Confederate Cipher Disk

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Source: Cowan’s Auction– this item sold for $18,000 in November 2014

Read more about the Confederate Cipher Disk here

Auction description reads:

Brass mechanical wheel cipher consisting of two concentric discs that share a common axle, each with the 26 letters from the Latin alphabet written out clockwise. Outer disc approx. 57mm dia., inner disc approx. 41mm. The inner disc is stamped at center CSA / S.S. (Confederate States of America Secret Service). Reverse stamped with maker’s mark F. Labarre/ Richmond, VA. Housed in 4.75 x 6.625 in. book-style presentation case produced specifically for the disc by the Lakeside Press, Chicago, spine labeled in gilt Decoding Device – C.S.A. Secret Service.

An extremely rare decoding device used by the Confederates to encrypt secret messages throughout the Civil War, created by gold and silver worker, Francis LaBarre, ca 1862. At the start of the war, LaBarre (b. 1818), who was working in Washington, DC, fled the city for Richmond, where he was contracted by the Confederate Army to produce brass cipher devices as well as other medals. LaBarre enlisted in the Confederate Army as a private on April 22, 1861, in Alexandria, VA, and was mustered into Co. H of the 7th Virginia Infantry. Within a year, he was discharged on May 14, 1862, but during his time in the army, LaBarre’s official military occupation was listed as “plater.” He is referenced as a “tinner” in an 1864 Baltimore City Directory as well as an 1870 Baltimore census. (Information obtained from the Crypto Museum Website and GenForum Website, October 16, 2014.)
One of a handful of Confederate cipher discs known to exist, this example comes from the highly regarded collection of distinguished American historian, Philip D. Sang (1902-1975). Other known examples are housed in the collection of the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, VA, (2), the Smithsonian Institution (1), and private collections (2).

From the Collection of Philip D. Sang


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