A British Antiques Roadshow Fan Cracked a Centuries-Old Secret Code


A man in England recently solved a 230-year-old mystery that left Antiques Roadshow experts stymied: a numerical code engraved on an 18th-century cosmetics box.

The box—which appeared on an episode of the popular British appraisal show filmed at Bowood House in Wiltshire—dates back to 1785, and was likely given to its female owner by a gentleman named J. Jones (the name engraved on the top). On one of its sides, it is engraved with the words, “The ring is round and hath no end, so unto my love, now my friend.” The real puzzle, though, lay in a chain of numbers encircling its top lid.

Neither the object’s owner—a young woman whose father had purchased the box for her late mother years ago at London’s Petticoat Lane Market—nor show guest expert Jon Baddeley of Bonhams auction house knew what the numbers meant. However, a retired IT support engineer named Paul Wisken caught the episode, and thought he had a shot at cracking the code.

A lifelong fan of crossword and number puzzles, Wisken created a spreadsheet to match numbers with letters. Going off the theory that the code’s double 8s represented LLs, Wisken spent five hours on the project. He deciphered the message’s last word in a burst of inspiration at 5 a.m.

According to Wisken, the 26-digit code translates to “The gift is small but love is all.” The nature of the sweet, encoded sentiment suggests that two lovers once used the code to pass messages and possibly hide an illicit relationship, according to The Telegraph.

Wisken reached out to Antiques Roadshow with the answer, which the show has said they will share with the box’s owner and her family. To learn more about the romantic puzzle, watch the video above or check out Wisken’s blog to follow his code-breaking process step by step.

All images courtesy of YouTube.

[h/t The Telegraph]