David Kahn Donates his Cryptology Library

According to The New York Times:

The National Cryptologic Museum, at Fort Meade, Md., home of thousands of code-breaking and code-making artifacts dating back to the 1500s, has acquired a major collection of books on codes and ciphers, the museum said. It was donated by David Kahn, a leading American scholar of cryptology and the author of “The Codebreakers: The Story of Secret Writing.” The collection includes “Polygraphiae Libri Sex” (1518) by Johannes Trithemius, the first known printed book on cryptology, along with notes of interviews with modern cryptologists, memos, photocopies and pamphlets. About a dozen items from the collection are currently on display.

Posted on November 24, 2006 at 7:55 AM18 Comments


Clive Robinson November 24, 2006 8:24 AM

It’s a shame he did not give them to one of the Open Document Projects so that they would be available to a wider audiance (as they come out of copyright)

That little niggle aside, it is a very generous thing to do, they could have easily been auctioned off to a collector as a “pension pot” and lost to those interested in the subject.

John November 24, 2006 9:41 AM

BTW, that museum is a “must-see” for anyone interested in cryptography if you happen to be in the Washington, DC area. It is also very family-friendly — I took my son there a few years ago (he was 8 at the time) and they gave him the grand tour which he loved!

Mad Unkie G November 24, 2006 6:45 PM

Check your local university library, because you might be surprised at what you’ll find. The University of Western Ontario in London, Canada has a copy of Polygraphiae Libri Sex on microfilm, and you don’t have to be a student or staff to get access to it.

IGG November 25, 2006 6:54 AM


The result of the excision of the classical languages (latin and greek) from the modern curricula….

Bruce Schneier November 25, 2006 8:16 AM

This intrigues me, as I have been thinking about where — eventually — I would donate my cryptography library. My preference is not to donate it to the U.S. government, though.

Anonymous in ... wherever I am today November 25, 2006 9:32 AM


I wonder whether you could do a deal with the EFF to take custody of it and make it available to something like Project Gutenberg as the copyrights expire.

Mad Unkie G November 25, 2006 10:30 AM

If you think of donating to a university library, have a long talk with them first. Not all accept donations, and they’ll want to set down rules on what they can do with the books. I suspect you’ll also be concerned about how they will be made available to researchers.

If you have rare books, you might be donating them to the archive instead of the library. Make sure they’ll get proper conservation treatment and reproduction for use, and that the university doesn’t have a habit of selling its rare book collection.

BillNace November 26, 2006 6:09 AM

Somewhere about 1997, I was employed at NSA and met Dr. Kahn during a “History of Cryptography” symposium hosted at the Crypto museum. It was a spectacular opportunity, especially as there were only 30-40 people in the audience. I had only just finished reading “The Codebreakers” a few days before — it was the NSA library copy. So, during a break, I took it to David and asked if he would autograph it. After a few minutes discussing the ethics of autographing a library book, he did so. I’ve always wondered how many NSA personnel have noticed that the library copy (well, one of the copies) is a signed edition.

Anyway, his donation doesn’t surprise me at all — he seems to be a genuinely nice guy, in addition to one of the most impressive historians I know of. Still worth some kudos, though.

BillNace November 26, 2006 6:11 AM

@Bruce: “My preference is not to donate it to the U.S. government, though.”

I thought the Cryptologic museum was a separate beast, and not part of the US govt. I know it is located very close, but not actually on, Ft. Meade. And they get some really good donations from NSA. But, I think they are a separate, non-profit, organization.

Can anyone confirm or deny?

Arturo Quirantes November 27, 2006 2:23 AM

Congratulations to Mr. Kahn for his generosity. I had a chance to see some of his books at the NCM. A great place to go, lots to see and a very friendly staff. My only complaint: no public transportation (yes, I’m European!), you must take a taxi.

Funny thing, I failed to see all those security measures James Bamford mentioned in his books. No MIB jumping out of the woods, no cops questioning me at all. I was even able to walk my way to the entrance of the NSA, at firing range, and nobody paid attention to me, only a bored security guard watching the parking. And that was on the days the USArmy was entering Baghdad. I felt a bit disappointed. Maybe I was at least targeted with a robotic sniper rifle?

BTW, some time ago I learnt that Dr. Lou Kruh also offered his crypto collection (for sale, this time):
He advertised it on http://www.loukruh.com (now closed).

Does anybody know where the Kruh collection ended up?

X the Unknown November 29, 2006 9:57 AM

@Mad Unkie G: “If you think of donating to a university library, have a long talk with them first. Not all accept donations, and they’ll want to set down rules on what they can do with the books.”

We donated a (non-crypto) book to a public library. It was brand new, and they didn’t have a copy. They sold it (instead of shelving it) for a fraction of its cost, then – a year later – bought a copy for circulation… Annoying.

X the Unknown November 29, 2006 10:02 AM

@Matt: “…it’d be nice for this material to be more widely available…”

At least some of it is. I first read Codebreakers out of my junior-high school’s one-room library in the early 70’s.

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