Three-Rotor Enigma Machine Up for Auction Today

Sotheby's is auctioning off a (working, I think) three-rotor Enigma machine today. They're expecting it to sell for about $200K.

I have an Enigma, but it's missing the rotors.

Posted on November 30, 2018 at 8:07 AM • 51 Comments

Comments

echoNovember 30, 2018 8:44 AM

Oh gosh. I had a look and browsed their catalogue. You certainly get better swag on Sothebys than Ebay.

I used to have a real Enigma machine fetish once. If I had the money I would have loved one. As nice as owning one would be I have a fantasy philanthropist streak in me plus getting older does things to you. Practical skills are lacking in younger children as society and education has changed. Children aren't stupid and certainly do tinker with things and have creative ambitions so all is not lost.

I wonder if @Bruce might throw a competition for a local school to make replica rotors for his Enigma? Given his ownership giving the machine a provenance I expect it would have value at a future point either for a museum or auction and replica rotors might add interest. This is only my guess. I'm sure a curator or auction house could provide a betteropinion.

WaelNovember 30, 2018 9:05 AM

@Bruce,

I have an Enigma, but it's without the rotors.

You may want to consider obtaining a blue print and have a machinist make the rotors for you! Or you may download the free CAD tool they offer and have them manufacture the rotors to your specifications!. You know, two rotors → Twofish, three rotors → Threefish, and so on...

Then again, you might find one in a garage sale in Germany or Poland or something...

John BoothNovember 30, 2018 9:54 AM

A question for cryptologists. Could the code breakers at Bletchley Park have broken the enigma codes if they did not have a copy of the enigma machine provided them by Polish Intelligence or the information captured from a German U-Boat to start the process? In short, how much harder would, or it even be possible, to break the codes without having physical access to a copy of the mechanical enigma machine?

Alyer Babtu November 30, 2018 10:20 AM

My understanding is that for delivery the rotors were in a separate package inside the machine case. As a whimsical touch, the paper they were wrapped in had a riddle printed on it, and this was wrapped again in a second paper printed with a mystery puzzle. This is the actual quote from Churchill when shown the machine: “it is a rotor, in a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”.

CallMeLateForSupperNovember 30, 2018 10:37 AM

@Bruce
Gosh... ya think ya know someone ... I envy you your Enigma. You *must* get rotors for that puppy!

I wrote software simulators of both the 3-wheel Enigma and the Turing-Welchman bombe. I even broke several original(1) Enigma messages. But I've never so much as been in the same room with a gen-u-ine Enigma (sigh).


(1) http://cryptocellar.org/bgac/HonoursRoll.html

Denton ScratchNovember 30, 2018 10:50 AM

@Alyer Babtu I believe you may be mistaken; as far as I can tell, Churchill was speaking of Russia.

"I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key."
Broadcast, 1st October 1939

http://www.churchill-society-london.org.uk/RusnEnig.html

I think it is unlikely that Churchill ever mentioned the Enigma machine in public. The fact that the Allies had been breaking Enigma codes was top-secret until long after Churchill had died.

David in TorontoNovember 30, 2018 12:44 PM

The lid on WWII code breaking was quite tight for a very long time. It unfolded over a 19 year period. Winterbotham's book "The Ultra Secret" (1974) broke the story. By the time Hinsley and Stripp's book "Codebreackers: The Inside Story of Blechley Park" (1993) came out it was pretty clear there was some official blessing of the history as the Official Secrets Act technically still applied.

In between, Welchman's "The Hut Six: story" (1982) and Devours' " Machine cryptography and modern cryptonalysis" in 1985 provided some technical insight.

tfbNovember 30, 2018 3:34 PM

In reply to John Booth: they broke the Lorenz (fish / tunny) machine without ever having seen one, so my guess is that they would not have needed physical access to one.

Also note that Enigma was initially broken by Poles, before the war.

echoNovember 30, 2018 6:37 PM

@tfb

From what I understand Enigma was never actually broken during WWII as such but messages were decrypted. It's a nitpick. Perhaps a cryptanalysts can confirm this and definitions?

