities. These days, on the internet, most women -especially younger women – tend to avoid doing that. A mixture of natural reluctance and bad experiences usually informs the habit.

    So it makes me think you’ve either had an exceptionally fortunate and trouble-free existence on the internet, or to suspect (doubtless unfairly) that perhaps you’re having most of the Voynich cipher chaps on.

    I do hope the former is the case.

  9. Diane,
    Imagine that this comment has a stamp. It is turned 90 degrees clockwise!
    All the best! Ellie

  10. Diane on August 2, 2013 at 8:06 am said:

    Dear Madam Velinska

    I’ve always been terribly bad at taking orders, though if your instruction had been delivered on your own site, I might have respected a territorial imperative.

    Your view of the Voynich manuscript as a bodice-ripper produced by royalty about 50 years after the C-14 dating is quite fascinating, especially as you’ve recently presented it on Mr.Vogt’s site.

    It has been quite a hit with friends of mine who enjoy the Voynich online game, too.

  11. Diane,
    In my Fornovo theory the manuscript was produced by Jean Michel – who was not a royalty and not a body ripper – he was personal physician of Charles VIII, also his astrologer, prophet and poet. He had enough knowledge of herbs, anatomy, astrology and words to produce interesting book about nature like the VMs. At the time of the battle of Fornovo Jean Michel was on his death bed, so his work may have been in the Royal tent for safe-keep. The book was simply misinterpreted by the warriors who found it – they saw the VMs nymphs as lust-full instead of inspirational figures. This is my theory and you again grossly misunderstood it. Plus, here on the Nick’s blog I was responding on Flirtatious codes. I don’t understand, why you bring up the Fornovo theory in this thread.

  12. Diane on August 2, 2013 at 1:50 pm said:

    You’re perfectly right. If I’d wanted to offer a compliment, I should have done it on your own blog, not here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post navigation