A central pillar of Mormon history is the so-called “Anthon Transcript”, which I have described in reasonable detail on the Cipher Foundations website: this was shown to Professor Charles Anthon in February 1828.

Yet there is a key problem: the description of it given by Anthon in letters dating 1834 and 1841 differs markedly from the image of a “Caractors” page (a document presumably still deep within the LDS’ X-Files-like archive) that is often described as being the “Anthon Transcript”.

In 2012, a better quality image of the same Caractors pages taken around 1884 was discovered in Clay County Museum in Missouri: and this image shows that the full piece of paper then had “The Book of Generation Adam” written on it, which would date it to not earlier than (and probably very close to) 1830.

This implies clearly and unambiguously that there is now no good reason for anyone to think that this “Caractors” sheet is related to the “Anthon Transcript”, simply because it would appear to have been written some two years after Charles Anthon was shown the Anthon Transcript. So there is no logical way that the two items can be the same thing: sorry but they just can’t, and that’s that.


I therefore see no possible theological objection if anyone tries to decrypt the letters on the Caractors sheet: and given that we now have a far higher quality image to work with than we ever did with the original Caractors image, there’s no obvious reason not to give it a go.

So if anyone wants to try, I’ve created a worksheet you can print out and work with (by inserting blank space between the seven lines of text) – just click on the following image to get a reasonable resolution (a higher quality source image would be even nicer, if anyone happens to be passing Clay County Museum in Missouri with a digital camera *hint* *hint*):-


I should caution that it’s hard to be sure what is going on in this page. Though it at first looks like the ungainly mixture of semi-fast shorthand and foolhardily slow-to-write extras (that Isaac Pitman derided as “arbitraries”) that was typical of English shorthands deriving from Jeremiah Rich’s system (e.g. Addy’s etc) and which were still popular circa 1800, further examination makes it clear to me that it’s actually a bit of an improvised mess. As such, its shorthand-like symbols now seems more likely to me to be shapes in a mildly homophonic cipher alphabet than actually shorthand per se.

As always, there’s room for a certain amount of overlap between the two types of writing: but probably not enough to stop anyone from actually breaking it using broadly the same kind of cryptological toolkit.

The Last Sixteen Words

Interestingly, the last three lines (where the text gets smaller and smaller) seem to be written far more systematically than the first four lines. Indeed, there also appears to be a regular use of dashes or hyphens, very possibly as word separators. If you use this to turn the last two-and-a-half lines into a series of sixteen words, this is what you get (click on the following for a much higher resolution image):


Decrypting The Caractors

There is plenty of old-fashioned codebreaking meat to get your cryptological teeth into here: though I’m still trying to resolve the numerous ambiguous / miscopied letter-shape issues, I thought it would be good to give a work-in-progress update on where I’ve got to, in case this inspires someone to crack this (as Marco Ponzi did for the Paris 7272 cipher here the other day).

Word #10 is almost identical to Word #6 (though with a letter inserted), which makes the pair of words look like “ONE / ONCE” or some similar phrase (no doubt there are lists of similar ABC / ABDC pairs on the Internet somewhere, please tell me if you know where they are).

The presence of the “6L6” shape in word #1 and word #4 makes it look as though the similar (but slightly malformed) shape in word #15 was the same shape in the original but miscopied: this makes it look to me that much of what we are up against here is miscopying of a simple-ish cipher rather than a genuinely complicated cipher. As such, I suspect that the first letter of word #4 is ther same backwards-crossed-C-C character in words #14 and #15 (and which is the first letter of the top line on the whole page).

Word #12 looks like it may well be a name: but without higher quality scans, I suspect it will be difficult to parse the symbols definitively (some may well be pairs, so it is hard to be sure how many letters we are looking at).

Word #14 and word #15 also offers a cryptographic oddity that might yield a way in: if we use letters to denote patterns rather than actual letters, the two consecutive words would seem to be ABCDE and FGEHAC. Given that there’s a high chance that the plaintext of this page is in some way related to the Bible, I suspect a keenly observant codebreaker with a side interest in Biblical studies might possibly be able to crack these two words alone.

