Albert Einstein Memorabilia: Top 10 Most Valuable Items
The ten most valuable pieces of Albert Einstein memorabilia, including personal letters and important scientific manuscripts that changed the world
10) Unified field theory manuscript
In 1905 Einstein wrote the groundbreaking paper "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies", which described his special theory of relativity concerning the relationship between space and time. Years later in 1939, he created this visual explanation of the theory for his layman friend and Long Island neighbour David Rothman. As one of just four known Einstein handwritten manuscripts concerning the theory, and one of only two in private hands, it sold at Christie’s in June 2008 for $230,500 (around ten times its estimate). (Image: Christie’s)
9) Reference library of scientific papers
This collection of papers and documents was Einstein’s own set of reference copies of his work. It included first edition printings of all his major scientific papers dating from 1900 to 1925, totalling 130 offprint copies, which were kept by Einstein’s long-time secretary Helen Dukas after his death. Dukas later gave the collection to Gerald Holten, who worked on the archive of Einstein's scientific correspondence, and in June 2008 the complete set sold at Christie’s for $314,500. (Image: Christie’s)
8) Religious beliefs letter
Einstein was often asked about his thoughts on religion, and he provided an insight into his beliefs in a letter to the philosopher Eric Gutkind in 1954. He described religion as “childish superstition”, the Bible a collection of “honourable, but still primitive legends” and (despite being Jewish) denounced the idea that the Jews are God’s favoured people. The revealing handwritten letter sold at a Bloomsbury auction in May 2008, for $404,000. (Image: Bloomsbury)
7) Letters to Mileva Mari?
In 1896, whilst studying maths and physics at the Zürich Polytechnic, the 17-year-old Einstein met Mileva Mari?. The pair became friends, then lovers, and were eventually married in 1903. This set of 53 hand-written letters between the pair date from 1898 until 1903, and were only discovered in 1987. They offered the only evidence that the couple had an illegitimate daughter named Lieserl in 1902, although it is not known whether she was adopted or died of scarlet fever as an infant. The couple were divorced in 1919, having lived apart for years, but this set of letters provided an insight into their young relationship and Einstein’s developing intellect. The letters sold at Christie’s in November 1996 for $442,500. (Image: Christie’s)
6) Einstein-Besso manuscript
In 1914 Einstein published the final version of his special theory of relativity, which scientists still use to this day. But in the 12 months prior to this, he had worked with his close friend and confidant Michele Besso to see if the theory could account for the well-known anomaly in the motion of the perihelion of Mercury. Just two manuscripts featuring Einstein’s working notes on the special theory are known to exist, and just one is in private hands. This example, bearing contributions by the two physicists, was described as “the most important scientific manuscript of Einstein ever to be offered at auction” and sold at Christie’s in October 2002 for $559,000. (Image: Christie’s)
5) Glasgow lecture notes
In June 1933 Einstein gave a lecture describing his breakthrough with the theory of relativity at Glasgow University, in the first of what would become the annual George A. Gibson Lecture series. His hand-written notes from the lecture, in which he spoke about his struggles and triumphs during the ‘Annus Mirabilis’ of 1905 which produced five world-changing papers, sold at Christie’s in June 2010 for $578,500.* (Image: Christie’s)*
4) Gold wristwatch
On February 16, 1931 Einstein attended a luncheon held in his honour by the Jewish community of Los Angeles. He was presented with this inscribed Longines tonneau-shaped, 14K yellow gold wristwatch by Rabbi Edgar Magnin, and later photographed many times wearing it. In October 2008 the watch appeared at auction in New York, where it sold through Antiquorum for $596,000. (Image: Antiquorum)
3) First scientific paper
Einstein wrote his first scientific paper in 1895 at the age of just 15, entitled ‘On the investigation of the state of ether in a magnetic field’. This early interest in physics would see him enrol at the Zürich Polytechnic to study at just 17, and later write four pioneering papers in his ‘Annus Mirabilis’ at the age of 26. His first handwritten paper was sent to his uncle, and over a century later it was sold at Christie’s in December 2006 for $676,992. (Image: Christie’s)
2) Atomic bomb letter
The course of human history was changed by a letter Einstein wrote to U.S President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939. Spurred on by research conducted in Germany, Einstein implored Roosevelt to begin developing an atomic bomb before the Nazis did. The Manhattan Project was born, followed by the first A-bomb in 1945, and the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki later that year. An unsent copy of Einstein’s pivotal letter was sold to billionaire Malcolm Forbes in 1986 for $220,000, before auctioning again at Christie’s in 2002 after his death for **$2,096,000. ***(Image: Christie’s)*
1) Theory of Relativity manuscript
The world’s most valuable Einstein manuscript is a re-written copy of his Theory of Relativity dating from 1943. Having thrown out his original hand-written notes in 1905 after the paper was published, he produced another version years later to raise money for the U.S government during WWII. His new manuscript was given to the Kansas City Life Insurance Company, who in turn bought War Bonds worth $6.5 million, and donated the manuscript to the U.S Library of Congress. In today’s money that’s a cool $258 million.
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