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Bonhams Sends Early Computing Artifacts to Auction

Enigma Machine, Berlin, July 1944. COURTESY OF BONHAMS

Enigma Machine, Berlin, July 1944.

COURTESY BONHAMS

The fine books and manuscripts auction at Bonhams New York on April 13 will feature a number of computing relics, the house announced today, including a recently discovered 56-page handwritten manuscript by British mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing, which is expected to fetch at least seven figures.

Dated around 1942-44, at the time when Turing was working to break the German Enigma Code at Bletchley Park, the document is thought to be the only extensive autograph manuscript of Turing’s in existence. Besides depicting the foundations of mathematical notation and computer science, the blank center pages of the notebook also contain Turing’s dream journal, written by fellow mathematician and friend Robin Gandy.

The auction will also present a rare German Enigma I Enciphering Machine (also known as the Heeres Enigma) in working condition. The machine, one of few of its kind to have survived WWII, was manufactured for the German military in July 1944, and is estimated at $140,000 to $180,000.

And there’s more: a 1839 handwritten letter signed by the mathematician and world’s first computer scientist Ada Lovelace, estimated at $25,000 to $35,000. Her algorithm, written for Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, is considered to be the first code ever used on a computer.

“One of the truly gratifying aspects of auction is the sometimes magical juxtaposition of important historical figures,” Christina Geiger, director of fine books and manuscripts at Bonhams, said in a statement. “Here we have Ada Lovelace and Alan Turing, two computing pioneers who lived almost exactly a century apart, both of whom were impeded by the prejudices of their time but vindicated by history.”

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