On 13th May, a letter handwritten by renowned physicist Albert Einstein was put under the hammer by Boston-based RR Auction. It was originally expected to sell for around US$400,000 but a week later when the auction finally concluded, it had been sold for a whopping US$1.2 million, roughly thrice its predicted value.
The one-page letter is dated 26 October 1946 and written in German. Einstein wrote the letter to Polish American physicist Ludwik Silberstein, who was a well-known critic of his theories and often challenged them. In this letter, Einstein responds to Silberstein’s query and includes a series of scientific calculations to support his answer, including his famous equation, E = mc2.
According to a translation provided by RR Auction, Einstein writes, “Your question can be answered from the E = mc2 formula, without any erudition.”
This letter was part of Silberstein’s personal archives which were sold by his descendants after his passing, ending up in a private collection before becoming public prior to the auction. Based on a statement from Archivists at the Einstein Papers Project at the California Institute of Technology and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, there are only three other known examples of the equation written in Einstein’s own hand.
The rarity of the handwritten document in addition to Einstein’s revolutionary equation likely contributed to the ensuing bidding war and the astronomical final price it sold for.
“It’s an important letter from both a holographic and a physics point of view,” said Bobby Livingston, executive vice president at RR Auction who called E = MC2 the most famous equation in the world.
As mentioned, the letter set off a bidding war amongst five parties. However, once the price reached around US$700,000, it turned into a duel between two parties, eventually ending with the letter being sold to document collector whom RR Auction said wished to remain anonymous.
Given the rarity and value of this letter it wouldn’t be surprising to us if copies of this document started appearing online. To enhance the ownership and authenticity of the document, we might perhaps see it turned into a Non-Fungible Token (NFT) so that the record of ownership and all past transactions are encoded into a blockchain. This would thus provide irreputable proof of ownership and authenticity in the event that anyone chose to content either of these factors. I mean, when have people ever been known to leave old, expensive items alone?
To learn more about Albert Einstein’s handwritten letter, including a full translation of the text, head over to RR Auction’s website.