The Imitation Game, the biopic about British WWII codebreaker Alan Turing (starring Benedict Cumberbatch) just came out in the UK; it will be released in the US on Friday. It didn’t take the movie to bolster the auction market for all things Turing-related, but I’m sure it will give it that extra push.
Here’s a teaser of my Vanity Fair article on this, currently one of the feature stories gracing VF.com’s landing page today:
The machine referred to in The Imitation Game as “the crooked hand of death itself,” and simply as “beautiful” by Benedict Cumberbatch’s Alan Turing, still exists—but you’ll have to fight the competition to get your hands on one.
The auction market for the Enigma machines, the notorious World War II encryption devices used by the Nazis, whose codes Turing cracked, has soared in recent years, along with a surge of interest in anything associated with the British code-breaking mathematician himself. Last year, two signed offprints of one of Turing’s scientific papers fetched a mammoth $321,800 at auction, partly because, as Christie’s scientific specialist James Hyslop explains, “to find something that has a direct personal connection to Turing is extraordinarily rare.”
Convicted of gross indency (homosexuality was a crime in Britain in 1952), Turing agreed to be chemically castrated as an alternative to prison; he was treated with hormone therapy meant to suppress his sexual urges. When he died of cyanide poisoning of 1954, the death was ruled a suicide. Even before this tragic end, much of his career and related written work was shrouded in mystery by the Official Secrets Act and didn’t come to light until the 70s. Hyslop says that the rare pieces that have made it onto the market had been guarded closely by his family and close friends. “The declassification of his wartime work and recent anniversaries [of his birth and death], by increasing public awareness of his astonishing achievements, have seen the upsurge in market demand for his works,” he adds.