The man’s eyes narrowed as he studied the box. There were a few minutes of uncomfortable silence. “We can’t solve it,” the historian finally sighed, “it’s an unbreakable code.”
When the camera panned over the secret message, Paul leaned closer to the television screen. “I bet I can,” he muttered, fetching his notebook. What secrets had this mysterious box been hiding for centuries?
61-year-old Paul Wisken, a retired engineer, loved historical artifacts. Every evening he would sit glued to his television screen, avidly lapping up shows on the history channel.
So, when he saw a Georgian cosmetics box with a cryptic code engraved on the lid, he just couldn’t resist. But what began as something fun to engage his brain and pass the time soon became an obsession.
The box didn’t look like much at first glance — it was an old-looking cosmetics container made of wood. The box, which can easily fit in the palm of your hand, was engraved with the year 1785, dating it back by over 230 years.
The box’s owner and Antiques Roadshow experts had already answered some of the more obvious questions.
The age of the box wasn’t what made it special, though. Around the year and name engraved on the lid were what appeared to be random numbers, carved in a circular pattern around the edge.
While these made for an eye-catching and elegant design, it turned out that these numbers held much more than met the eye.
The experts on Antiques Roadshow suspected that the Georgian box was a gift from a gentleman to his lover, but they couldn’t determine much else.
Purchased for just $30 by the owner’s father, it was impossible to trace the box’s lineage back more than two generations. The romantic message around the side of the lid read: “The ring is round and hath no end, so unto my love, now my friend.” But the strange string of numbers left everyone stumped.
Jon Baddeley, an expert antique appraiser who was featured on the show, was able to give a few more details about the box’s centuries-old origin, however.
He was able to determine that the box once held makeup patches or rouge, and he was even able to confirm the name of the man who had had it made.
The name was J Jones. But the numbers that surrounded the lid and formed some sort of secret code remained a complete mystery to him.
“You’ve brought in this tiny little box and many many questions,” he confessed to the box’s owner. Then, he was forced to admit to something that no historian ever wants to admit.
The woman who had brought the box onto the show looked at Jon expectantly, awaiting his expert opinion and appraisal. “I think with this one I’m going to be at a bit of a loss,” he replied, flushing red. He set the estimated value of the box at $1,500 due to its “sentimental value.”
But what if they could decipher the code? Would what it revealed raise its monetary value? That’s when Paul, who was watching the show at home, thought he recognized something.
Paul’s interest was immediately piqued. He wrote the numbers down and got to work.
“As soon as I heard them say ‘we can’t solve it,’ I thought, ‘I bet I can,’” Paul said in an interview. But the prolific war reenactor and history buff had no idea that he was about to uncover a centuries-old scandal.
Paul had a natural affinity for numbers and crossword puzzles. The opportunity to discover just what was written on the box was just too good to resist. Just maybe, he’d be able to do what nobody else had been able to do.
With a lifetime of amateur code-cracking under his belt, Paul loved the challenge. But this Georgian-era code wasn’t going to give up its well-hidden secrets so easily.
Paul created columns on paper and got to work on a cipher. He painstakingly matched the letters to numbers, starting from the double 8s that he assumed represented LLs. Once he had matched one letter, his complex system grew.
And while he was working on cracking the code, he couldn’t help but wonder: what had J Jones tried so hard to conceal?
After 5 laborious hours, Paul had only a few words to work with. The most prominent words were “small” and “love,” but he still couldn’t figure out what the message said.
Days flew by, and still, Paul was at a loss. Until he woke up one night and everything clicked into place. The word that had eluded him for so long had finally revealed itself.
The lightbulb had gone off. Paul had finally cracked the code! It was a triumphant moment for him. The word that he’d been looking for was “gift.”
“It was a beautiful challenge thrown in my lap,” he said in an interview, before confessing: “I’m a bit of a nerd.” So, what did the 230-year-old secret message say?
The message read, “The gift is small but love is all.” But this message was actually only the first piece of the puzzle. Now, there were even more questions about the box’s origins. And the biggest one was: Why hide this simple message behind such a complex code?
And the answer that made the most sense made the juiciest of implications…
Paul informed Antiques Roadshow of his groundbreaking discovery, and they dubbed him a “genius.” Furthermore, they were able to add 10-20% to the original appraisal of the Georgian box.
Experts on Antiques Roadshow speculated that the gift was likely exchanged between illicit lovers. The rather ordinary cosmetics box had held quite a mystery!