Syllabical and Steganographical Table

Syllabical and Steganographical Table (French: Tableau syllabique et stéganographique) is an eighteenth-century work. It is believed to be the first cryptography chart made.[1]

English version cover page, 1797
French version cover page, 1797


The work was written by P.R. Wouves. It was thought by Philadelphia book dealer W.D. De Witt that this author's name was a play on words and a pseudonym for Benjamin Franklin. He thought that the "P.R" stood for Poor Richard, a pseudonym Franklin used for "Richard Saunders" as the author of Poor Richard's Almanack. Franklin had a reputation for using ciphers and codes in secret communications. The printer for this work was developed by Benjamin Franklin Bache, the grandson of Benjamin Franklin.[2]


The work was of two pages and a chart. The two pages were title pages which were in English and French. Printed on the back of these pages were information and instructions for the chart that was within. This chart consisted of a large single sheet of paper of a table. It contained 62 alphabetical columns of 6,138 two-letter combinations, numbered from 1 to 99 so that words could be translated into numbers. The table chart sheet was normally kept folded for carrying around. The folded chart then was opened for using, as one would do with a folded road map.[3]

The chart table was to be used to put into code a message that was to be kept secret from all others except the recipient. It was a cipher system. The idea behind this was that anything written in the Latin alphabet could be put into a numerical code of a set of numbers. It was initially set up for English and French but could also be used for Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, or Italian. Wouves's chart for a secret correspondence method was only intended for certain of his closest friends. He was working on steganography. The initial preliminary table was printed in 1797 as a partial work. There never was an official printed edition of his total completed work.[4]


The sheet of the chart table when open is 27 inches (690 mm) wide by 19.25 inches (489 mm) deep.[1] It has a copyright from Pennsylvania District number 192 issued to author "P.R. Wouves" on November 9, 1787. According to US Army cryptographer William F. Friedman the table is of significant historical importance for what it represents.[2]



  1. ^ a b Kane 1997, p. 328.
  2. ^ a b Sheldon, Rose Mary. "The Friedman Collection: An Analytical Guide, Item 265" (PDF). George C. Marshall Foundation. Retrieved August 7, 2015. William F. Friedman library collection Item 265 Wouves, P.R., A Syllabical and Steganographical Table, Philadelphia: Printed by Benjamin Franklin Bache, 1797. Photostat negative. According to William F. Friedman, an item of very great historical interest and importance. An explanatory note accompanies the item written by the book dealer i Philadelphia from whom Friedman purchased this copy. See Galland, p. 205 for explanatory details. In French and English, 1786-98: ―By means of which any sort of writings taken from either the French, English, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese or Italian languages or any languages which use the same alphabet can be converted into numerical figures. According to the extract from a letter from W.D. Witt, Book Dealer on Carlisle Street, Philadelphia, the Library of Congress does NOT have a copy of this. The New York Public Library has a copy signed by Wouves and the Philadelphia Historical Society has an unsigned copy. De Witt thought Wouves was a pseudonym for Benjamin Franklin. The publisher, Benjamin Franklin Bach was his grandson. We know Franklin made use of ciphers. P.R.=Poor Richard?
  3. ^ "Tableau syllabique et steganographique". Falvey Memorial Library. Villanova University. 2014. Retrieved August 7, 2015.
  4. ^ "Syllabical and steganographical table". Trove. National Library of Australia. 2015. Retrieved August 7, 2015.