Wiki has a good write up now. The overall effort was a collaborative affair. The Poles deserve credit for their breakthrough as do the French whose obtaining of documents allowed the Poles to make their breakthrough. Poland lacked the resoruces to take efforts further which is where the British took over who were following their own path and learned from the Polish effort. The British later shared secrets with the Americans who managed to add their resources to the overall effort by creating their own Bombe programme.

After WWII the breakthroughs made by Gordon Welchman in traffic analysis were shared with America which had a larger economy and the resources to allow full exploitation of traffic analysis which led to the US-UK agreement.

As we know "Five Eyes" followed later.

echoNovember 30, 2018 8:14 PM

@Denton Scratch

"I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key."

While orthogonal to this topic I read a comment some months ago which address this. I think it was an American writer perhaps in the Atlantic or similar, I can't remember. What they said in response to this was the answer was simply Russia acted in Russias interests.

This article by Mary Dejevsky is interesting. She discusses the background and current situation of the Sea of Azov affair. She also notes some of the key issues and Russias attitudes.

I don't want to pour petrol on the Skipral affair but Mary's general point of view is something I have been mindful of.

I'm going to keep mum about the details but some years ago I wrote to my then MP about a Japanese issue. (She was the best MP I had ever had. I was spoilt.) I still have her reply from the Foreign Office which both denied a problem and denied any responsibility without a direct request from the Japanese government. I personally felt the Foreign Office did not get Japan and the quality of their reasoning was very poor. As things turned out the then Prime Minister Blair only a few months later made the issue I had raised a public policy issue which led both to new law being passed and UK international cooperation with the US government who joined in with this policy initiative. Popular US comment at the time was akin to a First Amendment constititional crisis. I cannot know for sure but believe this initiative in collaboration with Japan saved lives and is thankfully no longer a media issue.

I am no expert but I wonder if in its own way Russia would appreciate help to gaurantee the safety and security of its people, as does Ukraine, and this may provide an opening to resolve current crisis to everyone's mutual benefit?

https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/russia-ukraine-crisis-sea-of-azov-black-sea-putin-poroshenko-trump-a8659746.html

Russia’s public silence about what it could reasonably regard as Nato’s expanding influence into its back yard might be surprising, unless you believe – as I do – that Moscow recognises it has essentially “lost” Ukraine – and Georgia. What Russia is unlikely to accept, however, is any direct threat to what it would see as its national security. And if existing arrangements for shared navigation in the Sea of Azov break down, Ukraine’s fears of losing this outlet to the Black Sea could prove well-founded.

Gerard van VoorenNovember 30, 2018 11:40 PM

I can't understand the price-tag of this. The Germans made roughly 1000 of this kind of machines. Compare this with the number of roughly 50 of the Lorenz SZ-40/42.

But to be honest, the Russian FIALKA M-125-3M (see link) should have been the prize. It is being said that this cypher machine solved all of the Enigma's problems (and they did have a couple of them, that's why they could have been decrypted).

For anybody else, who aren't this fortunate, you can buy the electronic version of the enigma. See this link. It's worth it. They are worth 120 USD.

TdJNovember 30, 2018 11:58 PM

@echo Do you know where can I get a literature on this? Thanx.

After WWII the breakthroughs made by Gordon Welchman in traffic analysis were shared with America which had a larger economy and the resources to allow full exploitation of traffic analysis which led to the US-UK agreement.

As we know "Five Eyes" followed later.

echoDecember 1, 2018 12:20 AM

@TdJ

There are documentaries on Youtube if you search for "Gordon Welchman". There is the BBC documentary "Bletchley Park - Code Breaking's Forgotten Genius". Gordon also wrote the book "The Hut Six Story" which attracted the ire of Margaret Thatcher and ultimately ruined his health and life.

He seemed quite dashing. The thinking woman's James Bond not the mysogynistic pap by Ian Flemming.

007December 1, 2018 1:02 AM

@echo

The thinking woman's James Bond not the mysogynistic pap by Ian Flemming.

If a gentleman ought not to not be thinking that hard, then a lady needn't bother her pretty little head over it either.

Too much thinking is a premeditation to murder. It's the old Eros & Thanatos. People talk sex when they mean death, or vice versa. You can't really tell what people mean anymore, but they're sure enough being dragged into court for every word they say.

