Monday, November 17, 2014

Manuscript Monday—Swindlers and ciphers

It's not every day that an archivist gets to catalog a collection with the subject headings, "Swindlers and swindling" and "Cipher and telegraph codes," so I felt like a kid on Christmas morning when I discovered the cipher key reproduced below in the papers of the extravagantly named Asbury Harpending.

Harpending was a secessionist conspirator (pardoned by President Lincoln in 1864) with an insatiable appetite for investment and speculation in mining ventures throughout the Western United States and Mexico. His name will forever be associated with the Diamond Hoax, that great swindle uncovered by geologist Clarence King in 1872. Papers at CHS provide a fascinating, if befuddling, record of Harpending's role in the scam. Note the ciphers for diamonds, rubies, and sapphires in the key below. Was Harpending really an innocent dupe? This archivist is not convinced.

Key to cipher, 1871?, Asbury Harpending papers, MS 950, California Historical Society
Marie Silva
Archivist & Manuscripts Librarian
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