Alan Turing notebook to go on show in Hong Kong before auction

The 56-page book, which has never been publicly displayed before now, shows a genius at work

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 March, 2015, 6:05pm
UPDATED : Friday, 06 March, 2015, 6:05pm

Notes by the legendary British second world war code cracker and computer pioneer Alan Turing, whose life story inspired box office hit The Imitation Game, go on display at auction house Bonhams in Hong Kong this month. 

The 56-page wartime notebook, which is the only extensive autographed manuscript of Turing's known to exist, is expected to fetch more than US$1 million when it is auctioned in New York on April 13.

The hitherto hidden manuscript, in which Turing worked on the foundations of mathematical notation and computer science, will be available to view between March 19 and 22 at Bonhams in Admiralty.

“This manuscript dates from the time when Turing was engaged in the crucial task of breaking the Enigma code... This is quite simply one of the most extraordinary pieces I have ever had the privilege to handle.” said Cassandra Hatton, senior specialist in fine books and manuscripts and director, history of science, at Bonhams.

The simple notebook, bought in Cambridge and dating from 1942, when the academic was working at Bletchley Park north of London to break the German code, has never before been shown in public. Scholars say it provides remarkable insight into how a genius thinks. 

“Alan Turing was parsimonious with his words and everything from his pen has special value,” said leading Turing scholar Andrew Hodges, on whose book the award-winning film, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing, is based.  “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.”

The notebook, which Turing bequeathed to a close friend and fellow mathematician, Robin Gandy, after committing suicide in 1954, also contains very personal comments from Gandy, who filled blank pages with his own dream recollections.

Cumberbatch said: “Alan Turing was a war hero, who broke the Enigma code, helping to bring an end to world war two; the father of modern computing science; and a gay icon who lived in a time of intolerance and tragically committed suicide as a result. His impact on our everyday lives is enormous, and the thought of being able to hold a manuscript that was written by him is thrilling.”