Clive RobinsonDecember 1, 2018 5:32 AM

@ CallMeLateForSupper,

But I've never so much as been in the same room with a gen-u-ine Enigma (sigh).

I was offered one back in the early 1980s for next to nothing the person who owned it had bagged it as a trophy and had just had it gathering dust. To learn about it I had taken it appart cleaned it and put it back together for them, but could not get the right lamps for it.

The reason I said no to it was I was more into "spy sets" back then as you could actually use them on some of the Ham bands and they "felt alive". I still have one or two bits of sets tucked away, but they take up space, and collect dust... I gave one working spy set to the UK Imperial War Museum quite some years ago because they could give it "more love" than I could. It ended up on display in the London Science Museum for a while. But you do have to love them the old capacitors in them need to be "regenerated" from time to time, you have to be patient with them. I guess my love of them has waned, but sadly they are also not realy of interest to people these days, WWII has passed from living memory, and the ghosts that lingered with the technology of the time has gone.

I suspect that those who bid for the Enigma will not "love it" they will be pragmatic, either using it as an "investment vehicle" as is done with art or to be put in a museum to have people walk past it with not much more than a glance. Either way it will lose contact with human hands that gave it meaning and purpose, it will become yet another "box" of no personality, sterile and just something occuping space.

@ Bruce,

I hope you get a set of rotors for your Enigma, but don't put it in a glass case give it a little love, it was designed to be used by humans to help reach across the world. If you can trace it's history, who used it and where do so, so the ghosts of their memories will not fade.

Denton ScratchDecember 1, 2018 7:27 AM

@echo

Your ruminations regarding the Azov Sea and Russian intentions are interesting. I am predisposed to the view that the Ukrainians are liberal, western-oriented, kind of like us; and that the Russians are aggressive, and given to poisoning people. But there is a legitimate claim that the Ukrainian revolution (I can't remember what colour it is supposed to be called) involved nasty right-wing elements.

The 'poisoning' thing goes back at least a couple of centuries - poisoning seems to have been the preferred method of assassination since long before the Russian Revolution. Rasputin is thought to have survived a poisoning attempt, for example. I think it is not disputed that Yushchenko (the Europe-leaning Ukrainian leader) was poisoned by Russian agents.

I'm not keen on annexing. It's not permitted in international law, because it's bad (like stealing, or assault). Russia should not have annexed Crimea, even if it is the preferred resort for Russian holiday-makers. The Khersk bridge is necessary infrastructure to support the Crimean exclave (whose population includes a substantial minority of non-russians, such as Tatars).

I thought from the time the plan was first announced, that this bridge would bring problems. Well, it looks like it has, sooner than I expected. Oh dear.

Denton ScratchDecember 1, 2018 7:34 AM

"A FULLY OPERATIONAL THREE-ROTER ENIMA I CIPHER MACHINE."

Really - can't Sotheby's find someone who can spell to write their blurb? This is one of the world's top auction houses.

In case the Sotheby's numpty that wrote that blurb is here, it's spelled 'rotor' (two 'o's, no 'e's).

Denton ScratchDecember 1, 2018 7:39 AM

Ha-ha - I just realised they managed to wedge another spello in there - the device they are trying to sell is referred to as a 'ENIMA'. Isn't that a word for stuff that you push where the sun don't shine?

Denton ScratchDecember 1, 2018 7:59 AM

Has it sold yet? How much? 200,000 dollairs? Sotheby's website doesn't seem to be saying.

I'd love to own such a thing; but the truth is I have no use for it, and I could spend $200,000 on better things, like an educational fund for my granddaughter.

echoDecember 1, 2018 8:12 AM

@Denton Scratch

I don'ta reliable opinion on the topic I would care to gaurantee. I think you make lots of good points. Most of what I know of Russia is pretty comic book. I didn't really know about Russians affection for Crimea as a holiday destination. It sounds like Birmingham's affection for Cornwall.

Oh my word. Sothebys jewellry is expensive. It all has five more zeroes on the price than the stuff I buy.

Denton ScratchDecember 1, 2018 9:29 AM

Why are there so many Enigma machines with no rotors ('roters')? Strikes me that the machine is and has always been useless with no rotors, and the rotors are useless without the machine.

