Enigma Machine for Sale on eBay

A World War II German Enigma machine (three-rotor version) is for sale on eBay right now. At this writing, there have been about 60 bids, and the current price is $20K. This is below the reserve price, which means that the machine won’t sell until it reaches that (secret) price.

It’s expensive, but probably worth it. The Enigma looks like it’s in perfect condition—the seller claims “full working condition with extra lamps”—and includes the manual. All five rotors are included: three in the machine and the other two in a box. The three-rotor version is the most common, but it’s still very rare.

Of course I’d like it for myself—I have a three-rotor Enigma, but it’s missing all its rotors and some of its lamps—but not at that price.

And we can’t see who’s bidding, either. Recently eBay made a change in how it displays auction bids: it hides bidder identities when the auction price gets high. This is to combat “second chance fraud,” where a fraudster contacts a buyer who lost an auction and offers him the same article at the slightly lower losing price, then disappears after receiving payment.

The auction closes in eight days. Good luck.

EDITED TO ADD (7/19): The listing as been pulled; eBay doesn’t say why. The price was $25K after 64 bids when I last saw it; the price was still below the reserve.

EDITED TO ADD (7/20): It’s been relisted. The seller says that the other auction was taking down because of a “problem with pictures” (odd, because the new pictures don’t seem different), and that the reserve price of $28K was met. You can “buy it now” for $50K, or make your best offer. I’m really curious what the final price for this will be—I don’t think it’s worth anywhere near $50K.

EDITED TO ADD (7/20): Sold for $30K. I don’t know why the seller decided to use this alternate eBay system, instead of relisting it as an auction. My guess is that he could have gotten more than $30K if he let the auction run its course over the week.

Posted on July 19, 2007 at 4:45 PM23 Comments


Anonymous July 19, 2007 5:13 PM

You can play with a (replica) Enigma machine at the Bletchley Park crypto museum. There was something almost visceral about hand-encyphering and decyphering texts on a mechanical device in this age of digital computation.

Beta July 19, 2007 5:13 PM

This is to combat “second chance fraud,” where a fraudster contacts a buyer who lost an auction and offers him the same article at the slightly lower losing price, then disappears after receiving payment.

This is ostensibly to prevent fraud by protecting bidders from temptation. In fact eBay would like to prevent such deals even if they are made honestly, since eBay doesn’t get a commission from them.

Tremaine Lea July 19, 2007 5:20 PM

Jeebus. I’d sell someone elses personal bits to get my hands on that.

I’m going to go cry a little now. And then buy a lottery ticket.

Harry July 19, 2007 8:01 PM

My first thought was “drool!”

My second was “How did the owner get it?”

My third thought was “Provenance and how does one confirm authenticity?” There are no proofs or even statements of authenticity or provenance in the posting. There must be any number of museums that would welcome the real thing and $25K (current bid, reserve not met) isn’t expensive for a collection or museum. So I find myself wondering, why sell on eBay?

gongzero July 19, 2007 8:55 PM

“This listing (270146164488) has been removed or is no longer available.”

That didn’t last long. 🙁

Nikos Karamesinis July 20, 2007 5:02 AM

There’s a book called “Can you crack the enigma Code?” which gives away for free an original copy of the Enigma machine to the first one who solves a couple of crypto-puzzles by the end of 2007. Unfortunately some of the puzzles turned out to be too tricky for me (they were created by academic staff of Royal Holloway). Maybe somebody else won the prize and he/she has now put it on auction.

Carnadine July 20, 2007 7:04 AM

I’m guessing it was pulled because someone flagged it as Nazi memorabilia (which is banned on eBay), not necessarily because it might have been a fake.

Harry July 20, 2007 7:09 AM

According to the new listing (thank you IVLIANVS) the original listing was pulled for problems with the picture and the reserve price of $28K was met before the removal. New listing includes the datum that the machine is from an Austrian collector.

RSaunders July 20, 2007 10:13 AM

I think the picture problem was related to how he was hosting the pictures. No doubt there have been a zillion hits on them. The new ones are integrated eBay pictures, not links. He also didn’t repost the rotor by rotor pictures that showed these were matching rotors that go with the machine by serial number.

Ben July 20, 2007 2:16 PM

The original was an auction with a reserve, the new one is a “best offer” with a buy it now price. The image hosting thing might have been a minor concern, but I’d bet it was re-listed primarily because the owner thought he’d make more money this way.

B Livingston July 20, 2007 4:06 PM

One of the pictures in the original listing was a close-up of the Nazi insignia (stamped on the wooden box, I believe). It is not in the re-listing. That would explain it being removed.

I’m sure it’s worth 50K to the right WWII/crypto buff.

TED Vinson July 20, 2007 5:35 PM

IIRC, Enigmas were also sold by the manufacturer to the public before WW II for protecting business messages, etc.
Wonder if this is one of those. Photos look like the military version, but the manual pictured looks much more like a commercial product than a military user manual.

Anyway, another $30K and ‘darktreb’ is in business with point-to-point security.

To darktreb:
-Sincerely, Hermann

Harry July 21, 2007 7:41 AM

@TED Vinson: according the online resources I checked (ie, resources that may or may not be accurate, but several of them agreed) the commercial versions did not have the plugboard

My questions about provenance and authenticity remain.

Peter Gutmann July 21, 2007 9:10 PM

The seller says that the other auction was taking down
because of a “problem with pictures” (odd, because
the new pictures don’t seem different)

The picture of the swastika stamped into the metal has been removed. This would have caused problems in some European countries.

Dirk Rijmenants August 15, 2007 6:01 AM

If you don’t have 20k but would like to use an Enigma, just visit my website, with several cipher machines as freeware download, fully compatible with the real ones. Lots of technical and historical information on Enigma, Hagelin machines like the CX-52 and M-209 and many more info on cipher machines!

D. Rijmenants
Cipher Machines & cryptology

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