Einstein: 'My Relativity manuscript was not burned by Nazis - I threw it in the waste-basket!'

Albert Einstein is now regarded as one of the greatest scientists of all time, and is an instantly recognisable figure worldwide. He won fame for his intellect due especially to his Theory of Relativity.

However, Einstein appears not to have treated that moment of discovery with any great reverence, as he simply discarded his original handwritten paper on the subject. This is revealed in a typed letter signed (TLS) by the man himself, which tomorrow appears at Heritage's auction of rare books and manuscripts.

The letter is to a certain David Rothman, with whom Einstein became friends during the summer of 1939. Rothman's education was limited, but he had a keen interest in science.

In 1943 and 1944, Princeton Library and Rothman in turn inquired of Einstein what had happened to his original manuscript. As many books and papers written by Jews such as Freud and Einstein were burned by the Nazis, that might have seemed the likely fate of the work.

They were asking because it was thought that the sale would be useful for the war effort. Einstein, an avowed pacifist was now working not merely for the war effort but with the aim of creating a nuclear bomb before the Third Reich did.

Einstein explains in the letter that the document had met a more prosaic fate - he had thrown it in the waste-basket. He was later persuaded to hand-write another, which sold for $6.5 million to the Kansas City Life Insurance Company. "Economists will have to revise their theories of value," Einstein said after learning the auction price.

Einstein's TLS to David Rothman explaining the fate of his relativity manuscript
Einstein's letter to Rothman explaining the fate of his relativity manuscript

It's not clear what he would have thought of this letter's estimate, which is $60,000-90,000. The letter also notes Einstein's satisfaction with the war's progress (notably the resilience of the Russians) after his more leisurely compliments for the boat-building skills of Rothman's son. 

Other highlights in the sale include a four-language ship's passport signed by William Henry Harrison during his Presidency (the shortest ever at 31 completed days).

Authentic Harrison signatures as president are therefore extremely rare and desirable with only 24 known, of which half are in private hands. This example is estimated at $80,000-120,000.

Today is the last day allowing online bidding in the rare books and historical manuscripts sale at Heritage, with the live session taking place in Dallas, Texas tomorrow.

Collectors and Investors unable to attend may wish to take a look at this TLS by Einstein, or these Presidential autographs (George Washington and Abraham Lincoln), which are currently available.


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