It's like a pencil with no lead - why would you separate them? Is someone hoarding a stash of rotors somewhere, with no machine to put them in?

We should be told.

tfbDecember 1, 2018 9:36 AM

In reply to Denton Scratch: there are lots of Enigma machines without rotors because they are no use without them. If, for instance, you are worried that your machine might fall into enemy hands, the first thing you do is take the rotors out, and when it is clear that it's now inevitable that it will, you destroy or dispose of the rotors.

tfbDecember 1, 2018 9:45 AM

@echo: they deduced the settings of the machine (many times, the settings changed pretty much daily), which allowed them to decipher anything sent with those settings. I don't believe there is anything you can do which is more than that.

WaelDecember 1, 2018 10:19 AM

@Bruce,

but it's missing the rotors.

Bool Sheet! And if you believe that then I have some discounted Bit Coins to sell ya! Tell us another one, Bruce! We all know what you did with your Lego Blocks. I don't care if they had no round "blocks" at that time.

This is funny: Bruce Schneier can grow a binary tree by planting a random number generator seed.

After an almost all-nighter, I'm blanking out on new suggestions .

CallMeLateForSupperDecember 1, 2018 10:55 AM

#Clive
"I was offered one [Enigma] back in the early 1980s for next to nothing [...] The reason I said no to it was I was more into 'spy sets'[...]"

Yeah-yeah. Likely story. :-)
I turned down an offer of three because I was alone on foot at the time and already late for an engagement. (Says this wretched bloke, who would have paid for the honor of field-stripping an Enigma.)

"[...] could not get the right lamps for it."

Correct lamps are indeed not an off-the-shelf item. The glass envelope must be quite squat due to limited head-space in the Enigma. (The filament voltage spec is weird to, I think.) ISTR reading, roughly ten years ago, that someone arranged with a mfgr to make a small run of repros.

A little-known fact: the windows that the bulbs shone through were made of a material that slowly out-gassed, and that gas was corrosive. It was discovered in the 2000's that Enigmas stored with their metal lids closed - and worse case, with their wooden cases buttoned up - were sustaining permanent corrosion damage.

Clive RobinsonDecember 1, 2018 3:50 PM

@ Anders,

https://www.cryptomuseum.com/spy/mk123/index.htm

It came from the first batch that was issued to the UK Diplomatic Wireless service after having been at various points around the globe in various Signals Officers bug out kits, it got back to Pownden where it was refurbed and issued to the Field Auxiliary Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) where it ended up eventualy being used for training, and finally got marked down for repair by the techs at 39sigs (SC) where it got written off and I asked and got given it to use to show "trainee" techs. I refurbed it back to working "original parts" out of "dead stock" stores. We played around with it for a year or so. Then the HQ techs got "cleaned up" when a new FOS got rotated in and all the "dead stock" and similar like D10 transmitters that was lurking in places got "skipped" and we could take anyvof it we wanted so I "claimed" it back. I used it still as a demo piece at schools and the like. I still have a bunch of crystals that could be used with it that are from earlier Y station usage and transmitters to talk to "behind the lines" types one of which is quite special as it was made in the US and has not just date of issue but a serial number.

The sad thing schools etc are nolonger interested in such articles that the kids can touch that actually link them back directly to historic events...

But there is one item from an other suitcase "spy set" I had as a spare that I found at a "jumble sale" that I use nearly every day. It's a black bakalite plastic case with a silver plated "shoe" --similar to those found on old camera flash guns-- this is attached to a combined silver plated copper wire and steel wire woven together on a spool. The wire pulls out like a tape measure and with a little twist of the shoe becomes locked to it. The wire is marked in appropriate frequencies for the wavelength it's used as a quaterwave antenna length. The reason I use it most days is because it's connected to a comms set I have in the bedroom with the wire going up to and along the picture rail for two sides of the room. I use it to listen into the 6MHz 49M broadcast band when I get up / go to bed etc, some of which are still "pirates".

Clive RobinsonDecember 1, 2018 4:30 PM

@ CallMeLate..

Yeah-yeah. Likely story

As I said it was his war trophy, some people brought back SS daggers, others German guns, Japanese officer swords etc etc.

