A volunteer from the National Museum of Computing in the U.K. stumbled on an eBay ad for the device. He recognized it as a rare Lorenz teleprinter, which in this case was used to transmit coded messages.
There were no bidders, so the museum bought it for the roughly $15 that the ad requested.
When volunteers from the museum went to pick it up in Essex, England, they found it in a garden shed filled with other old items, volunteer engineer John Whetter of the computing museum told ABC News.
The teleprinter had belonged to an elderly man who died recently, and neighbors helping to clear out his house found the old device and eventually posted it on eBay, Whetter said.
“I was surprised,” he added. “We were delighted. When we brought it back to the museum and cleaned it up, we could tell that it was a relatively rare item.”
The teleprinter is going to be part of an exhibition of British World War II coding devices that engineers have spent over 20 years trying to rebuild. The exhibition will show devices that British code-breakers used during World War II to penetrate the secret communications of Germany and its allies.
“It’s a tribute to those people who did this work in World War II who never got the credit they deserved,” Whetter said.
A device used by the Nazis – such as the teleprinter discovered on eBay – is an important part of the exhibition as well, Whetter said.
“It shows the other side of the equation,” he said.
The machine has not been appraised.