One of the few remaining Enigma machines was recently sold at a Bonhams auction earlier this week for a record-breaking price. Among other handwritten manuscripts was one that was penned by Alan Turing himself, which fetched a million dollars.
A three-rotor Enigma machine bearing serial number 18660 fetched a handsome price of $269,000 at the auction. Despite actively serving during World War II, the machine, manufactured for the German military in Berlin in July 1944 is in impeccable condition and still works as well as the day it did during battle.
The Enigma machines have always been one of the most brilliant examples of war-time German ingenuity. For its time, the Enigma was by far the most sophisticated encryption device that was widely used by Germany to rely coded messages to its entire fleet spread across the world. The simple Morse-coded messages were easy to intercept, but impossible to decipher for people who did not possess an Enigma machine.
However, the British army was determined and commissioned a massive effort at Bletchley Park to break the encryption and lay bare the plans of the German army. Under Hitler, using the Enigma machines, the German army, especially with the deathly silent U-boat submarines, was invincible.
Due to the untiring efforts of Alan Turing, the British army finally succeeded in breaking the Enigma’s encryption. In addition, Alan Turing pioneered much of what now stands as the basis for computer science.
No wonder that such a piece of technology that was the basis of modern computing is still extremely valuable, shared Cassandra Hatton, director of history, science & technology at Bonhams.
“The results of this exciting sale confirm that the demand for scientific and technological artifacts is strong and continues to grow.”
Among other similarly important pieces of old-school technology was a 56-page manuscript by Alan Turing, which went for more than $1 million. Bonhams had earlier confirmed that the manuscript, “written in a simple notebook bought from a stationers in Cambridge, UK, is the only extensive autograph manuscript by Turing in existence.”
A handwritten and self-signed letter by the world’s first computer programmer, Ada Lovelace fetched for $27,500. The letter, dated 1839, is addressed to the celebrated English journalist Albany Fonblanque (1793-1872) and mentions Charles Babbage.
Enigma machines are and continue to remain a historically important piece of technology history that set in motion the processes that eventually helped design modern-day computers. Though Britain didn’t take kindly to the private life of Alan Turing, it was his work that helped the allied forces to gain an upper hand over Germans by beating Enigma’s encryption.
[Image Credit | Getty Images, Tim Gage]