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One of world's top 50 unsolvable codes hidden in woman’s silk dress from 1800s is cracked at last

Ten years after an antique curator revealed the codes hidden in the vintage dress, the mystery was finally solved by a researcher.

One of world's top 50 unsolvable codes hidden in woman’s silk dress from 1800s is cracked at last
Cover Image Source: Facebook | National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

It's always exciting to find something from the past that depicts the culture and lifestyle of those times. Especially when one is so intrigued by solving mysteries, digging up the past is absolute fun. Several experts and cryptogram lovers are cracking unsolved codes around the world. One of the top 50 unsolved codes in the world was the mysterious bronze silk dress that had bits of paper with codes hidden in it. When Sara Rivers-Cofield, an archaeological curator, wrote in her blog about 'Bennett's Bronze Bustle'  in 2014, the internet came up with varied theories about the hidden codes. But recent research decoded the cryptogram and it's not what everyone thought.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Shuxuan Cao
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Shuxuan Cao

When Cofield bought this dress from an antique mall, she only wanted it to be a part of her collectibles. Little did she know that within the pocket of the vintage dress lay a mystery that would make the world go crazy over it. The bronze silk dress from the 1880s had a paper tag with the name 'Bennett'  sewn on it and the concealed pocket had two balled-up sheets of paper with historic writing. Cofield thought that it might be a list, but then she said, "There are also numbers between the lines, each line is marked off with a different color and there are weird time-like notes in the margin: 10 pm, 1113PM and 1124 P. I feel like those clues point to code of some kind." The archaeologist left the mystery unresolved for some decoding enthusiasts to crack.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Johnmark Smith
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Johnmark Smith

Her open-ended request went viral online and people were pitching in their theories on platforms like Reddit. People suspected the writings to be love notes, dress measurements, illegal gambling, war code and some even thought that the woman who had the dress might've been a spy. But in 2022, Wayne Chan, an analyst with the Centre for Earth Observation Science at the University of Manitoba, put a full stop to all these speculations about the codes. Chan identified that the cryptogram resembled telegraphic codes and explained in his academic paper how to decode them. As Chan couldn't put a finger on exactly what these telegraphic codes indicated, he did further research on the telegram era.


As per the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Chan believed that the cryptogram was related to the weather code used by the U.S. Army Signal Corps, which acted as the country's national weather service in the late 1800s. Since weather forecasting became easier with the invention of the telegram, Chan, aided by NOAA resources, deduced that the codes from the dress were messages from Signal Service weather stations in the U.S. and Canada. Each code had the station location, codewords for temperature/pressure, dew point, precipitation/wind direction, cloud observations and wind velocity/sunset observations. An extensive study of the NOAA Central Library weather maps led Chan to conclude that those codes were the weather observations of May 27, 1888. How fascinating is that!

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Pixabay
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Pixabay

Katie Poser, a librarian at NOAA’s Central Library who helped Chan with historic resources, said, "It was interesting to see how far the impact of the Weather Service went." Though we know that a woman named 'Bennett' wore the dress in the 1880s, why she carried those telegraphic weather codes is still a mystery. According to Cofield, the dress seemed to be the business casual equivalent of those times and the lady might've worn it to work. Chan tried to find the owner of the dress by checking the name records of the Signal Service office, but it was in vain. So far, Chan's discovery has rekindled an interesting part of our history that many didn't know about.

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