Rare Einstein relativity document fetches millions at auction | News | DW | 23.11.2021

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Rare Einstein relativity document fetches millions at auction

Handwritten notes by physicist Albert Einstein sold for a record amount at auction in Paris. The rare manuscript is one of only two texts in existence showing preparatory work for the theory of general relativity.

Pages of one of the preparatory manuscript to the theory of general relativity of Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein's work has changed the way we look at the world

Handwritten notes by Albert Einstein and his colleague Michele Besso in which some of the steps leading to the final version of the theory of general relativity are outlined sold at auction in Paris on Tuesday evening.

The manuscript, one of only two extant working scientific documents by Einstein from the period when he was working on the world-changing theory published in 1915, was already expected to fetch millions of euros.

In the end, the final sale price ended up shooting past expert estimates — selling for a record €11.6 million ($13 million). It's the highest sum ever paid for a manuscript by the late scientist, reported news agency AFP.

"This is without a doubt the most valuable Einstein manuscript ever to come to auction," said Christie's, which hosted the sale on behalf of the Aguttes auction house.

The documents had been estimated to fetch between $2.4 million to $3.5 million (€2.1 million to €3.1 million), according to the auction house's website.

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What is the document about? 

The 54-page document was written in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1913 and 1914 and contains handwritten pages from both Einstein and Besso.

The two were working at the time to resolve "the anomaly of the planet Mercury's orbit," Christie's said. The calculations in the paper aimed to show whether Einstein's theory could explain the phenomenon, which had perplexed scientists for a long time.

According to Christie's, the paper contains a number of errors and was dropped by Einstein when he spotted them. Besso, however, kept the manuscript. 

Einstein's two theories of relativity posited new ways of viewing the movement of objects in space and time. Their findings have important practical relevance, particularly in the field of satellite navigation.

The physicist, who died in 1955 at the age of 76, won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1921.

Edited by: Rebecca Staudenmaier

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