Any written tidbits from the mind of Albert Einstein, one of the world’s great intellects, will almost certainly bring in the coin from those eager to own a piece of history, regardless of the subject – from dire warnings to the pursuit of happiness.
As reported by Reuters, several more communiqués by said genius have been put under the hammer this week at an auction house in Jerusalem. The lowest successful bid was $6,100, with the highest being $103,700 – the latter of which was sold for a price at least 2.5 times less than what was expected. So what trinkets of knowledge do they contain this time around?
The top-billing letter by Einstein, dating back to 1928, deals with his thoughts regarding the “unified field theory of gravitational force and electromagnetism,” or the “third stage of relativity.” Addressed to his colleague, mathematician Herman Muntz, this letter even comes with a scientific scrawling on the envelope itself, something Einstein added last minute to clarify his thoughts.
This correspondence refers to his quest to conjure up a scientific package that linked all the fundamental forces and components of physics with a single, theoretical framework – something that eluded even this magnificent scientific wizard. Today, no unified field theory put forward has been accepted, so it still remains an open challenge, or perhaps a poisoned chalice, to anyone wishing to take it on.
The $6,100-letter capturing much of the media’s attention is a 1921 note to a young chemistry researcher, Elisabetta Piccini, who resided in Florence. The daughter of famed Italian chemist Augusto Firenze, she quickly carved out her own reputation in the physical chemistry world. Einstein, who was visiting his sister in October of that year, was keen to meet her, and she happened to be living one floor up in his sister’s apartment.
She refused to meet him out of reported shyness, so when Einstein left for a conference elsewhere, he left her a tiny letter. “To the scientific researcher, at whose feet I slept and sat for two full days, as a friendly souvenir,” he wrote, along with his signature.
Another note, signed in 1925 and selling for $9,760, not addressed to anyone, simply reads: “Be pleasant to people, but indifferent to their behavior and opinions.”
The only letter in the set of nine – plus an original photograph – not to sell was a “magnificent invitation” in honor of Einstein, dating back to 1925. After delivering a series of scientific lectures in Montevideo, Uruguay, he was honored by the government and the local university there with a dinner event at the city’s Park Hotel, which featured a “festive” menu.
Impressed by the country’s natural beauty, fantastic architecture, and generally buoyant atmosphere, he added an inscription to his invite, which he gave to the country’s Foreign Minister whom he sat next to as he dined. “Souvenir of the wonderful hours we were together,” he noted.
These – and the rest of the letters – sold at auction can be viewed at the Winner’s Auctions and Exhibitions site.