Rebus Puzzles

Rebus letter, with pictures substituted for some of the words.

January 2012

January's public floor exhibit rediscovered rebuses, which use pictograms and riddles to represent words or parts of words. Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics and European heraldic expressions did the same thing, but rebuses were popularly adapted to the writing of correspondence in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

A Manuscripts and Special Collections unit staff member came upon a swell mid-1800s example of such correspondence while processing the Chadwick Family Papers (SC16555), and a portion of this wordplay graced our home page in January. Try to decipher this rebus before looking at the incomplete translation.

For a larger version of the image, see the PDF version of the rebus letterPDF file (4,265 KB).


As for what seems to be an address, good luck, though it appears to end with the city of "Cohoes," close to Albany here in upstate New York.

The exhibit ran through January 26, 2012. Also on display, from the microfilm set The Eighteenth Century and from the 1935 and 1984 microfilmed pages of the Utica Observer-Dispatch were

Display case 1, showing examples of rebuses and a roll of microfilm.
Display Case 1
Display case 2, showing additional examples of rebuses, including the letter from the Chadwick Family Collection.
Display Case 2
Display case 3, showing additional examples of rebuses, including pages from an alphabet book and a Mother Goose book.
Display Case 3

  • A Rebus Written by a Lady (circa 1720), directed at and answered by Jonathan Swift.
  • Jack Smart's Merry Jester, or, the Wit's Compleat Treasury...To Which is Added, a Beautiful Collection of Entire New Rebusses and Riddles (circa 1755).
  • A Choice Collection of Riddles, Charades, Rebusses, &c, Chiefly Original (1792) by Peter Puzzlewell, not to be confused with the equally pseudonymous Peter Puzzlewit, responsible for A Bag of Nuts Ready Crack'd: Being a Collection of Riddles, Paradoxes, etc (1807).

And from Manuscripts and Special Collections…

  • Two Rebuses from the American Revolution in Facsimile, originally published in 1778 and reprinted by the Library of Congress in 1973, complete with translations.
  • Hieroglyphic Cradle Hymn for the Amusement of Children, from the early 1800s.
  • The Hieroglyphick Bible; or, Select Passages in the Old and New Testaments, Represented with Emblematical Figures, for the Amusement of Youth (1841).
  • Mother [drawing of a goose] in Hieroglyphics (1845), which presents nursery rhymes in rebus form.
  • O [eye] C [puzzle], a mid-1800s item from the broadside collection.
  • Warne’s Picture Puzzle Toy Books: Holiday Fun (circa 1863), which provides what the title promises.
  • A Devil of a Trip, or, The Log of the Yacht Champlain (circa 1888), which incorporates a rebus in the front cover title.
  • Rebus ABC, a nice color McLoughlin Bros. juvenile alphabet book probably published in the 1890s.
  • Picture Puzzles, or, How to Read the Bible by Symbols, Designed Especially for the Boys and Girls to Stimulate a Greater Interest in the Holy Bible (1899).

Exhibit curated by Shawn Purcell

Last Updated: December 8, 2014