Finally, for those we are interested by the possible connection between the various Whitmers and the Caractors document that has been suggested in recent years, I found a 1989 article that mentioned where the Whitmer family had been to church: “In Fayette [near Seneca Lake, NY], the Whitmers drew closer to God by working the soil and worshipping at Zion’s Church, a German-speaking Presbyterian church“. So there is also a (small) possibility that the plaintext of what we are looking at here might possibly be German. I just thought I’d mention this in passing. 🙂

Good luck!

15 thoughts on “Decrypting the ‘Caractors’…

  1. xplor on March 21, 2016 at 5:37 pm said:

    Josheph Smith goal was to bring god closer to this godforsaken country. His first efforts were to expand the King James bible were it was in error.
    Professor Charles Anthon knew of Jean-Franceois Champollion and the Rosetta stone not saying he understood much . There are at lest two copies of the Anthon Transcript, one has stars and moons and one does not. It is something you can only decipher with seerstones.

  2. Goose on March 21, 2016 at 7:46 pm said:

    Might the legend provide a clue?
    “One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear.”
    The way this story is told would seem to point towards each one of the characters having an “interpretation in English” which to me might be more consistent with each character standing for a word rather than a letter.
    But of course the story and the text could also all just be baloney.

  3. Dennis on March 21, 2016 at 10:52 pm said:

    One quick search tool I’ve used for fast pattern analysis is http://quipqiup.com/index.php

    Example use: Puzzle = “ABCDE FGEHAC”
    Set to “Trust spaces”
    Click/Tap “Solve”

    Though it will give a count of solutions, it often has many more than just 10 — click the “>>” advance button at bottom for more.

    Rank Score Solution
    1 -1.612 THEIR BORATE
    2 -1.681 THEIR CURATE
    3 -1.735 ALTER FORMAT
    4 -1.76 LIFTS MYSELF
    5 -1.829 ASTER FORMAT
    6 -1.887 UNDER STROUD
    7 -1.889 LAYER FIRMLY
    8 -1.941 ABLES DISMAL
    9 -1.954 APTER FORMAT
    10 -1.954 STYLE GREASY

    I’m sure there are other tools out there. Be interested in learning a few others myself.

  4. Dennis on March 21, 2016 at 10:54 pm said:

    “Given that there’s a high chance that the plaintext of this page is in some way related to the Bible…”

    Looking through the first set of solutions above, my initial gut feel is “LIFTS MYSELF”… for whatever that may be worth.

  5. Are we looking at the Whitmer Transcript ? The LDS church does not believe this is the one shown to Professor Charles Anthon . Whitmer had his own church of christ. Is it written in Micmaq ?

  6. Talking of seerstones, there is a small exhibition about John Dee at the Royal College of Physicians, free but weekdays only.

    About 20 cases of books from Dee’s library with his annotations, and also the famous mirror and scrying glasses – worth a look if you are in London.

  7. bdid1dr on March 24, 2016 at 8:09 pm said:

    Gentle People; I am not paranoid. All I can do is to refer you to the latest Mormon outrages (20th and 21st centuries) in Canada and the US (enslavement of teenage women and their forced marriages to men twice or thrice times older than their child brides. Uncles marrying their nieces; child brides (as young as 12 years old — having many children ). It hasn’t stopped.
    Unfortunately for us Californians, we’ve lost most (if not all) of the Mormon ‘Family Search’ online library.
    Not too many of our ‘old folk’ still remember the execution of John Lee — for the crime of leading a group of Mormon men (disguised as “Indians”) to commit what is still called the “Mountain Meadows” Massacre.

    It is not just Mormons who have long memories. I no longer go the Oakland, California’s Greek Orthodox Church’s annual Festival — which is ‘next door’ to the Latter Day Saints’ enormous cathedral. Because the GOC rents the LDS parking lot, I no longer go to Oakland’s GOC festival.

    You may want to read “Church of Lies” — writers Flora Jessop and Paul T. Brown (copyright 2009) .

  8. bdid1dr on March 24, 2016 at 9:25 pm said:

    Oh dear me! While I just finished my post (above), I opened the next book in the stack:

    “The Man Who Broke Purple – The Life of Colonel William F. Friedman, Who Deciphered the Japanese Code in World War II : author Ronald Clark.
    References to Elizebeth (ne’e Smith) : pages: 37, and Riverbank Laboratories, 38, 70; marriage, 39; in World War I, 46-48; and Plett encipherment, 58-59; cryptographer for army in Washington, 78, 80, 84, 101; homes in Washington, —– there is half-column of Elizebeth Friedman’s other decipherments/decodings and work with her husband.

