Lot 65
  • 65


120,000 - 180,000 USD
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  • A fully operational early three-rotor Enigma I cipher machine. Berlin, Heimsoeth und Rinke, early 1930s.
  • oak, leather, glass, metal, light bulb
Early 3-rotor Enigma I cipher machine, serial number 1024, complete with reflector and 3 aluminum rotors (I, II, and III) all with matching serial numbers (A1024), each rotor with 26 positions labeled with numbers, housed in the original oak case (13¼ x 11 x 6½ in.) with leather handle, case with hinged front panel stamped "ENIGMA" and "Klappe Schleissen" opening to reveal Steckerbrett. Control panel with standard raised "QWERTZ" keyboard of 26 glass and metal keys with white on black backgrounds, light panel with letters A-Z and hinged rotor cover lifting to reveal 26 light bulbs, reflector & rotor compartment, and battery compartment, ebonite Steckerbrett (plug-board) and 12 patch-cables (10 plugged into Steckerbrett and 2 spares stored in lid of case), lid with 10 spare bulbs, green contrast filter, spare patch-cables, and instructions printed on metal plate ("Zur Beachtung!") Split in oak at lid, glass on key "Q" cracked, otherwise in excellent condition. WITH: A 1934 German Ta.P. Baumster Telegraph key and 2 facsimile Enigma operating manuals.


Overall a very fine, fully operational machine, complete with full set of rotors and reflector, all with matching serial numbers, full complement of patch/stecker cables, reflector, telegraphy key, and two facsimile manuals. Machine has been fitted to operate with modern batteries There is a split in the wood of the lid; glass on letter Q is cracked, wear to keys and to letters on light panel commensurate with use.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

A VERY FINE, FULLY OPERATIONAL EARLY 3-ROTOR ENIGMA I CIPHER MACHINE. The Enigma I, often called the "Heeres" Enigma, was used by the German Heer (Army), the Luftwaffe (Air Force), and later, by the Kriegsmarine (Navy) before the introduction of the "M4" 4-rotor machine. The low serial number 1024 of the present machine indicated that it was manufactured in the early 1930s, making it among the very first Enigmas delivered to the German military as they built up their forces in violation of the Treaty of Versailles. Patented in 1918 by Arthur Scherbius, the Enigma machines uses three electromechanical cipher wheels, each with 26 contacts at either side. The three rotors would be placed in pre-arranged positions, and the user would then type in a plain text message using the keyboard. The machine would encipher the message, and each corresponding encoded letter would light up on the light panel. The enciphered message would then be sent to the receiving party, usually via Morse code. The receiving party would then decipher the message, using another Enigma machine with the rotors set to the same position as the first. The rotors of all Enigmas were interchangeable, and indeed, rotors were swapped out very frequently, so to find an Enigma with a set of rotors with matching serial numbers that also match the reflector is quite unusual. 

The Enigma machine set a challenge that was answered by the remarkable team at Bletchley Park, whose achievements provide one of the most compelling stories of World War II. Breaking Enigma was the work of many, including Polish cryptographers who had already begun to decipher Enigma traffic before the war; naval forces who risked their lives capturing Enigma machines and code books; Alan Turing and other mathematicians with their revolutionary models for deciphering; Tommy Flowers and other mechanical geniuses who designed 'Colossus', the world's first programmable digital computer, at the GPO Research Centre at Dollis Hill in north west London; the hundreds of Wrens who operated the Bombes and, later, Colossus machines that made possible the daily decrypts. Their work saved countless lives and had an enormous impact on the submarine war in the Atlantic, the North African campaign, and the Normandy invasion; the work of Bletchley Park is often said to have shortened the war by two years. Furthermore, by coming to the understanding that to defeat Enigma it was necessary to mechanize much of the work of decryption, they helped to inaugurated the computer age.