I was not going to take it for far less than it was worth, it would not have been right, especially as he had family. He had already given me the very rare privilege of taking it apart and seeing how it worked in a way that few others had ever had. That was a rare gift that few will ever now get as most Enigmas are kept under glass which in turn is under lock and key, thus never to be used again...

No one has mentioned here that this Enigma being sold at Sothebys was not the star item of the sale, that was Richard Feynman's Nobel Prize medal and citation along with hundreds of his hand written drafts/notes. Now valued for an estimate of a $1million. How would you have felt if in the 1980's Richard had offered you the lot for little more than the gold scrap value?

David in TorontoDecember 2, 2018 12:38 PM

@John Booth - Having the machine and rotors made it easier to crack but not impossible. As others have noted, it was doe with other German kit. Also the American's broke the Japanese Purple machine through intercepted traffic alone. I believe that even after the war only one was recovered and when examined, they found they had made only one wiring error.

@echo - I would say the machine was broken as they found flaws in the machine that made it possible to break the keys more quickly than by brute force. Specifically the fact that x would never encrypt to x that made the Bombe possible. Then Welchman's diagonal board amplified the effect, surprising even Turing.

@echo - Welchman's The Hut Six Story should answer your questions.

One statement Welchman made at the end of the Hut Six Story that always intrigued me was his dislike of the new ciphers (things like DES).

No news on the sale yet? I guess it took me too long to gather my pennies :(

CallMeLateForSupperDecember 2, 2018 1:41 PM

@Clive
"As I said it was his war trophy [...]"

Ah .... missed that important point.

I was not really doubting the offer of an Enigma, I hope you understand. My faux dismissal was inspired by the late Goon Show. (I cannot match its wit, yet I.keep.trying.)

As a septuagenarian, amateur genealogist and long-time photographer(1), I value things in the same way as you do, probably. Touching or handling a historical object connects me to it and its time. I can't explain either the feeling or my compulsion to feel it. Hand me a scrub plane from the 17th century, or the 1848 newspaper containing my 4th great grandfather's obituary, or an 1860's Remington revolver ... and I get a little wobbly. Tear down an Enigma? Please let me. Trouble-and-strife is immune to the syndrome; she doesn't understand. My grandfather showed me a pocket watch when I was about 12, saying, "This belonged to my grandfather, Isaac. He was a house builder. You ought to know who your people were." Gramps understood.

I don't convey the sentiment as well as the last PP meant for me at https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/11/three-rotor_eni_1.html#c6785637


(1) Eyesight is going... going... I can only hope that I precede it.

Clive RobinsonDecember 2, 2018 4:43 PM

@ CallMe Late...,

"This belonged to my grandfather, Isaac. He was a house builder. You ought to know who your people were."

Knowing where you come from gives you a confidence that is difficult to achive any other way. The younger you know the more solidly grounded you are.

We kind of "take the mick" out of "old money" in the UK, but the "landed gentry" are not those you see on "reality TV" they are usually indistinguishable from those who work on their land in toung and attitude to the land. Where they do differ is a sense of self confidence, they generaly care not a jot about what other people think of them, and usuly they care not a jot where you've come from, it's your attitude to what's important and your conscience more than your morals they care about. It's something that the pretentious middle classes and nouveau riche just don't get it...

In 1964 when I was still young ;-) Audrey Hepburn stared in the film My Fair Lady as Eliza Doolittle.
Based on the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw, it's famed as I'm sure @echo will confirm for the outrageous gowns, that could only be dreamed up in America. However the two actors you should realy watch are Rex Harrison as Prof Henry Higgins and Stanley Holloway who plays Eliza's father who trys to get five pounds out of the Prof for Eliza but will not take ten pounds due to his morals,

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=-qHDYU1-viM

Oh and those morals get him into a lot of trouble later on including marriage ;-)

You will here a bit in there about the middle classes and guess what it's probably more true now than in the times the film was supposadly set.

echoDecember 2, 2018 7:41 PM

@CallMeLateForSupper

There are systemic issues with education which have squeezed out practical skills. The big ones area change in parental lifestyles and manufacturers making products with "no user servicable parts". Another issue is paranoia over child safety when playing outside. In the past children had an environment where they were able to take things apart or make their own things and explore the world. Books of the time reflected this from encyclopaedias which had sections on how to make gunpowder and nitroglygerine to making crystal radios to making tree houses to crafts. Almost all of this has now gone or been banned.

