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Decoding the Arithm-A-Letta

(This was originally published in June 2012. One of the external links no longer works, and I have indicated this in italics in the text.)

While trawling the web for daftness recently I discovered the amazing Arithm-A-Letta, which claimed to be “the new plaything of the nation” that was “more mysterious than the ouija” and would “amuse all the family”. Click the image below to see a complete and enlarged version (link opens in separate tab/window):

To operate this fascinating device you would select a topic (I chose ‘business’), and then any number on the corresponding wheel, then note down certain numbers (depending on which topic you chose) until you had completed a circuit. The numbers would be converted into letters using the key, and a message would be revealed (I got “YOU WILL MOST SURELY PROSPER”, which is nicely optimistic but I won’t hold my breath).

The Arithm-A-Letta appeared in several issues of the Rock Hill Herald, a South Carolina newspaper, in late October/early November 1920 (here it is in the November 5 issue. Dead link – the newspaper has been removed from Google’s news archive). I looked for the chart in other newspapers from around the same time but without success and so I assumed it was, for about a fortnight in late 1920, a Rock Hill-only deal.

But then on Thursday the 16th of June 1921 the following advert appeared in a couple of New York State newspapers (Watertown Daily Times (PDF) and Oswego Daily Palladium (PDF)):

Two days later this “teaser trailer” (PDF) appeared in the Syracuse Post-Standard (click the image to enlarge):

A search on the website fultonhistory.com provided me with further images from various papers where the Arithm-A-Letta was appearing piece-by-piece, and in a dodecagon arrangement as well as the original circular design:

Here it is in the Syracuse Post-Standard: June 19, 1921 (PDF), June 26, 1921 (PDF), and July 3, 1921 (PDF).

And a month earlier in the Utica Herald-Dispatch: May 24, 1921 (PDF), May 25, 1921 (PDF), and May 26, 1921 (PDF).

And a few months later the dodecagon arrangement appeared in the Poughkeepsie Eagle News: October 3, 1921 (PDF).

So far so odd, but who or what was behind this amazing creation? A Google Books search found the following in the Library of Congress Copyright Office Catalogue of Copyright Entries for 1920:

Hooray, a name – Joseph Stanley Hatch! Now, the following is merely speculative (the result of a few Google searches) but it appears that Mr Hatch might have been from Newark, New Jersey and could have worked as a reporter. He may have married a Mary Alice Miller (or Alice Dolan) in Buffalo, NY, but they were possibly divorced in the late ’20s/early ’30s (reason for divorce perhaps “husband spent unacceptable amounts of time in basement creating weird charts). He may also have invented a “horse-scope” in 1935, a device for predicting which horse to bet on. This seems to have run weekly in the Boston Globe for a while. The mind boggles.

And that’s it. That’s the end of Joseph Stanley Hatch and his “ingenious, marvelous, mysterious, entertaining” Arithm-A-Letta. I’m still puzzled as to the point of it. Newspapers in the 1920s were filled to the brim with all sorts of quackery (and newspapers today feature premium rate phone number horoscopes that might apply to any of the 500,000,000 people who share your birth sign), but the Arithm-A-Letta made no appeals for your cash and there was no apparent follow-up.

I wrote a program to decipher all the possible messages, and (spoiler alert for those of you bored interested enough to decipher it for yourself) they are as follows:

Business
YOU WILL MOST SURELY PROSPER
A CHANGE COMING FOR YOUR GOOD
YOU SOON SHALL DO MUCH BETTER
HAVE NO FEAR YOU WILL PROSPER
YOUR BUSINESS WILL INCREASE
IN BUSINESS YOU WILL SUCCEED
CHEER UP THINGS WILL IMPROVE
BUSINESS IS SOON TO BE BETTER

Luck
YOUR LUCK SHALL SOON IMPROVE
FEAR NOT LUCK IS COMING TO YOU
A FORTUNATE SPELL COMES SOON
THIS DAY LUCK IS IN YOUR FAVOR
DONT DESPAIR GOOD LUCK COMES
BE CONTENT GOOD LUCK IS YOURS
FORTUNE SHALL NOT DESERT YOU

Wishes
YOUR WISH SHALL BE GRATIFIED
ASK NOT TOO MUCH AND YOU GET IT
THY DESIRES SHALL BE GRANTED
YOUR REQUEST SOON SHALL COME
RELY ON IT YOUR WISH IS COMING
YOUR WISH SHALL COME LATER ON

Wealth
PERSEVERE RICHES ARE COMING
CHEER UP YOU WILL BE VERY RICH
YOU ARE SOON TO GET MUCH MONEY
HAVE NO FEAR WEALTH IS FOR YOU
WEALTHY YOU WILL BE VERY SOON

Marriage
YOU WILL MARRY WELL AND HAPPY
BY MARRIAGE YOU WILL PROSPER
YOUR UNION WILL BE ONE OF LOVE
YOU WILL MARRY TO YOUR CHOICE
A MARRIED LIFE IS BEST FOR YOU




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