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  • Lara-Johanna Pirk

The Beale Ciphers

Some of the best-known unsolved ciphers are the Beale ciphers. They are three ciphertexts that supposedly describe the location of a hidden treasure buried sometime around 1820. They were first published in a pamphlet published in the 1880s. The pamphlet describes the story of Thomas J. Beale who was said to have buried the treasure.

Thomas J. Beale was the leader of a group of 30 adventurers from Virginia who found a rich mine containing gold and silver. They then spent the next 18 months digging out these valuables and Beale was given the task of hiding the precious metals. He then made multiple trips to bury the metals somewhere in Virginia.

After Beale had deposited the metals, he encrypted three messages containing information about the treasure. The first contained the location, the second the content of the treasure and the third the names of the treasure's owners and their next of kin. He then placed these encrypted messages in a box and entrusted it to a local inn owner. The inn owner should keep it safe and only open it if Beale or his men failed to return within 10 years. A few months later, Beale sent a message that promised that a friend would send the key to the ciphers, but they never came. After ten years none of Beale’s men came and neither did he. Still, only after 23 years did the innkeeper open the box. Inside he found the encrypted messages. He tried to solve them but to no avail. He soon gave the ciphers to an unnamed friend.

This friend spent 20 years of his life and managed to solve one of the three ciphers. After he failed to solve the other two, he published the three ciphertexts along with a description of the story in a pamphlet. The unnamed friend had managed to solve the second ciphertext which read:

„I have deposited in the county of Bedford, about four miles from Buford's, in an excavation or vault, six feet below the surface of the ground, the following articles, belonging jointly to the parties whose names are given in number three, herewith:

The first deposit consisted of ten hundred and fourteen pounds of gold, and thirty-eight hundred and twelve pounds of silver, deposited Nov. eighteen nineteen. The second was made Dec. eighteen twenty-one and consisted of nineteen hundred and seven pounds of gold, and twelve hundred and eighty-eight of silver; also jewels, obtained in St. Louis in exchange to save transportation, and valued at thirteen thousand dollars.

The above is securely packed in iron pots, with iron covers. The vault is roughly lined with stone, and the vessels rest on solid stone, and are covered with others. Paper number one describes the exact locality of the vault, so that no difficulty will be had in finding it. “

The other two ciphertexts are still unsolved till today even though countless people have tried to solve them for over 200 years. These include people that have been doing cryptography their entire life but also beginners who want to try to crack this cipher that has the reward of lots of gold to offer.

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