More than sixty years after his passing, documents written by Albert Einstein are in more demand than ever. More than sixty years after his passing, documents written by Albert Einstein are in more demand than ever. More than sixty years after his passing, documents written by Albert Einstein are in more demand than ever. (Photo: Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

In letters up for auction, Einstein tries to explain theory of relativity

Correspondence between Einstein and his colleague show the difficulty in getting other physicists on board.

It turns out that explaining the theory of relativity is hard – even for Albert Einstein.

Letters dating back more than 100 years show Einstein corresponding with his colleague, Dr. Gustav Mie, a professor of experimental physics. In the pages, Einstein struggles to convince and educate his fellow scientist, who remained highly skeptical of this groundbreaking discovery. At the same time, they also show how Einstein navigated the path of correcting Mie’s misunderstandings without hurting his feelings or damaging their good relationship.

Mie, like many physicists of the time, shared a healthy skepticism about general relativity. However, he actively sought out Einstein and tried to explain his difficulties and to understand Einstein’s viewpoints in these letters. Einstein’s responses are written in a very polite and cordial manner. Eventually, both scientists met personally to further discuss the issue. The back-and-forth apparently worked, as Mie eventually wrote a textbook about the theory.

These letters are part of a new auction of Einstein papers going up for sale on April 8. Gal Wiener will be auctioning off the items. "It is interesting to see that even in the world of science, there is no absolute truth," he told From The Grapevine. "It is strongly influenced by behavior and ethics."

Some of the letters from Albert Einstein that will be auctioned off on April 8. Some of the letters from Albert Einstein that will be auctioned off on April 8. (Photo: Winner's Auctions)

Einstein was one of the founders of Hebrew University and bequeathed his papers to the institution in his will. So when he passed away in the spring of 1955, all the papers from his home and office were shipped to Israel. Indeed, the archives contain more than 82,000 documents already – including the original copy of the theory of relativity and the physicist's Nobel Prize medal. However, letters that Einstein wrote to other people and were in the possession of others when he died are often snatched up in the vast marketplace of collectors and put up for auction. The new documents come from Mie's family living in Germany.

Wiener's Jerusalem auction house has become a healthy repository of Einstein memorabilia in recent years. In the summer of 2017, for example, mentalist and magician Uri Geller purchased a letter that Einstein wrote. Later that year, Wiener made international headlines when he sold a note that Einstein scribbled to a Japanese bellhop. At $1.5 million, it broke records for the price of an Einstein paper. The next most expensive document is likely the 1987 auction of handwritten paper where Einstein spelled out his famous formula, E=mc2. That sold for $1.2 million. At the time, the price was a record auction for any manuscript sold in the U.S. and for any unillustrated text manuscript sold anywhere in the world.

Gal Wiener, owner and manager of the Winner's auction house in Jerusalem, displays two notes written by Albert Einstein. Gal Wiener, owner and manager of the Winner's auction house in Jerusalem, displays two notes written by Albert Einstein. (Photo: Menahem Kahana / Getty Images)

Papers belonging to Einstein are riding a wave of publicity right now. Earlier this month, his archives at Hebrew University unveiled a massive cache of 110 never-before-seen items at an internationally televised press conference. Those documents – which included letters to his best friend, Michele Besso, and to his son, Hans Albert – arrived from a collector in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Dozens of journalists from as far away as Germany and the U.S. crowded into the room to catch a glimpse of the papers.

Hanoch Gutfreund, the director of the Einstein Archives, talks to the press after the event. Hanoch Gutfreund, the director of the Einstein Archives, talks to the press after the event. (Photo: Benyamin Cohen)

A week later, on March 14, was what would have been Einstein's 140th birthday. Students from the school's physics department gathered for a party to wish the best for their scientific muse.

The opening bid on the new Einstein auction is $40,000, although Wiener expects the papers to fetch as much as $150,000. If these historic writings are out of your budget, we do have a possible workaround. A German designer has created a font that looks just like Einstein's handwriting. Using that, you could practically recreate these letters on your own.

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In letters up for auction, Einstein tries to explain theory of relativity
Correspondence between Einstein and his colleague show the difficulty in getting other physicists on board.