ART & ANTIQUES, April 2009-- The Enigma machine stars in one of the greatest "What If " scenarios of World War II: What if Allied code-breakers had not figured out how to read the messages the Germans encrypted and decrypted on these typewriter-like electromechanical devices? The consequences are horrible to contemplate; some historians estimate that cracking the code shortened the war by two years. Working at Bletchley Park, and intelligence center in England, mathematician Alan Turing and a team of analysts learned the Engima's complex cipher and kept up with the constant changes and refinements that the Germans made to it. The story of their success remained largely unknown until the 1990s, when the British government released documents that brought it to light. As few as 40 wartime Enigma machines survive, and most are in museums. New Orleans antiques dealer M.S. Rau recently acquired this one from a private American owner and is offering it for $98,500.
This Enigma was designed for portability, but it spent the war in an office at Nazi headquarters in Prague. "It was built for field use," says gallery president Bill Rau, "but it didn't get used in a bad situation. It wasn't beat up." It's still capable of coding and decoding messages, but Rau says, chuckling, "private e-mail may be easier." —Sheila Gibson Stoodley