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Enigma machine sells for world record price

By Bryony Jones, CNN
updated 1:39 PM EDT, Thu September 29, 2011
Enigma machines were vital to the Nazi war effort. The Germans believed messages encoded on them were unbreakable.
Enigma machines were vital to the Nazi war effort. The Germans believed messages encoded on them were unbreakable.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Enigma machine sparks bidding war, sells for £133,250 ($208,137) at auction in London
  • Encrypting device was used by Nazis to encode messages during World War II
  • Machine later featured in 2001 film Enigma, starring Kate Winslet

London (CNN) -- An Enigma machine which featured in a Hollywood movie about the codebreakers of World War II has smashed auction estimates and sold for a world record price.

The encoding device sparked a three-way bidding war when it went under the hammer at Christie's in London Thursday, selling for £133,250 ($208,137) -- more than double the upper estimate of £50,000.

Christie's said the previous record for an Enigma machine was £67,250, at the same auction house, in November 2010.

Vitally important to the Nazi war machine, the Enigma machine was used by the German military to encrypt messages into a form they believed was unbreakable.

However, the code was cracked by a team of cryptologists at Bletchley Park in southern England -- a breakthrough widely credited with having shortened the war by at least two years.

Enigma machine to go under the hammer

The story of the codebreakers has inspired several books, and a movie starring Oscar-winning actress Kate Winslet. The Enigma machine sold Thursday was one of several used in the 2001 film.

Thousands of the machines are thought to have been produced from the 1920s, through to the end of the Second World War, but it is rare for one to come up for sale.

James Hyslop, Christie's Travel, Science and Natural History specialist, said the machine's eventual sale -- to an unnamed collector -- had been greeted by a round of applause.

Other items sold at the auction included a 104-year-old cookie taken on polar explorer Ernest Shackleton's British Antarctic Expedition.

The biscuit, one of a batch fortified with milk protein and made especially for the Nimrod Expedition (1907 to 1909), sold for £1,250, £250 shy of the upper estimate.

Ill-fated fellow polar explorer Robert Falcon Scott's 1910 pocket diary sold for £27,500 -- almost three times the £10,000 estimate.

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