Children still have lots of outlets. They just live in a different world compared to adults. Teaching children to read and play well and help out around the hope repairing things and having hobbies still has value.

@Clive

We kind of "take the mick" out of "old money" in the UK, but the "landed gentry" are not those you see on "reality TV" they are usually indistinguishable from those who work on their land in toung and attitude to the land. Where they do differ is a sense of self confidence, they generaly care not a jot about what other people think of them, and usuly they care not a jot where you've come from, it's your attitude to what's important and your conscience more than your morals they care about. It's something that the pretentious middle classes and nouveau riche just don't get it...

Things are a little more complex than this but yes essentially this. Over in the US a similar thing happened. I read a historical article which discussed the issue of class. Once upon a time higher class meant people with certain mindsets who generally lived a comfortable life. As time went on how much money you had and how materialistic a life you could lead began to take over as a class distinguisher.

Another thing in the US which may explain historical issues and modern consternation is during the early days of settlement the protestants seized all the best farming land leaving catholics with the worst land. As industrialisation began to take off the catholic dominated areas began to accumate more power and wealth. The previously wealthy high class protestant land owners have since been left far behind.

The UK position isn't anywhere near as stark as the US. The UK system lacks the highs of the US but tends to distribute resources more fairly. The fact we all live closer together may make this unavoidable.

I guess few people realise when walking around London how much of the city is built like a fortress. Disparaties of income and closely living next to each other partly explains this as it does the quirky fortress like houses in the North of England built in historically contested areas with Scotland.

Rach ElDecember 3, 2018 8:06 PM

Alyer

As a whimsical touch, the paper they were wrapped in had a riddle printed on it, and this was wrapped again in a second paper printed with a mystery puzzle. This is the actual quote from Churchill when shown the machine: “it is a rotor, in a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”.


hahahhahahahahah
That's priceless! Thanks for that!


Mr Schneier has an Enigma! Wicked! Respect! [Ali G fist bump]


Rach ElDecember 3, 2018 8:17 PM

Wael

I love that Mr Schneier facts page! Wonderful! Someone actually comes up with this stuff. I suggested a fact. What did you offer?

AnuraDecember 3, 2018 9:34 PM

"Bruce Schneier can match the mining capacity of the entire Bitcoin network with less energy consumption than Great Britain".

WaelDecember 3, 2018 9:44 PM

Made the suggestion :)

Bruce Schneider has a one-bit password sitting at zero Kelvin.

Hint: there is only one way in which the entropy of a [closed] system can be decreased, and that is to transfer heat from the system. -- Wikipedia

(One bit with an enormous amount of entropy that can't be decreased)

WaelDecember 3, 2018 10:15 PM

@Rach El,

And this was the third suggestion I made:

Bruce Schneier closed a one-way trap door on his finger, and the door got swollen

Task finished. Wish all my tasks were so simple!

Rach ElDecember 4, 2018 12:34 AM

Very good Mr Wael! I like.

I submitted

When Alexander Bell invented the telephone, there were two missed calls and a text from Mr Schneier

Rach ElDecember 4, 2018 12:38 AM

Wael

Mr Schneier promised to withdraw all US troops from Viet Nam before the grassy knoll was even invented

Rach ElDecember 4, 2018 12:42 AM

Mr Schneier has auto-play enabled, and plugs in all random USB sticks found laying around vacant parking lots, all the while muttering 'Whatcha gunna do about it, punk? Are you talkin' to me? I'm gonna clean up this city'

WaelDecember 4, 2018 1:05 AM

@Rach El,

Clever. I like the USB in the parking lot. There was a discusdion about that in the Mesozoic Era (in the Phanerozoic Eon) of this blog. Not sure I read anything specific to SD cards.

AndersDecember 4, 2018 5:16 AM

Here's another suggestion:

"Bruce Schneier doesn't need the rotors for his Enigma to decrypt a message, he does all this in his head"

If anyone wants to rephrase it, be my guest.

But will we see his Enigma?

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