Bonhams set a new world record at auction with the sale of a German 3-rotor Enigma machine. The Enigma I Enciphering Machine (aka Heeres Enigma) in complete working condition sold for $269,000 (almost 1.5 times its high estimate) at Bonhams’ Fine Books & Manuscripts sale on April 13. The machine, with serial number 18660, was manufactured for the German military in Berlin in July of 1944. Few of these machines are known to have survived the war.
Patented by Arthur Scherbius in 1918, the Enigma Machine uses three interchangeable rotors, which scramble plain-text messages to produce a cipher text message, a virtually unbreakable code. The Germans first used this machine as their primary cipher device in 1926 to encrypt naval coded messages. The code was finally cracked by a team of young British code breakers at Bletchley Park led by none other than Alan Turing.
The auction also sold a 56-page manuscript by Alan Turing for $1,025,000. The manuscript, written in a simple notebook bought from a stationers in Cambridge, UK, is the only extensive autograph manuscript by Turing in existence.
Other highlights of the afternoon include: the first edition, first issue of the King James translation of the Holy Bible, dated 1611, sold for $175,000; a Revolutionary War manuscript map detailing the army camp formation of Lieutenant General Burgoyne’s army and the Battle in Saratoga fetched $81,250, over 16 times the high estimate; a rare autographed document signed by James Bowie that sold for $56,250; a handwritten and signed letter by the world’s first computer programmer, Ada Lovelace that sold for $27,500 and the first issue of William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury published in New York by Jonathan Cape & Harrison Smith in 1929, which realized $27,500.
The next Books & Manuscripts auction will be held on June 16 entitled “Voices of the 20th Century.”