Rare Three-Rotor Enigma Machine Up For Auction
Written by Historian   
Friday, 09 November 2012

An three-rotor Enigma machine described as being "an exceptionally good example" is to be auctioned next week by Bonhams in Knightsbridge, London.


The machine sold for £85,000


The Enigma encyphering machine was used to pass coded German messages during the Second World War

The machine that will be auctioned by Bonham's was manufactured by Heimsoeth & Rinke in 1941 in the 3-rotor format used by the German military between 1938 and 1944. It has the serial number 13598, with the full matching I II and III rotors bearing matching machine serial numbers and a batch code, 44.

Laurence Fisher, Specialist Head of Mechanical Music, Technical Apparatus & Scientific Instruments commented:

"Enigma machines come up very rarely at auction. This particular example is in working order, completely untouched and un-restored.

"Many machines were picked up by the allies as souvenirs during the final stages of the second World War and as such, in later years, tended to be 'mixed and matched', where rotors, outer cases and head blocks were replaced with another machines' parts. This one has all elements bearing the same serial number, making this totally complete and original throughout."

The estimate for this Enigma machine (Lot 74) is £40,000-60,000. However, the Enigma machine that was sold by Christies in September 2011 that had an estimate of £30-50,000 sold realized £133,250 and it was not nearly such a good example.

Although it was described as being in "good overall condition with wear and scuffs consistent with age", its rotor wheels came from a different machine and as it lacked a battery pack its mechanics could not be guaranteed to be in working order. So Lot 74 which is in full working order and comes complete with accessories such as spare bulbs and with  its very complete can be expected to exceed its estimate.

The auction, to be held in on 14 November also includes a complete set of enigma rotors (estimated £6,000 - 8,000) which are perhaps even more rare than the Enigma machines themselves. If you can't be in London on the day, live online bidding is available.

The catalog description makes reference to Bletchley Park and the Footnotes conclude:

Thanks to Enigma, geniuses such as Alan Turing and Tommy Flowers were needed to design and build the first programmable electronic computer, Colossus, to take over from the Bombe code breaking machine.

This may be historically accurate as far as it goes but it falls into the trap yet again of overlooking the contribution of the Polish codebreakers to de-encyrpting the Enigma message. Hopefully all those who are interested in these lots will be aware of the full story, which was kept secret well in the 1970s, and not make the error of giving credit only to the British codebreakers.


More Information

Bonhams Auction of Scientific Instruments Lot 74

Related Articles

An Enigma Machine Up For Sale

Campaign for Recognition of Polish Enigma Codebreakers






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Last Updated ( Thursday, 15 November 2012 )