The letters are expected to sell for $100,000 to $200,000 at auction. The letters are expected to sell for $100,000 to $200,000 at auction. The letters are expected to sell for $100,000 to $200,000 at auction. (Photo: Courtesy photo)

From one friend to another: Einstein's letters to Michele Besso to be auctioned

Christie's of London selling 56 notes whose topics span the gamut from love to fame and everything in between.

Einstein and Besso Einstein and Besso

Einstein-mania seems to have taken the auction world by storm. In the past year alone, Einstein's letters to this son as well as his writings about the theory of relativity have been auctioned. Earlier this week, in Israel, Michael Jackson's best friend purchased a letter penned by Albert Einstein.

And now comes word that the prestigious Christie's of London is auctioning off a treasure trove of 56 letters that Einstein wrote to his close friend and fellow physicist Michele Besso.

Einstein bequeathed his papers to Hebrew University in Jerusalem, which is home to the official Albert Einstein archives. But items that were sent to others, like these letters, are often sold to collectors.

"Michele Besso and Einstein first met as students in Zurich in the late 1890s, and their friendship was cemented during their time working together in the early 1900s in the Swiss federal patent office in Bern," the auction house wrote in its description of the sale. "In the evenings after work, the two friends would stroll home together, and many years later Einstein would remember how thoughts of everyday life would fall away as they discussed scientific subjects. When Einstein changed the world of physics forever in 1905 with four groundbreaking papers, Michele Besso was his only acknowledged collaborator."

Actors portrayed Michele Besso (left) and Albert Einstein (right) in the recent National Geographic 'Genius' series.Actors portrayed friends Michele Besso (left) and Albert Einstein (right) in the recent National Geographic 'Genius' series. (Photo: Dusan Matincek/National Geographic)

Fans of the beloved genius will be thrilled to see bits of Einstein's personality permeate the pages. He's self-deprecating, funny and forlorn throughout the notes – discussing everything from his crumbling first marriage to how bored he was sitting in a meeting of the League of Nations. In another, Einstein remarks that the autograph seekers he encountered on an early tour of the U.S. made him feel "like a prize bullock."

"Working through these 56 letters was almost like getting to know Einstein himself," explained Thomas Venning, who catalogued the manuscripts for the Christie's auction. "What’s more, this was a particularly attractive side of him, the side that his closest friend saw over 50 years. The most striking parts of his personality? His humility, his absolute love of what he did ... and his ability, through that extraordinary mind, to see the universe in a perspective that is beyond the rest of us."

A 1921 postcard that Einstein wrote to Besso.A 1921 postcard that Einstein wrote to Besso. (Photo: Courtesy photo)

The last letter in the cache is one written by Einstein to Besso's family shortly after Besso passed away. (Einstein himself would die a month later.) As Venning points out: "The letter ends with a famous sentence, which reflects their deep friendship and the scientific understanding they shared, as well as the distance they had traveled since those happy days as patent clerks in Bern: ‘Now he has again preceded me a little in parting from this strange world. This has no importance. For people like us who believe in physics, the separation between past, present and future has only the importance of an admittedly tenacious illusion.’

"After I had finished cataloguing this letter, I sat staring at my computer for a moment, and then I did something I’ve never done before in nearly 20 years of cataloguing autograph letters. I burst into tears."


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