Yesterday's Twitter

by Kathleen M. O'Donnell
An excerpt from A.C. Baldwin's The Traveler's Vade Mecum

Inspired by Kurt Andersen's story for VSL, we dug a little deeper into The Traveler's Vade Mecum, a witty and accommodating book to aid in sending short messages via telegraph or post. Its resemblance to modern-day Twitter and text-messaging is uncanny, considering it was written in 1853.

We can only imagine what might lie ahead for instant communication methods when traveling abroad. Sure, there's Skype and email, but who wants to spend precious vacation hours writing to folks back home? Certainly not me! Twitter might come as close as we'll ever get to short bursts of correspondence, but the 19th century brought The Traveler's Vade Mecum: Or, Instantaneous Letter Writer, By Mail or Telegraph, or the Convenience of Persons Traveling on Business or for Pleasure, and for Others, Whereby a Vast Amount of Time, Labor, and Trouble is Saved, a monstrous title for A.C. Baldwin's tome about conveying concise messages.

In the book, 8,466 codes are arranged alphabetically via keywords on a variety of topics from "credit," to "murder," to "wheat." Baldwin's goal? To aid long-winded holiday travelers in penning quick telegraphs or letters.

It's quite simple really. Say you're a born and bred New Englander taking a business trip to Arizona. Instead of wasting a half hour writing to your sister about how you cannot possibly stand the heat anymore, all you have to do is write the code: #8153. Upon receipt, your sister would take Baldwin's book and find that #8153 corresponds with the message "The weather is very uncomfortable." Brilliant.

If you want a leg up on how to incorporate The Traveler's Vade Mecum into your own life, refer to our list of favorite codes followed by a letter incorporating some of them. Tell us what you think, or create your own numerical letter and send it to us. Download the book and start decoding, world travelers!

FATHOM's Top 15 Vade Mecum Codes
#567 – My advice is to "stop where you are."
#612 – The air in this place is very pure and wholesome.
#906 – She is a most beautiful girl.
#1018 – Has the body been found?
#1088 – It is supposed that the burglars have taken a public conveyance for your place. Please have an officer ready on the arrival of the cars, or boat, to apprehend them.
#1419 – Important changes have taken place since my last communication.
#1515 – Love to the children, and a kiss for every one.
#1644 – There are flying clouds of doubtful import.
#2188 – What is the price of corn?
#3683 – I had a wonderful escape.
#4552 – A general gloom pervades this community.
#6465 – A murder has just been committed in this place.
#6924 – Pork is in demand.
#7571 – You will rue the day if you do.
#8089 – My plans have all been thwarted.


Dearest M,

#8089. I simply cannot believe the time I've had on this "so-called" vacation. #3683 from New York, but upon arrival in England,  I found that #4552. Apparently, #6465. #567. Don't follow me here. #7571. I'll be returning home as soon as possible. #1515.


The Traveler's Vade Mecum Full Text

Very Short List

David Horvitz on Twitter
(an art project using Vade Mecum codes and hastags)

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