Alan Turing's notebook fetches £700,000 at auction

Sarah Coles
Turing Manuscript
Turing Manuscript

A notebook containing Alan Turing's calculations and notes has fetched an incredible £700,000 at an auction in New York this week. The price reflects the historical significance of the work Turing was doing at the time - and the rarity of a Turing manuscript.

Turing completed the notebook in 1942, during World War II, when he was at Bletchley Park, battling to crack the code of Enigma. The 56 pages of notes were not directly related to the breaking of the code, but were written at the time.

It is thought to be the only major manuscript of his still in existence. Before the auction Bonhams said: "Turing material of any kind is extremely rare, and anything with a direct personal connection to him even more so. This, Turing's wartime notebook on logic, is the first time a manuscript by him has ever come to public market."

How it came to sale

The notebook contains a number of fascinating comments on mathematical notation. It was left to his friend, the mathematician Robin Gandy. He gave away most of Turing's papers to the Archive Centre at King's College in Cambridge, but kept this notebook.

Gandy may have been inspired by separate journals Turing left him describing his dreams (which were later destroyed). Gandy used the blank pages of the notebook to describe his own dreams. He wrote at the start of his notes: "It seems a suitable disguise to write in between these notes of Alan's on notation, but possibly a little sinister; a dead father figure, some of whose thoughts I most completely inherited."

The nature of the dream journal was particularly personal, which may be why the notebook was kept by Gandy until his death in 1995, when it was inherited by an executor of the will, and bought by the current owner.

Cassandra Hatton, Senior Specialist in Fine Books and Manuscripts and the History of Science at Bonhams said, "This is a wonderful result and a fitting testament to Alan Turing's impact and legacy. It has been a great privilege to have been involved in this sale and we are immensely pleased that all the people who bid for this unique item and indeed the wider public have recognized Turing's importance and place in history."

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