BOSTON – RR Auction‘s May Fine Autographs and Artifacts Auction, boasting nearly 900 items across numerous genres, is highlighted by a functional three-rotor Enigma machine, estimated at $250,000-$300,000. The auction opened on April 23 and will end on May 12. View the full online catalog at LiveAuctioneers.
The Enigma I electromechanical cipher machine was made for the German military in Berlin in 1935, during the buildup of German forces in violation of the Treaty of Versailles prior to World War II.
First patented in 1918 by Arthur Scherbius, the Enigma machine was developed for use in the transmission of confidential information: in addition to its obvious military and diplomatic applications, the machine found commercial use for the encryption of sensitive financial data. The German military adopted the Enigma as its primary cipher in 1926, after learning that the British had intercepted and interpreted coded German naval messages during World War I. Amidst the subsequent buildup of German forces, Poland felt particularly vulnerable—having been ceded disputed border territories by the Treaty of Versailles—and sought to crack the Enigma. Genius Polish codebreakers—led by Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Rozycki, and Henryk Zygalski—developed techniques for the decryption of Enigma code, and turned over their research to Allied counterparts after Germany’s 1939 invasion of Poland.
Alan Turing and the other brilliant code breakers at Bletchley Park continued their important work, speeding up the time it took to decode Enigma messages. The code breaking efforts at Bletchley Park led to the development of the world’s first computers as technology was pushed to defeat German cipher machines. Historians agree that these decoded messages shortened World War II by about two years, perhaps denying Nazi Germany the time needed to develop nuclear weapons.
Based on the chassis of the commercial Enigma D, the Enigma I machine was the standard Enigma machine used by the German military throughout the war. It features an ebonite Steckerbrett (plugboard) on the front, which was exclusive to the German armed forces and exponentially increased the complexity of the code. This version of the Enigma is sometimes referred to as the Heeres (Army) Enigma, Wehrmacht Enigma, or Luftwaffe Enigma due to its military-specific application. This machine would have been used to conceal the pre-war expansion of the German military, in addition to being used in the field during WWII and likely thereafter during the Cold War era.
The Enigma machine is housed in its original stained oak case with a hinged lid and hinged front panel. The three included rotors—marked as “I,” “III,” and “V”—match each other with “A9592” serial numbers.
“As a functional, early example of the German military’s Enigma machine, this piece is truly a marvel of technological and WWII history,” said Bobby Livingston, Executive VP at RR Auction.
Among other featured lots is a James A. Garfield collection containing 47 historical items, including documents, letters, photographs, and political ephemera, nearly half of which were signed by Garfield during his brief half-year window as American president. The archive is estimated at $200,000-$400,000.
Also on offer is a superb assortment of JFK materials that includes a historic three-page handwritten draft for his speech announcing his intention to run for the presidency in 1960. In the document, Kennedy makes corrections throughout the text, striking through several words, which were incorporated into his final version that was delivered on January 2, 1960. The draft Kennedy speech is estimated at $100,000-$200,000.
The auction also includes a strong animation section, with production art from Walt Disney classics including Sleeping Beauty, Pinocchio, Bambi, and Peter Pan. This last is represented by a striking piece of original Peter Pan concept art by Mary Blair, estimated at $10,000-$12,000.
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