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Step ladders, stippling judders and looking wobbly.

There is without doubt extremely good value to be found in the content and comments on Cipher M and Gordon’s blog, the problem is that there are so many of them, and if anyone responding dares to enter the world of technicalities they do so at their own peril. Nevertheless, this is what we have.





1) The Rubaiyat page was photographed under UV light, and developed onto a glass plate yielding a negative, which was then written on with some kind of white pen. This was then printed (reversing it again), yielding what we see. (NP)


2) The Rubaiyat page was photographed under UV light, and developed onto a glass plate yielding a negative, which was then printed as a photograph. This photograph was then written on with a back laundry pen, and it was this modified photograph that was then shown to the newspapers (for them to photograph themselves). (NP)

3) You can see the same (what you call) “step-ladder effect” on lots of the other letters, including the (in)famous Q, so the answer here is surely most likely to be something pretty physical and basic. To my eyes, I see someone slowly dragging a old-fashioned laundry pen across a writing surface (perhaps an IR photograph), where the judders get translated into what you call “steps”. The N and E look wobbly in the same way a fair few other letters look wobbly: so perhaps the more testing case is the A, which seems not only smoother (no steps), but also as though the writer has gone over it at least twice. (Maybe the first pass was too soft, and so needed doing again?) (NP)

4) UV light was (and is still used) to show up what the Police found i.e. indentations in the paper of the book. It was these indentations that were traced over by the Police. UV light was used during WW2 and in the Cold War years by censors to examine mail. (GC)

5) I suggested then that the markings would have been done on acetate or glass and certainly not directly on to the page itself. (GC)


This is our data: 50 characters marked up on acetate or glass and photographed.

boxall's code


Some of the characters in the above code appear wobbly or stippled when viewed close-up. Some are smooth. Many have been marked over more than once and the instrument (pen or brush) used by the individual(s) responsible was wet with ink, leaving pooling at the end of the some strokes (fig:2, letterA)



I count 16 ‘judders’ on the P curve alone.



I count 46 wobblies on the letter R.

Is it reasonable to ask if the mark-up served two purposes: to show the faintly written pencilled code in clear as well as disguise what it consisted of ?

There’s a word for that method but it escapes me.

Thanks to NP and GC for their work, appreciated. Any errors are mine.

20 Comments Post a comment
  1. Byron Deveson #

    I did some experiments and I found that 1949 type inks (non etching inks) give a “step ladder” effect due to the stuttering caused by a mismatch of the hydrophilicity between the ink and the clear overlay. Given the time (1949) the overlay was probably cellulose acetate sheet IMHO.
    I posted some relevant comments on Ciphermysteries see:
    26th and 30th July 2014
    19th January 2014
    I don’t think that the faint writing (probably faint indentations of writing) was enhanced with either UV or IR. I have a lot of experience in the uses of both UV and IR and I have also conducted relevant experiments. In any case it doesn’t matter if UV, IR, slanting illumination or the electrostatic method for reading indentations, such as was refined by the East Germans by 1950, was used.
    IMHO the “code page” was photographed under either UV, IR or slanting light and a positive enlargement was made on photographic paper. The contrast was enhanced using standard photographic techniques during development of the negative and the positive print. An overlay sheet (probably acetate sheet) was then marked up using a black ink (possibly photographic ink. As Nick has mentioned white photographic ink was used to mark up negatives in the past. Pelikan as I remember used to make a variety of such inks and Jimmy Durham would have similar inks in his kit). The sandwich (underlying photo print with the marked up transparent overlying sheet in register) was then photographed and prints sent to the newspapers etc.

    Oh, I almost forgot. The code mark up was done with a brush, probably a photographers retouching brush, not a pen. That is why the widths of the strokes vary and why there are thinning tails on some of the characters.

    January 11, 2019
  2. “I did some experiments and I found that 1949 type inks (non etching inks) give a “step ladder” effect due to the stuttering caused by a mismatch of the hydrophilicity between the ink and the clear overlay.”

    Got that … the question now is why no stutter on the letter A on either stroke?

    January 11, 2019
  3. Byron Deveson #

    The strokes that constitute the “A” are straight and done quickly. The most stuttering occurs on curves. As for the wonkiness of the “R”, I located some of my notes and I had previously concluded that the ink mark up was done directly on an enlarged photographic print and that is why there are no signs of paralax or register flaws. The enlarged photographic print was probably a glossy print and the “wonkiness” of the “R” ws caused by either some surface roughness at that location, or more likely a trace of oil on the surface of the print. The breakup of the ink is consistent with the way a hydrophilic ink flows (doesn’t flow) on a hydrophobic (=oily) surface. IMHO of course.I would have to do some experiments to be certain.

