Engraved Silver Cypher Wheel from the Martin & Ford Collections

Keeping sensitive information secure and data encrypted are omnipresent aspects in our increasingly technological lives, with two-factor authentication even more commonplace. While the level of tech behind such measures has advanced greatly recently, the reasoning behind them has been just as important no matter the period in human history. The need for relaying information in a secure, private manner has taken many forms—with one such method being the substitution cypher. In this form of encryption, one letter stands in for another, with the recipient of the protected data able to decipher its true meaning only by using a code or a key. Lot 52090 in our January 2024 Auction (in conjunction with the New York International Numismatic Convention [NYINC]) served this exact role.

Emanating from the Sydney F. Martin Collection, and previously from the extensive and celebrated John J. Ford Collection, this bi-level engraved silver cypher wheel features elegant engraving on each side. Additionally, one side displays names that indicate various functions within the hierarchy of the Holy Roman Empire. These are led by the Emperor and Empress (Imperator and Imperatrix), the Imperial Vicar, the various Electors (Archbishops of Mainz, Trier, and Cologne; King of Bohemia, Count Palatine of the Rhine, Duke of Saxony, Margrave of Brandenburg, and Duke of Brunswick-Luneburg), neighboring rulers such as the Kings of Sweden, Denmark, and Poland, and other higher-ranking officials in the German-specific power structure of the Empire. Meanwhile, the other side presents a movable outer ring with the 24 letters of the Roman alphabet in order (J and V being omitted), a fixed inner ring with those same letters in a randomized order, and another movable interior ring that, when rotated, reveals a third letter in the cut-out area above the engraved ruins. The sum of this creates a level-two substitution encryption, and a code that would realistically only be deduced by the bearer of a decoder. Furthermore, the codes that begin and end each individual mentioned on the one side, such as the 1 and 15 for the Emperor, may indicate that any number between the two may stand in as a code for that particular official.

Given its mention of the Duke of Brunswick-Luneburg, this piece must be dated between the elevation of the duchy to electorate status (1692) and its takeover by Napoleon (1807). Additionally, mentioning the Imperatrix may further narrow the chronology to the reign of Maria Theresa and a more important role being given to a female within the normally male-dominated Holy Roman Empire. As such, this piece may more specifically be dated to 1740-1780. Beautifully crafted and attractively toned, it represents an extremely interesting piece of paranumismatica, made more appealing by its association with two phenomenal collections.

To view our upcoming auction schedule and future offerings, please visit where you may register and participate in this and other forthcoming sales.

We are always seeking coins, medals, and paper money for our future auctions, and are currently accepting consignments for our spring 2024 Hong Kong auction and our August 2024 Global Showcase auction. Additionally, we are continuously accepting consignments for our Collectors Choice Online (CCO) auctions, the next of which will be in February 2024, and the next for which we are accepting consignments will be in May. If you would like to learn more about consigning, whether a singular item or an entire collection, please contact one of our consignment directors today and we will assist you in achieving the best possible return on your material.

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