A mystery collector paid $485,000 for rare unpublished papers of Alan Turing that reveal his plans to develop secret wartime gadgets.


What would you give for a peek inside the genius mind of the father of computer science and artificial intelligence, Alan Turing? Someone paid $485,000 for published papers that offer a ‘rare insight’ into the mind of this legendary British mathematician. The papers of Alan Turing, relating to the Delilah project, a wartime collaboration seeking to develop a speech encryption system, were sold. In addition to Turing’s mathematical proofs, they also feature Donald Bayley’s transcriptions of Turing’s lectures on electrical circuit theory.

Curiosity about the Enigma machine and Alan Turing spiked after the release of the movie ‘The Imitation Game’.

Turing, who studied mathematics at the University of Cambridge, helped Britain win the Second World War. His portable encryption system or voice scrambler was also conceived to contribute to the British victory. This contraption would distort British audio messages, making them sound like gibberish to anyone without the proper decryption method. Bonhams auctioned the papers, dating to the early 1940s, which include a total of 12 pages and 8 adjacent graphs in Turing’s hand, along with 7 line diagrams. Bayley retained more than 40 pages of working notes, which have now been sold by his family following his death in 2020.

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‘Alan Turing was one of Britain’s greatest minds, and these papers relating to the Delilah project were of immense importance,’ said Matthew Haley, head of Bonhams UK books and manuscripts department. He added, ‘After dinner at Hanslope Park, Turing would give lectures which Bayley faithfully transcribed, effectively forming a textbook on advanced maths for circuit engineers. This sale was an exceptionally rare chance to look at these newly discovered papers and gain greater insight into the man who helped lay the foundations for modern computing.’

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The London-based auction company dubbed this as one of the ‘most important and extensive collections’ of Turing’s work.

[Bonhams]

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