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You Can Own a Dark But Crucial Piece of World War II History with This Enigma

To say that the World War II collectors market is popular would be the understatement of our young century. Ranging from the profound to the macabre, there is an unfathomable amount of objects and memorabilia that you can purchase to add to your collection. While most people only find items with marginal historical significance, there are times when a piece of true importance presents itself from the periphery. In this case, we present the three-rotor Enigma, a German enciphering machine that will soon be up for private sale at Christie’s.

For those who are unaware, a three-rotor Enigma is an electro-mechanical enciphering machine that was used by the Germans in World War II to hide their messages. While they aren’t as sophisticated as the digital computers we use today, Enigmas were viewed as the most complex and safest modes of coding messages back in World War II. Each machine was designed with an interchangeable series of three rotors that had the 26-letter alphabet, a “reflector,” and a plugboard with cords that connected to the rotors’ letters. On top of that, the base of the rotors was changed every 24 hours for added security. It was estimated that the three-rotor Enigma, with a plugboard in use, was capable of producing a total of 15 quintillion possible readings for each character. To put that number into perspective, that’s more readings than there are stars in the Milky Way Galaxy.

While the three-rotor Enigma was lauded as uncrackable by the Germans, that (thankfully) wouldn’t turn out to be the case. An elite team of cryptanalysts, mathematicians, and engineers — including Alan Turing, the subject of The Imitation Game — defied the impossible and deciphered the Germans’ messages, which shortened the war by as much as two years. While this system was undoubtedly a dark part of history, its importance to World War II is well documented, making it quite sought after for collectors. For pricing information, contact Christie’s at their website.

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Photo: Christie’s
Photo: Christie’s