    I have found no mention of “Divine Fire” which was written by Elizebeth (Smith) Friedman to her husband. There are some references to Bacon and Voynich efforts pre ‘Riverbank’.

    Nick, if/or any one, of your de-codiologist friends would like this hard-back book, please give me a mail drop-box address and I may be able to mail it at ‘book rate’.


  9. bdid1dr: I’ve got a copy of it here already – it’s a pretty good read, though I suspect that the biographer was perhaps a little bit too soft on Friedman.

  10. bdid1dr on March 25, 2016 at 4:03 pm said:

    I’m just now beginning to follow up (and read) the index references to Colonel George Fabyan’s activities at Riverbank. Several days/weeks ago we were discussing Elizebeth Friedman’s “Divine Fire” (which was her personal diary). In that discussion was mention that Fabyan was intercepting correspondence between the Friedman’s and codiologists in France. So, there was some puzzlement caused by Fabyan’s interception of correspondence between Riverbank (the Friedmans) and General Mauborgne.

    So, on one hand we have Tiltman’s and Currier’s efforts being obscured by Mary D’Imperio; and the Friedmans’ correspondence with Mauborgne being intercepted by their boss Colonel George Fabyan.
    So, I wonder if Elizebeth Friedman’s diary entry “Divine Fire” ever was published, at all, or anywhere while she and her husband were working as codiologists at Riverbank Estate and Laboratories.

  11. bdid1dr on March 26, 2016 at 8:24 pm said:

    Back to the Book of Mormon — Another Testament of Jesus Christ :

    One can determine for oneself the sanity or sensibility of the title page and then decide for yourself the sanity of the current day publishers and the so-called translation of Joseph Smith, Jun. Then take a look at an un-numbered page “A BRIEF EXPLANATION ABOUT THE BOOK OF MORMON” Then read the italic “About this edition:
    “Some minor errors in the text have been perpetuated in past editions of the Book of Mormon. This edition contains corrections that seem appropriate to bring the material into conformity with the prepublication manuscripts and early editions edited by the Prophet Joseph Smith.”
    Then be sure to read more preliminary pages of discussion/history/abbreviations/footnotes and index. You will then be somewhat prepared to understand the explanation, names and order of books in “The Book of Mormon”. Page numbers are given for each book — but not a single page in the entire “Book of Mormon” is numbered where one would expect to find it. So, when looking for page numbers, look in the ‘gully’ (center of bound pages).

    So far, I have found no reference to “The Church of Latter Day Saints” (LDS).

  12. bdid1dr on March 26, 2016 at 8:29 pm said:

    You may also like to review the history of the “Mountain Meadows Massacre” and the execution of John Lee.

  13. bdid1dr on April 6, 2016 at 3:21 pm said:

    As far as decrypting the “caractors” : We may be looking at an adaptation of the newly evolved Cherokee alphabet. I shall squint at the ‘slices’ of the Caractors you’ve provided and compare…..

    Perhaps one of your more well-informed regulars can do some ‘squinting’ also ?


  14. bdid1dr on April 8, 2016 at 3:43 pm said:

    @ Goose, Is there a possibility for explaining the ‘caracters’ creator may have suffered severe migraine headaches — which can cause ‘halos’ to appear around written script and/or illustrations? Migraines can also overwhelm thinking processes.
    I am going back to my books (pre-med/nursing) to enhance my memory of ergot being either a poison or a relief depending on how it was administered.

  15. bdid1dr on April 13, 2016 at 6:23 pm said:

    @ Goose: I did a little more research on the possibility that the ‘caracters’
    creator may have inadvertently eaten some wild mushroom fungus (ergot) with either his porridge or early evening supper. No page number to reference; but if one is interested in the Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith, one will find some very interesting aspects of the visitor who appeared before him —

    And then, in more recent years, we have the development of LSD. One can find online who, how, when, chemistry, and effects of LSD……… ‘cool ! ‘ (The hippy word for good stuff. ) No, Nick, I didn’t end the last parenthesis with a wink and a smile !

    So, it might be that the Mormon men, who slaughtered the migrants passing through Mountain Meadows, may have been on a mushroom ‘high’ ?

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