Auction News

Enigma machine sale shows enduring appeal of WWII memorabilia


Shot of the interior of an Enigma Machine from World War II.
Image courtesy of RR Auctions.

A 1943 German Enigma coding machine will sell in an auction due to close next Wednesday, June 12 and seems sure to pass the $100,000 mark.  

The working machine, currently attracting a $97,000 bid, is a three-rota Engima I electromagnetic cipher machine made by Heimsoeth and Rinke in Berlin. 

It carries a serial number and is in an original oak case, with a brown leather strap of a type that often break. It comes with three rotors that show, through their use of material, how the German war effort was hampered by the lack of some resources. Metals are replaced with Bakelite plastic as the war goes on. 

It was built exclusively for German military use and could produce extremely complex codes. 

Rotors from an Enigma code machine.

Enigma machines dated back to 1918 and proved a tough nut to crack.

The rotors interracted with the keyboard to code messages. Only when a receiving machine had been set up in the same way as the transmitter could a code be broken. 

This week marks the anniversary of D-Day. That massive physical battle was supported by the extraordinary mental, theoretical work that went into breaking the Enigma codes. 

The Bletchley Park operation where the legendary Alan Turing built on the work of Polish code-breakers also played a vital role in developing the first computers. It changed all of our lives. 

The machine has good provenance and probably had a post-war career. 

The UK broke the Enigma codes during the war, but didn’t reveal publically that it had done so until the 1970s. It encouraged some friendly nations (West Germany, Austria, Israel, Norway for example) to continue to use the machines despite this.  

With some light restoration this is an extremely desirable artefact of one of the key turning points of World War II. 

Enigma machines are very collectible. The type of machine, its condition, and any special connections it has can add to value. 

The current record for an Enigma machine is the £630,000 paid for an M4 machine in 2019. Previous highs had been £367,000 and £133,000.

This machine will not trouble those figures, but shows that the appetite for the machines – around 120 are thought to be in existence – has not diminished as WWII fades from living memory. 

The sale closes next Wednesday. The current winning bid is just under $97,000.

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