Lossless source coding at Western Union

… circa 1935. Here is a quote from Single-Story America (translated as Little Golden America), an American travelogue by Ilya Ilf and Yevgeny Petrov:

There is a whole book of readymade telegrams, long and convincing, lavishly composed telegrams for all occasions. Sending such a telegram costs only twenty-five cents. You see, what gets transmitted over the telegraph is not the text of the telegram, but simply the number under which it is listed in the book, and the signature of the sender. This is quite a funny thing, reminiscent of Drugstore Breakfast #2. Everything is served up in a ready form, and the customer is totally freed from the unpleasant necessity to think, and to spend money on top of it.

Typical set encoding, anyone?