Rare Engima machine sells at auction for $232,000
An Enigma machine, used by Germany tosend encrypted communications during World War II, has been sold atauction in London. The machine, which was constructed in 1943, is oneof few that survived the conflict intact, as the German military wasgiven orders to destroy them as it retreated.
During its years of use, the Germanmilitary altered and refined the Enigma cipher machine, creatingnumerous different models. The 1943 example included threerotors, and was sold complete with an oak hinged-lid carrying case.
The final sale price of the machine was £149,000 (US$232,015),significantly more than the expected £50,00-70,000($78,000-109,000) figure. It was purchased by an unnamed buyer. Given the historical significance ofthe machine (it was originally invented in 1918), the high sale price of auctioned example is really nosurprise.
To use Enigma, the operator would type in amessage, then scramble it using three, four or five notched rotors,each with 26 possible positions. Whoever received the message neededto know the exact settings of the rotors, and those of the machine'splugboard, in order to decode the message. There were more than 159million million million possible configurations (that's not a typo), and the settings werechanged daily.
During the Second World War, the Germanmilitary believed that the encryption granted by Enigma could not bebroken, but thanks to a combination of Polish intelligence and thework of codebreakers at Bletchley Park – including mathematiciansGordon Welchman and Alan Turing – the cipher was eventually beaten.They employed the use of huge, one-ton code-breaking machines calledBritish Bombes, more than 200 of which were used during the height ofthe operation.
The wartime efforts of the men andwomen at Blethchley Park – and Alan Turing in particular – wererecently dramatized in The Imitation Game,which helped to highlight the importance of the work to moderngenerations. Like the rare Enigma machine sold at Sotheby's,Alan Turing's handwritten notes on the project, contained within a 56-page notebook, were also recently auctioned by Bonhams Fine Books &Manuscripts in New York.
If you're interested in reading moreabout the history surrounding the astonishing machine and the men andwomen who worked against it, you can check out our feature on theextraordinary wartime contribution that came out of an unassuming mansion inBuckinghamshire, UK.