Rare military and war relics offered at auction, Conflicts of the 20th Century, at Bonhams

NEW YORK — A rare and fully-functional German Naval four-rotor Enigma enciphering machine (M4) will headline auction Conflicts of the 20th Century at Bonhams New York on October 21. Representing the scarcest of the German enigma machines, the M4 was built 1943-45—and up to 150 machines survived from the approximately 1,500 built.

The legendary German encrypting machine was used on Naval submarines, and the M4 was ordered by German Admiral Karl Doenitz in late 1941 due to his concern that the three-rotor enigma machine had been compromised following the capture of U-570 in August 1941.

Made rarer still by the sinking of 70% of German U-boats in the later stages of World War II (in part due to the breaking of the Enigma code), it is suspected that for every 10 M3s, one M4 remains. Museums around the world display a total of 50 Enigma machines – only seven of which are M4s, taken from captured U-boats.

"The Enigma machine is an exceptional encryption device, one of the most sophisticated and complicated of its type. It was only revealed to the world in the early 1990's after the Cold War that the Enigma code had been broken. All Enigma machines and code books were retained by allied national governments after World War II and were believed to have been in use up until the early 1990's," said Bonhams Specialist Tom Lamb.

"Conflicts of the 20th Century takes on a new type of thematic structure," Lamb said. "The 20th century is an area under-developed in the auction market; this sale will redress the balance of a history generally unknown or unsung. Most of the items in this auction have survived the battlefield by complete chance, claimed and brought home by veterans, often to be packed away and forgotten until now."

The auction will feature two important World War II items:

A wood framed canvas aircraft insignia of an image of the American flag with pole and braid with brass escutcheon plate reading "Insignia from A.R.1 / First U.S. Gov't Owned American Flown Airplane, Used in France During World War".

Established in 1913, the U.S. 1st Aero Squadron was deployed to France in late 1917 for training, and from April 1918 took part in the offensives at Chateau Thierry, St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne. This impressive insignia was taken from one of the Dorland AR1 planes, a French-made reconnaissance plane, ordered by the American Expeditionary Force from the Parisian factory

(est. U.S. $20,000 - $30,000)
A grey camouflage section of fabric aircraft skin taken from a Spad biplane depicting a screaming Indian's head in profile.

The 93rd aero squadron of the Air Service, US Army, was tasked with clearing the skies of enemy aircraft and escorting reconnaissance and bombardment aircraft. The image of the fierce and intimidating American Indian was a common motif amongst U.S. squadrons of the time, as reflecting the impact in the popular imagination of the Indian wars of the previous century. The 93rd's own depiction was commissioned on the orders of a transfer from the French Lafayette Squadron, Bill Thaw, and was sketched by artist and future successful architect John Wentworth.

Other highlights of the sale include:

Cuban revolutionary flag, dated April 18, 1958, inscribed by Fidel Castro to his guerilla colleague Jorge Masetti, an Argentinian journalist. Valued at U.S. $10,000 – 15,000, along with a green armband, the flag is dedicated to "Masseti" with an inscription translating to: "As a souvenir of your interview and your support to the people of Cuba";

The first Philippine Republic War Flag from the Spanish-American War, captured by the 13th Regiment, 3rd Brigade, New York Infantry on September 17, 1899. Apparently, in the possession of Emilio Aguinaldo, leader of the rebel army. The flag is valued at U.S. $12,000 - $18,000.

The sale will be divided into two parts with a 10 a.m. session devoted to South East Asian conflicts and a 1 p.m. session, devoted to World War I and II in Europe.

The auction catalogue is available online. The public preview dates are as follows: October 17 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. EST; October 18 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. EST; October 19 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. EST; and October 20 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST.

PRESS PREVIEW on Friday, October 16 at 11 a.m.

For more information and/or high-resolution images, contact Kristin Guiter at (917) 206-1692 or [email protected] (U.S.) or [email protected] (U.K.).


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

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