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Annie Decoder
Little orphan Annie decoder (toy) · 1936

The Little Orphan Annie Decoder 1 was a fully functional hand-operated cipher disc, shaped as a wearable badge, released in 1936 as a children's toy, as part of a successful commercial sales promotion campaign for milk supplement Ovaltine [1], produced by UK food company Novartis. 2 It was the successor to the Radio Orphan Annie's SS 3 decoder pin that was released in 1935.

The toy consists of a brass badge with the year at the top and the numbers 1 to 26 embossed in a circle, representing the letters of the alphabet (A-Z). Outside this circle is a ring with 26 cut-outs through which a rotatable disc — printed with the letters A to Z — is visible. At the rear of the movable disc is a safety pin by means of which it can be attached to the owner's clothing.

The decoder was released in the US in 1936 as part of a US children's radio series Little Orphan Annie, which ran from 1931 - 1940 [2]. Ovaltine was one of the sponsors of the show at the time.
  
Radio Orphan Annie Decoder

The Little Orphan Annie Decoder, often referred to as Annie's secret decoder badge, is basically a Vigenère Cipher — similar to the Confederate Cipher Disc that was used during the American civil war — which in turn is a variation of the well-known Caesar Cipher. Fans could redeem Ovaltine proofs of purchase for a secret decoder badge that enabled them to decode secret messages that were aired in the last minutes of each show. These messages commonly contained hints related to the next episode. Today, the decoders are frequently offered for sale on auction sites like eBay.

Between 1935 and 1940, a new cipher device was released every year, starting with the circular Radio Orphan Annie's SS decoder pin in 1935. In the following years, the name of the Secret Society (SS) was abbreviated to ROA SS. In 1939, the letters 'SS' were removed. The final version, in 1940, had its letters and number on the side of the wheel, and carried a unique serial number. For a more complete overview of ROA-related material, check out the Radio Archives website [3].

  1. Also known as Radio Orphan Annie Decoder.
  2. Ovalitine was a milk flavoring product made with malt extract, sugar and whey. It is a registered trademark of Associated British Foods [1]. It was made by Novartis until 2002, after which it is made by Wander AG. In the US it is now made by Nestlé. In some countries, the product is known as Ovomaltine.
  3. In this context, SS stands for Secret Society.

Radio Orphan Annie Decoder Radio Orphan Annie Decoder Radio Orphan Annie Decoder Close-up Rear side view Rotating the disc Removing the pin Pin removed from the disc
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Radio Orphan Annie Decoder
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Radio Orphan Annie Decoder
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Radio Orphan Annie Decoder
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Close-up
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Rear side view
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Rotating the disc
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Removing the pin
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Pin removed from the disc

References
  1. Wikipedia, Ovaltine
    Retrieved June 2018.

  2. Wikipedia, Little Orphan Annie (radio)
    Retrieved June 2018.

  3. Radio Archives, Little Orphan Annie
    Retrieved June 2018.
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Crypto Museum. Created: Monday 11 June 2018. Last changed: Thursday, 14 June 2018 - 06:18 CET.
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