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Enigma machine codebook to auction at Bonhams


German Enigma machine codebook
Most Enigma codebooks were destroyed before they could be captured by the Allies (Image: Bonhams)

A number of Enigma machines have come to auction over the past couple of years.
Much rarer are the codebooks used to operate them. Bonhams’ June 12 Books and Manuscripts sale in New York will feature one of these incredibly scarce documents, offered with an estimate of $20,000-30,000.

The text is a “Wetterkurzschlussel” (“Weather short signal book”) intended to be used aboard a German U-boat. These are almost never seen today, as the paper was specially made to dissolve in water. Officers were expected to destroy all codebooks and equipment before capture. As U-boats are sealed, this allowed plenty of time to carry out these orders even after capture.

The purpose of this book was to provide German high command with information on weather conditions around the Atlantic. U-boats would surface at regular intervals to carry out observations. This knowledge was particularly useful in planning attacks. Storms and high swells had little effect on submarines and so were used as cover for attacks on Allied shipping.

Another U-boat Enigma code manual, this time a Kurzsignalheft (“Short signal code book”) achieved $146,500 against a $12,000 estimate in 2014. We’d expect the present lot to also go for a sum over the valuation.

A collection of objects belonging to a passenger on the RMS Lusitania will also be offered.
This handbag accompanied its owner into the north Atlantic (Image: Bonhams)

The civilian ship was holed by a German U-boat in 1915, during the first world war. 1,198 passengers and crew died. This would be a key piece of Allied propaganda and eventually brought America half-heartedly into the fray.

The lot (valued at $7,000-10,000) consists of a handbag and contents that belonged to a Mrs Martha Barker of Trenton, New Jersey, as well as clippings and letters kept by her family. While Mrs Barker survived, her nine-year-old daughter, Winnie, did not.


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