An eBay user in England scored one of the best deals in history this week when he paid $14 for a vintage machine used by officials under Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler.
John Wetter, who volunteers at the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park, told BBC News a peer alerted him after spotting a listing on the internet marketplace for a “telegram machine.” The researchers then checked out and bought the device, which in actuality was a Lorenz teleprinter used by Nazi officials to encode secret messages during World War II.
“We said, ‘Thank you very much. How much was it again?’ She said ‘9.50 pounds,’ so we said, ‘Here’s a 10 pound note — keep the change,’ ” Wetter said.
The Lorenz teleprinter is similar to the Engima machines Nazis used to communicate in code with soldiers on the front lines, the Telegraph reported. But the Lorenz device is even more rare because it was operated by Nazi higher-ups. Generals would type in messages and a cipher device would translate them into code, which would then be sent to the intended recipients.
“It was the highest possible level of security used by the German high command,” Wetter told the Guardian.
There were once 200 Lorenz teleprinters and cipher coding machines, but almost all of them have been destroyed, the Telegraph said. The code in question was cracked by a British man in the 1940s, allowing the Allies to intercept messages while the conflict was still ongoing.
“This was especially important, for example, in the runup to D-Day as the Allies knew that Hitler had swallowed the bait story that landings would be at Calais,” the museum wrote in a blog post Sunday.
The museum’s eBay find has inspired a nationwide search for the Lorenz machine’s missing motor. If they can find — or build — one, they can demonstrate the entire World War II coding process with the help of another Lorenz machine on loan from Norway.
This wasn’t the first time World War II memorabilia has ended up on eBay. In 2013, a group called Purple Hearts Reunited bought a late American soldier’s medals for $20 and sent them to his family members in Washington. An Allied airplane went on sale online for about $5,800, and earlier this year, a listing for a $550,000 Sherman tank went up on the site.