Alan Turing manuscript sells for $1m in New York auction

A 56-page handwritten scientific notebook that belonged to World War Two code breaker and father of modern computer Alan Turing has been sold for $1m in New York City.

The documents, a significant part of the very few preserved manuscripts in which Turing works on the foundations of mathematical notion and computer science, were sold at auction for just over $1m to an unnamed buyer at Bonhams in New York City.

Cassandra Hatton, senior specialist in Bonhams’ fine books and manuscripts department, said the result of the auction was a testament to Alan Turing’s impact and legacy.

“This manuscript dates from the time when Turing was engaged in the crucial task of breaking the Enigma Code,” she said in a statement. “Its mathematical content gives an extraordinary insight into the working mind of one of the greatest luminaries of the 20th century.”

Comprising 56 pages contained in a simple notebook bought from a stationery shop in Cambridge, it is believed to be the only existing extensive manuscript authored by Turing and has never before been seen in public.

Turing wrote: “The Leibniz notation dx/dy I find extremely difficult to understand in spite of it having been the one I understood the best once! It certainly implies that some relation between x and y has been laid down eg, y=x2+3x...”

The notebook dates back to 1942 when Turing was working at Bletchley Park to break the Enigma Code and was left to his friend Robin Gandy after Turing’s death.

Gandy placed Turing’s papers in the Archive Centre at King’s College –Turing’s old college – in Cambridge in 1977 for safekeeping, but retained one item - this particular manuscript - because of a deeply personal message written in the blank centre pages of the notebook, which Gandy wanted to keep private.

The notes remained hidden among personal effects until after his death.

Leading Turing scholar Andrew Hodges said: “Alan Turing was parsimonious with his words and everything from his pen has special value. This notebook shines extra light on how, even when he was enmeshed in great world events, he remained committed to free-thinking work in pure mathematics.”

At the turn of the millennium, 45 years after his death, Time magazine listed him among the twentieth century's 100 greatest minds, alongside the Wright brothers, Albert Einstein, DNA busters Crick and Watson, and the discoverer of penicillin, Alexander Fleming.

In addition to his remarkable theoretical and practical contributions to the development of the computer, as well as to the new science of computer programming, Turing was also the first pioneer of the areas of computing now known as Artificial Intelligence and Artificial Life.

Turing killed himself in 1954 after hormone treatment to ‘cure’ his homosexuality, which he decided to undergo as an alternative to imprisonment.

Sixty years after his death, Turing received a rare, royal pardon by Queen Elizabeth for his gay conviction.

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