Top 10: Albert Einstein memorabilia
10) Skull X-ray
The first item on the list is also the most unusual. Many people have wondered what went on inside Einstein’s head, but one particular collector paid $38,750 to find out when they bought a 1945 medical x-ray of his skull during a Julien’s auction in December 2010.
9) Einstein’s most famous photograph
Einstein’s fame stems from his brilliant scientific theories, but he is also one of history’s most instantly recognisable faces due in part to a famous photograph. The image, which depicts him with wild tufted hair and his tongue sticking out, was taken by photographer Arthur Sasse on Einstein’s 72nd birthday.
Einstein liked the photograph so much he requested nine copies for himself, gifting many to friends. A signed copy which he dedicated to the CBS and ABC journalist Howard K. Smith sold during an RR Auction sale in June 2009 for $74,324.
8) Six questions letter
In October 1948 Einstein answered a letter from the writer Milton M. James, who had asked him his opinion on international political matters and the development of the atomic bomb. Einstein’s answers reveal his belief that scientists bear no responsibility for the use of their discoveries, along with his thoughts on racial prejudice in the United States and the strengths and weaknesses of democracy.
His fascinating answers were contained in a letter, which was subsequently sold at a Christie’s auction in December 2006 for a price of $89,741.
7) Special Theory of Relativity manuscript
Many people have struggled to understand the Special Theory of Relativity, none more so than Einstein’s close friend and Long Island neighbour David Rothman. One afternoon in 1939, whilst sat talking together on the porch, Rothman asked Einstein to explain the theory to him in the simplest possible terms.
Einstein responded with a series of diagrams and notes which detailed his theory without using mathematics, and the highly rare manuscript (one of only four known to exist on the theory) sold during a Christie’s auction in June 2008 for a price of $230,500.
6) Unified field theory manuscript
From around 1923 until the end of his life, Einstein was devoted to the study of a Unified Field Theory which would allow many of his scientific theories to be united and described in a single field. Although his struggle proved unsuccessful, his work on the subject inspired a number of physicists whose quest to discover the field continues to this day.
A Christie’s auction in February 2009 saw a rare unpublished Einstein manuscript on the subject sell for $230,500.
5) Thoughts on religion letter
In January 1954 Einstein wrote to the philosopher Eric Gutkind, in reply to receiving his book about religion. In the letter, Einstein describes religion as “childish superstition”, the Bible a collection of “honourable, but still primitive legends” and denounces the idea that the Jews are God’s favoured people (despite being Jewish himself).
The letter is one of the most personally revealing Einstein manuscripts to ever sell at auction, and reached a price of approximately $404,820 at a Bloomsbury Auctions sale in London in May 2008.
4) General Theory of Relativity lecture notes
On June 20, 1933 Einstein gave the first ever George A. Gibson Lecture at Glasgow University, during which he spoke of the process and struggles which led to him formulating his General Theory of Relativity. He also spoke at length about his ‘annus mirabilis’ of 1905 during which five of his most important papers were published, and his moment of breakthrough with the General Theory.
At a Christie’s auction in June 2010 Einstein’s own hand-written notes from the lecture were sold for a price of $578,500.
3) First scientific essay manuscript
In 1895, at the age of just 16, Einstein produced his first scientific essay impressively titled “On the investigation of the state of ether in a magnetic field”. The essay, which he sent to his Uncle, contains seeds of the ideas which would later influence his Theory of Relativity and demonstrates his passion for physics at a young age.
The unique manuscript was sold at a Christie’s auction in December 2006 for a price of $676,992, making it one his most valuable manuscripts.
2) Letter to FDR concerning the Atomic Bomb
In 1939 Einstein wrote one of the most important letters in 20th century history to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In it he urged FDR to fund research into building an atomic bomb, as he feared the German Nazi government were conducting similar experiments. His influence led directly to the birth of the Manhattan Project and the first A-Bomb, changing the course of history forever.
This unsent copy of the letter (a few lines shorter than the copy sent to FDR) was originally purchased in 1986 by the publishing magnate Malcolm Forbes for $220,000. After his death it was resold at a Christie’s auction in March 2002, where it reached a price of $2,096,000.
1) Rewritten Theory of Relativity manuscript
The most valuable Einstein manuscript would be, without a doubt, his original hand-written Theory of Relativity. However, by his own admission he threw this in a waste basket soon after it was printed and it remains lost to history.
However, in 1943 he was persuaded to re-write it and offer the manuscript to the war effort by the American Government. It was given in return for the purchase of $6.5 million worth of War Bonds by the Kansas City Life Insurance Company, who then donated it to the U.S Library of Congress where it remains to this day.
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