Daniel Schwenter, Steganologia & Steganographia Nova, 1620

Steganologia & Steganographia Nova: first major cryptologic treatise in German

Resene Gibronte Runeclus Hanedi [pseudonym of Daniel Schwenter].


Steganologia & Steganographia Nova. Geheime Magische, Natürliche Red und Schreibkunst. Einem in der nähe und ferrne alsbalden oder in gewiser zeit, so woln in Schimpff als Ernst, etwas verborgens unnd geheimes zu eröffnen, durch Reden, Schreiben und mancherley Instrumenta; Item wie verborgene Schrifften zu machen, auffzulösen, und mit sonderlichen Künsten zu schreiben, Auff vielfältiges einer hohen Person begern. Nürnberg, Simon Halbmaier (colophon: printed by Balthasar Scherff), [ca. 1620].

Contemporary vellum. Small 8vo (16 x 10 cm). [16], 299, [5] pp. Many woodcut illustrations in the text. 


Front paste-down with bibliographical note and two small labels ("Librairie des Sciences Occultes W.N. Schors" and "Heijboer Barbas". Title-page with a few contemporary owner's entries, final blank with owner's entry: "Ex libris Joannes Baptista P[...]nona[?] 1668", back paste-down with several contemporary annotations. First free endpaper lacking, title-page slightly frayed, browned throughout, rear endpapers with a few wormholes, one illustration with manuscript additions, binding slightly soiled, boards slightly bowed, front joint with a small split in the centre. Despite these shortcoming, still overall in good condition.


The extremely rare first significant cryptologic treatise written in German, "valuable for the information it gives concerning the history of cryptography, processes of cipherment, methods of deciphering, and bibliographical indications" (Galland).


In Schwenter's view steganography and cryptology are part of natural magic ('magia naturalis') and in his foreword he goes to great lengths to defend the use of magic. His work is divided into seven books and draws on a wealth of literature including Della Porta, Trithemius, and Agrippa.


It discusses secret communication in small rooms, optical and acoustic telegraphs, communication through sympathetic magic, various methods of secretly sending letters, exotic alphabets used for concealment (including the Theban alphabet), many substitution and transposition ciphers, including the famous Trithemius cipher, as well as decipherment and the use of sympathetic ink.


Interestingly, the treatise also includes examples from occult sciences such as three Kabbalistic alphabets from Sefer Raziel HaMalakh ("the book of Raziel the angel"), a 13th-century grimoire of Practical Kabbalah. And the last book describes a fountain pen (in ciphertext!) illustrated with a woodcut. This early text seems to have been overlooked by historians, who only cite Schwenter's Deliciae Physico-mathematicae (1636), which reprints the woodcut and the text with a slightly different wording.


As can be expected, the name "Resene Gibronte Runeclus Hanedi" on the title-page is an anagram: Daniel Schuuenterus Norimbergensis. Daniel Schwenter (1585-1636) was an author, inventor and professor of mathematics and oriental languages at the University of Altdorf. He contributed to mathematics and linguistics and developed the so-called scioptric ball.


According to Galland the first edition of Steganologia & Steganographia Nova was published in 1617. However, there seems to be no 1617 edition extant. VD 17 lists two editions tentatively dated 1620 (including the present), without establishing priority. It was reprinted at least two times ("auffs neue revidirt").


Extremely rare on the market.


Galland, Cryptology, pp. 164-165; VD17 23:279288X; Wheeler Gift 73 (later edition; "This rare book gives a lengthy and interesting description of magnetic signaling" ); cf. De Leeuw & Bergstra, The History of Information Security, p. 297 ff.; Binder, Richard. "Who Really Invented the Fountain Pen?", in: RichardsPens.com; for Schwenter: ADB 30, pp. 413–414; De Joode, "Illustrated description of fountain pen, ca. 1620".

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