Rare German Enigma enciphering machine on offer at Bonhams Scientific sale

1944 Enigma machine used to send coded German messages in WWII for sale at Knightsbridge

Cameras, Scientific & Mechanical Musical Instruments
29 Oct 2013
London, Knightsbridge

Headlining Bonhams Cameras, Scientific Instruments and Mechanical Music sale in London's Knightsbridge on October 29th is a rare three-rotor German Enigma enciphering machine (1944) by Heimsoeth & Rinke, Serial No. 19088. It is expected to fetch between £30,000 and £50,000.

The Enigma comes complete with its original I, III and V rotors with Bakelite thumbwheels and matching serial numbers, its makers plate stamped A 19088/jla/44, and its standard QWERTZ keyboard with keys made up of white lettering on black background. Its battery switch, vacant battery box, complete set of bulbs, ebonite plug board, set of three plug board cables, and set of instructions applied to the lid interior together with a spare bulb rack are also original. The machine rests in an oak carrying case with a hinged lid and a fall front with a locking mechanism; when closed, the case measures 6 by 11 by 13in (15 by 28 by 33cm).

Proudly named, 'The Enigma Machine', one might think that there was only one type of machine that was used to send encoded German messages during World War II. But that's not the case. There were many members in the Enigma family, and as the war went on, more and more complex methods and additions were made to the machines to make cracking their codes even more difficult for the crafty code breakers at Bletchley Park.

It's difficult to tell exactly how many Enigma machines were made. During the war, many were destroyed for fear of them falling into enemy hands, and documents about their manufacture were often burned or simply lost. What we do know is that there were at least five mainstream versions employed by the German military.

The first machines to be used in a military capacity only had a fixed set of three wheels. Later, a set of five wheels were used so that they could be interchanged to dramatically increase the number of variants available. Each machine could use the interchangeable wheels from any enigma, so to find a matching set of wheels with the same serial number as the Enigma is rare.

The addition of a plugboard or Steckerbrett was a decisive change to the Enigma machine. It switched the letters before they entered the rotors which meant that, for example, if you pressed 'A', 'P' would be transmitted and then mixed up again in the rotors. Thirteen cables could be inserted to switch thirteen pairs of letters. Only by setting a receiving enigma to the exact same settings as the sending enigma could you decipher the message.

Jon Baddeley, Specialist of Cameras, Scientific Instruments and Mechanical Music, comments: "Enigma machines rarely come up at auction, and this particular example is especially unique. It's unusual because it has Bakelite thumb wheels instead of the more widely used metal ones: This was due to the diminishing availability of metal and other resources for the Wehrmacht towards the end of the war. It's also special because it's untouched and un-restored. Many machines were picked up by the allies as souvenirs during the final stages of World War II, and as such, their parts were mixed and matched. All of the elements of this one bear the same serial number, making it complete and original throughout".

For further information and images call Chloe Ashby on 0207 468 5870, or email chloe.ashby@bonhams.com or press@bonhams.com.


Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to www.bonhams.com

  1. Jon Baddeley
    Montpelier Street
    London, United Kingdom SW7 1HH
    Work +44 20 7393 3872
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