Published: December 8, 2016
NEW YORK CITY — One of the rarest of all Enigma machines, the M4, designed for use by the German navy during World War II, was sold on December 7 for $463,500 at Bonhams’ History of Science and Technology sale. This is a world record price at auction for an M4 Enigma, surpassing the previous highest price of $350,000 also set by Bonhams in 2015. The fully operational machine dating from 1943 had been estimated at $280/350,000.
The M4 Naval Enigma was ordered in 1941 when the head of the German navy Admiral Karl Doenitz believed, correctly, that the security of the Naval M3 Engima had been compromised. The M4 was reserved for deployment by U-boat forces on land and at sea to enable the Naval High Command to communicate securely with the U-Boat fleet. The machine in the sale is in fine condition and is, therefore, believed to have been used from a base on shore rather than from a U-Boat.
Bonhams’ science and technology specialist Tom Lamb said, “This M4 Enigma was in perfect condition and very desirable. Most of the 120 or so M4 Enigma machines known to have survived are in museums or in government hands so this was a rare chance to acquire one of the very few still available. I am, of course, delighted to have broken our own world record.”
In total the sale made $1,109,000 with 73 percent of the lots sold. Other highlights included a first edition of the General Theory of Relativity signed and inscribed by Albert Einstein, which sold for $125,000.
A handwritten letter from Charles Darwin to the secretary of the Royal Society on the merits of candidates being considered for the award of the Royal Medal and the Copley Medal for 1857 realized $93,750.
A handwritten manuscript by Isaac Newton about his family’s pedigree written in preparation for his knighthood in 1795 reached $60,000, and a piece of the original mold that led Alexander Fleming to the discovery of penicillin was bid to $46,500.
A complete review of the auction will appear in an upcoming edition.
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