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do it yourself indentations: updated

Much has been argued about the Rubaiyat indentations; reputations are at stake and points of view have been applauded and ridiculed* in equal measure. Somerton bloggers, those masters of the subject, have at times needed physical restraint lest they pick up the computer that holds the most recent comment that enraged them and hurl it through the nearest window.

The committee agreed that there must be a better way to sort this out.

The letter R is a good place to start: it’s the second letter in the first string. The first letter has been dealt with by the uniform tasked with the overwrite job, leaving him confused. He downs tools and walks over to another uniform, who has a look at it and shrugs his shoulders.

pen stroke type 2

‘No bloody idea.’ he says.

The first uniform goes back to his desk and commences overwriting the letter R.

The argument is whether the uniform is intending to overwrite an indentation of the letter Rwritten as is – or is he going to overwrite indentations that make up the letter R?

It is upon this inconsequential matter that our small world turns.

We gave it a shot anyway. Here be the pics.


pic 1: which line do you like?


pic 2: which indented line did the uniform overwrite?


pic 3: which overwrite do you like now?

one overwrite

This experiment was undertaken by highly qualified scientists working within the secure compounds of the Ponds Institute of Australia.

The committee is obliged.


Hi Petey

*… it looks as though at least two different detectives added it (the first one was very heavy-handed with the laundry pen so it ended up looking blobby, while the second one had a much lighter/smoother touch etc); or that a previous detective seems to have tried using a pencil to overwrite the indentations on the Rubaiyat itself before realizing that this was a completely stupid idea. NP.

Close, Nick, but no cigar.

11 Comments Post a comment
  1. Good work Pete, a distinct difference that matches the ‘stippled’ /style effect on the R and a few other letters on the code page.

    March 2, 2017
    • Pressure, GC, we apply it like hot iron on fair skin.

      March 2, 2017
  2. Byron Deveson #

    Pete, the apparent size of the paper fibres allows an estimate of the size of the letters of the original “code” to be calculated. From memory (I made the calculation several years ago) the letters were about 1.5 mm high. But, this would mean that the ink pen/texta lines would have to be about one fifteenth of the height of the letters (ie. The lines would be about 0.1 mm thick). That does not seem to be possible with even the finest nibs. Conclusion? The police didn’t try to bring up the indentations by pencil, but rather they got Jimmy Durham, the police photographic expert amongst other things, to photograph the indentations under oblique lighting (the bottoms of the indentations are then in shadow and appear darker than the surrounding paper). They then made photographic enlargement prints and worked on these. They enhanced the faint lettering with both an ink pen and with a fine brush. Photographers of the time would put identification numbers or titles on both negatives and photographic paper prints with either an ink pen or a very fine brush. If you look at a historic photo you will sometimes see the titles or ID numbers. Photographer’s ink for such use was an article of commerce in 1948, and I can remember my father still had a bottle of white opaque ink (made by Pelikan) in the 1970s. I have conducted some experiments and the appearance of the ink lines made with a brush and with a fine nib pen have the same characteristics as we see in the marked up “code”.

    March 2, 2017
  3. Byron, thanks –
    1:55 mm high / .1 mm thick
    How does one govern the other?

    March 2, 2017
  4. Byron, these days we can get nibs down to .03 mm. Back in the WW2 and early Cold War years they could sharpen a pencil close to that fine point. A Walter Schmitz, ex Abwher agent, (need to check that spelling) demonstrated this skill to a journalist in 1948, it’s on Trove and I have a link on the blog. I have been a practitioner for some years now and can get letters down to .2mm using either a .03 pen nib or a super sharp 5H or 6H pencil. Using a pencil leads to lots of use of a sharpener or perhaps a knife, it leaves a black powdery residue. That should ring a bell Pete.

    If you google James W. Zaharee, in the 1930s he once wrote Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address on a 3-inch strand of human hair, blond I believe not sure what relevance that may be.

    I think you will find that the individual letters of the ‘code’ page were between 4 mm and 6 mm in height. This makes the micro-coded letters and numbers around .4mm in height with some much less. I used the size of the code page to estimate the letter sizes, not exact but a reasonable estimation.

    I have some surprising images in process and will get them online by the weekend.

    March 2, 2017
  5. Clive #

    Pete, Great work, as GC states. Amazing how simple it seems once the know how is applied.

    March 2, 2017
    • I’m a spy novelist now, Clive, and there are things only I know. (tight smile)

      March 2, 2017
  6. The “pencil” marks I mentioned are on either side of the very first letter on this page – the M or W, interpret it how you will. So… where did those marks come from?

    March 2, 2017
    • We have no idea, all we can roll on is that the SA police ignored the fainter lines when the decision to make the overwrite was made. I can only picture a couple of heads over the table when the job was being done.
      Can you punch up that pic you made a couple of years ago?

      March 2, 2017
  7. The back of the book was used as a resting pad on which another piece of paper was placed and then the ‘letters’ of the code were put in place. I think it’s a given that the back of the book had been used numerous times for that purpose.

    The person writing the code would see only the blank piece of paper and would not, for example, see the pre-existing indentations. Move to line 2, the so-called ‘crossed out’ line. I think that the ‘line’ was there before the letters were added. This then explains the additional markings that have been referred to as missed letters, that are to be seen in a number of locations on the page in including surrounding the first letter M in line 1.

    Back to the second line and the start letter M. Look closely at that letter, what do you see?

    Somewhere there is an old box containing the original glass plate photo of the page before it was marked over, and somewhere there is the original piece of paper on which the code was written.

    March 3, 2017
  8. Pencils in luggage, pencil sharpener (knife) in luggage, graphite powder on brush in luggage, Tamam Shud slip removed using scissors, scissors found in luggage, penciled code found on the rubaiyat, rubaiyat found at the scene, Tamam Shud slip found in the dead man’s pocket.
    His trade was spycraft, not 3rd officer.

    March 3, 2017

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