Today in History... Albert Einstein, the atomic bomb and the $12,000 manuscript

Paul wrote about the important role collectors play in preserving history in last week's newsletter (which you can sign up for here) and, without a doubt, historical items among the most rewarding, and most investible, collectibles.

Worthy of particular attention are old documents which can reveal and shed new light important moments from history. For instance, earlier this year Christie's sold a letter written by George Washington to his nephew, Bushrod, endorsing the pending US Constitution.

Here was a letter inked by the first-ever US President (two years before he took office) written on personal terms to a family member, offering his otherwise-unseen insights into the document which, as many historians say, formed the basis of the free world.

In terms of provenance and historical significance, it doesn't get much more impressive. With this in mind, it's perhaps less surprising that the letter, worthy of any of the world's top museums, was sold by Christie's for $3.22m - above its $1.5m-2.5m estimate.

The more revealing the letter, the better: personal documents by
Einstein have sold for thousands (you can find our more here)


Elsewhere on the markets, Heritage Auction Galleries of Dallas, Texas, sold another letter containing a very personal recollection of an event that happened today in history, August 2, 1939: when Albert Einstein signed a letter to US President Franklin D Roosevelt urging creation of an atomic weapons research program.

Today, Einstein's involvement in atomic weapons remains the most complex and controversial chapter in his legacy - and any historian or museum would be aching to get their hands on a document giving clues as to Einstein's own reflections on the atomic bomb.

The letter auctioned at Heritage offered just that. Written in 1952 and addressed to the scientist and author, Kenneth Heuer, it reads:

"About the technical development in the field of atomic energy: I was not interested in that matter for years but rather disgusted by the course it has taken in the hands of short-sighted politicians... To me it is enough to know that the continuation of the existence of human beings is in serious doubt if no supra-national solution can be achieved." - Albert Einstein

In comparison to the $3.22m George Washington letter, it's incredible to think that this Einstein letter sold for just $11,950 when it auctioned on June 22; certainly a bargain investment for its lucky buyer, and one that is sure to appreciate in future years.

A look at the past value of Einstein's signature bears this out. Unsurprisingly, his autograph is one of the most sold investments on the market, with the price of a single signature having appreciated by 242.9% over ten years (according to the industry's PFC40 autograph index).

In other words, if you'd bought an Einstein autograph for £1,750 back in 2000, it would today be worth £6,000. Needless to say, if that signature was on a letter of particular historical importance, it would be worth even more.

The value of Einstein’s autograph has risen 242.9% in 10 years –
making this letter (currently for sale at £3,950) an unmissable
entry-level investment


So, if you're on the lookout for a sold investment, the question remains: 'What would such a document be worth in years to come?'

The good news is that Einstein-signed documents currently on for sale on the market vary greatly in price - from viable entry-level investments to pieces which are suited to high net worth individuals.

Among the former is the signature "A. Einstein" on a one-page Princeton, New Jersey letter-headed document dated to October 13, 1937. Remarkably, the letter is Einstein's response to Lionel Ettlinger, an activist who devoted his life to the cause of Jewish refugees.

"[This agreed-upon letter] is written in very strong language, but I think it will serve the purpose. I recommend that you get in touch regarding methods of propaganda, with... Prof. Felix Bernstein (New York University)... one of the most intelligent men whom I have met anywhere in the world. Will see that this will benefit our cause" - Einstein's letter to Ettlinger

Considering the singular and valuable insight it offers into Einstein's devotion to his own Jewish identity, and to the Jewish cause, it's amazing that the letter is for sale on the market price at just £3,950.

Meanwhile, another letter dated 1951 shows another side to the scientist's character entirely, in which he dismisses the attempts of a young scientist, named Raymond Miller, to establish (in Miller's words) "a fundamental new law of nature."

"I am very sorry to say that your formula for the velocity of a planet is in contradiction with Newtonian mechanics and consequently also with Kepler's empirical laws. It seems to me that you have not studied sufficiently elementary celestial mechanics..." - Einstein's response to Raymond Miller

A short response, yet also an irreplaceable insight into how Einstein dealt with the inferior minds - and potential "rivals" - who hankered for his approval at the time, the letter is presently for sale on the market priced £22,500 ($37,125).

For investors and collectors alike, the man forever regarded as one of the greatest minds of all time will likely also continue to prove himself as one of the greatest investments.

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