Auctions — September 4, 2012 at 11:01 am

The $100,000 Enigma

THE ICONIC three-rotor machine, patented by Dr. Arthur Scherbius and built by Chiffriermaschinen A.G. Heimsoeth und Rinke of Berlin, sold as Lot 14 to a private buyer for US $101,450 (€ 81.158/£ 64.900/¥ 8.115.800), over ten times the published reserve and one of the highest prices ever paid for an ‘Enigma’ machine at auction. So complex are the Enigma’s 22 billion possible combinations, an original prospectus claimed, that it would take one man working continuously day and night, and trying a different cipher-key every minute, 42,000 years to
exhaust all the possibilities.

Selecting the highlights from an auction that encompassed so many collectable categories (almost one thousand lots in eleven hours!) is a hard task, but the following items drew particular attention. Amongst the ‘Office Antiques’, a desirable Hammonia typewriter of 1882 (Lot 140), the first serially produced German writing machine, with its original transfer decoration and, more remarkable still the original ribbon ink, brought US $23,056 (€ 18.445/£ 14.750/¥ 1.844.500). The 1st Russian ‘Arithmometer’ by Odhner from 1886 (Lot 12) doubled its estimate by selling for US$ 8,450 (€ 6.763/£ 6.760/¥ 676.300), and the rare ‘Tropical Wall Telephone’ by L.M. Ericsson of c. 1900 (Lot 41) sold for high US$ 8,240 (€ 6.592/£ 5.275/¥ 659.200).

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