    January 12, 2019
  4. “The strokes that constitute the “A” are straight and done quickly. The most stuttering occurs on curves.”
    Byron – The appearance of the verticals on next two letters (N and E) is an argument against that proposition.

    January 12, 2019
  5. Byron Deveson #

    what I found in my experiments was that a significant mismatch in the polarity between the ink and the substrate would cause the features that you have pointed out. The contact angle between an ink drop and the substrate is a good measure of the degree of polarity mismatch. I found that the following would also lead to variable outcomes:

    a) the speed at which the line was drawn. Slower speed tended to produce a stutter or a drawing up into unconnected blobs.
    b) the amount of ink spread on the substrate. Too little ink increased stuttering. Too much would lead to large separate blobs forming.
    d) the degree of stuttering or “blobbing” varied with the width of the line.

    This system is close to being chaotic in that small changes in the input states can lead to different outcomes.

    Adding to the above variables are the variations in the polarity of the surface of the substrate (paper etc) that can be caused by manufacturing or caused by contamination such as oily finger prints. One can sometimes see this with cheap writing pads where a ball point pen refuses to write on one area of the paper.

    In short, the system is close to being chaotic.

    January 14, 2019
  6. Thanks Byron, much appreciated.
    Would the same chaotic effect occur if the ink was applied directly to glass or acetate, as appears to be the case?

    January 14, 2019
  7. Byron Deveson #

    Pete,the ink could have been applied to the gelatin side of glass plate negative and the same sort of effects occur (I conducted this experiment). Yes, the same occurs with cellulose acetate films (also by experiment). The lack of paralax or halo effects suggests that the ink was not applied to the glass side of a glass plate. .

    January 14, 2019
  8. Byron Deveson #

    Pete, if you email me (I have lost your email address) I will send some experimental images that I have just made. They aren’t perfect because there is a limit to the materials one can find in a hick town at short notice. But they do demonstrate the matters that I mentioned.

    January 14, 2019
  9. On the way…..

    January 14, 2019
  10. Byron Deveson #

    I checked in newspaper ads, trade magazines and the patent applications and I could not find any mention of laundry markers such as we have today before the 1960s. In 1948 laundry “pens” were just ordinary knibbed pens and ordinary India ink was used.

    January 15, 2019
  11. 1 to 3
    (1) Is GordonC’s position the judders represent an attempt to mark-over micro-writing?
    (2) Is NickP’s that the judders are an example of quantizing artefacts.
    (3) Is ByronD indicating the judders are a nothing more than the result of the surface conditions on the object being marked up?

    Have I got them right?

    January 15, 2019
  12. …… and seeing nobody has asked: I think the judders are an unsuccessful attempt to paint-over signs of the micro-code, and what’s more, I think the second layer of ink visible on most letters is an attempt to hide the judders that hide the code.

    plus …

    The step-ladder appearance on the curve of the letter P is too uniform to be called chaotic.

    January 16, 2019
  13. Clive #

    It certainly looks like whoever went over the letter ‘P’ was very careful in maintaining a smooth appearance, the bottom end of the curve is wider for some reason, also odd that there appears to be two faint ‘arrowheads’ near the top of the curve on the RHS. Clive

    January 16, 2019
    • Time to put your hand up, Clive, what was the bloke doing?

      January 16, 2019
  14. gordon1552 #

    You have my assessment correct

    January 16, 2019
    • Thanks for speaking up …. not much of it around lately.

      January 16, 2019
  15. Clive #

    Making sure that whatever had been found remained that way, hence a nice smooth finish to divert prying eyes as to what lay underneath.

    January 16, 2019
    • … and what lay beneath, Clive, do you think?

      January 16, 2019
  16. Clive #

    The thought goes through my mind that certain Code letters are more important, in what they hide, than others, so the judders were deliberately left on some letters, whilst other letters received the letter P like finish. I wonder why the first letter A, on the last line, is so different to the other letter A’s?

    January 17, 2019
  17. gordon1552 #

    Letter P new image posted. New camera arrived today and initial results are very promising.

    January 17, 2019

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