The Enigma machine – whose encryption technology the Germans thought was unbreakable – has been made the stuff of legend by Hollywood and World War II thriller writers. Now, an extremely rare and fully operational Nazi Enigma machine has sold for $365,000 in New York, setting a new record at auction.
The M4 machine, which was built between 1943 and 1945, is one of around 150 to have survived from an estimated 1,500 that were built as Germany fought to fend off the Allies.
A spokeswoman for Bonhams said the $365,000 sale price set a world record for an Enigma machine sold at auction. The purchaser at Wednesday's sale was identified only as a private collector.
The M4, with four rotors, is the scarcest of all Enigma encryption machines and was used on naval submarines.
Its manufacture was ordered by German Admiral Karl Donitz due to concerns that the three-rotor Enigma machine had been compromised following the capture of a U-boat in August 1941.
The model was made rarer still by the sinking of 70 per cent of German U-boats in the later stages of World War II, in part due to the breaking of the Enigma code, Bonhams said.
Of the 50 Enigma machines on display in museums around the world, only seven are M4s, taken from captured U-boats, the auction house said.
''The Enigma machine is an exceptional encryption device, one of the most sophisticated and complicated of its type,'' said Bonhams specialist Tom Lamb.
Bonhams sold a fully operational M3 Enigma machine for $269,000 at auction in New York last April.