Crypto collector Ralph Simpson is compiling a list of all Kryha machines that are known to exist. Can my readers support him?

Last Saturday, I gave a presentation on the life and the devices of Alexander von Kryha (1891–1955), a German-Ukrainian constructor of encryption machines. I was supported by Claus Taaks, who is currently the leading expert on Kryha’s biography.

Source: Public Domain


Kryha’s machines

Alexander von Kryha developed three encryption machines:

  • The Kryha Standard

Source: Schmeh, Hütter

  • The Kryha Liliput

Source: Kopacz

  • The Kryha Elektric

Source: Kryha pamphlet from the 1920s

In my view, the Standard and the Liliput are two of the most beautiful encryption machines that were ever built.

It is the tragedy of Kryha’s life that he never realized that his devices were quite week from a cryptographic point of view. US codebreaker William Friedman (1891-1969) is known to have solved a Kryha Standard message within 2 hours and 41 minutes, only using paper and pencil. This would have been impossible with the Enigma, a major competitor of Kryha’s machines in the 1920s.

After two failed attempts to establish a successful business based on his encryption machines, Alexander von Kryha committed suicide in 1955.


A Kryha catalog

Today, Kryha machines are sought-after collectibles. The visual design and the dramatic background story make these devices very attractive for museums and private collectors. The following 2007 photograph shows me with a Kryha Standard owned by Austrian collector Günter Hütter.

Source. Schmeh

A few years later, I published an article about Kryha in the Cryptologia. It was the seminal research paper about Kryha’s biography.

It is clear that today Kryha machines are much rarer than, say, Enigmas or M-209s, which were mass-produced for over a decade. In my webinar, I said that about 20 Standards and five Liliputs might have survived. To my knowledge, the Kryha Elektric is lost.

It soon became clear that my estimate with regard to the Liliputs was too pessimistic. After the talk, crypto collector Ralph Simpson

Source: Schmeh/Simpson

… started to assemble a list of still-existing Kryha machines. Currently, this catalog contains 21 Standards and 13 Liliputs. Does a reader know of any Kryha machines not mentioned in the list? If so, Ralph and I would be interested to know.

On one of my presentation slides, I showed a picture of the green Kryha Standard I saw in the Science Museum in London last year:

Source: Schmeh

It’s the only green Kryha machine on Ralph’s list. It’s completely unclear why this machine has a different color and what the purpose of this coloring was. If a reader has a clue, please leave a comment.

Further reading: Update: A complete (?) list of German cipher machines in World War 2


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Kommentare (6)

  1. #1 Kerberos
    20. Juni 2020

    Hallo Klaus,
    this case ist not “just green” but this kind of laquer
    called “wrinkle” was popular from late 20ties till about
    1955, when “hammer finish” took the lead in laquer in
    industrial applications on metal.
    (Think e. g. of Microscopes etc of that age)
    The purpose of the wrinkle finish was to obscure scratches
    and other marks from tools on the metal.
    Later hammer finish and today powder coating were/are
    used to the same purpose.
    Making sheet metal objects aiming to a high gloss
    nickel or chrome finish is very expensive compared
    to those laquer technologies.
    So I think Kryha had to look for less expensive produktion cost.
    The original kind of wrinkle laquers are no longer avalable
    but one can buy spray cans from US, where some
    restoration business is still alive.

  2. #2 Thomas
    20. Juni 2020

    Does your list include this Haller & Meurer Liliput serial No. 26: The auction day is the same as No. 4 in your list, but has a different serial number. Did H&M produce at least 2078 Liliputs (according to the serial number of your No. 4)?

  3. #3 Thomas
    20. Juni 2020

    Edit: No. 3 in your list seems to be serial No. 26:, obviously this item was sold on at least two auctions.

  4. #4 Ralph Simpson
    San Jose
    20. Juni 2020

    Hello Kerberos and Thomas, thanks for your comments and information. I updated the Liliput Kryha list by adding serial #26 to item #3. I also found that item #2 and #13 were the same device, so #13 is now gone and we are down to 12 Liliput Kryhas.
    Thanks, Ralph

  5. #5 Klaus Schmeh
    21. Juni 2020

    Bart Wenmeckers via Facebook:
    I didn’t know about these cipher machines. Pitty the inventor committed suicide.

  6. #6 Bill Briere
    Wyoming, USA
    27. Juni 2020

    Here’s a story about one dumpster-destined Kryha device that will likely never show up for inclusion on Ralph’s list.

    A member of the Crypto Collectors group recently pointed out an item of interest up for auction: a copy of “History of Coast Guard Unit #387: 1940-1945,” apparently written by Elizebeth Friedman. This extremely rare item had been classified Top Secret Ultra, until its declassification in 1982.

    The book makes mention of the Kryha Liliput, which most of us previously had assumed saw little, if any, use in the “real” espionage world. On Pages 212-215 and 262ff., there are some interesting references to the device being used for clandestine communications between stations in Germany and Argentina.

    It seems the scarcity of these devices was a problem (for someone) even back then: the account indicates that the Argentinean station’s single device was used until it was completely falling apart!