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‘Most valuable ever’ Einstein notes on relativity to be auctioned

Christie’s expects handwritten manuscript of theory’s early version to fetch up to $4 million when it goes up for sale in November; the only other similar document is in Israel

Undated file photo shows famed physicist Albert Einstein. (AP Photo, File)
Undated file photo shows famed physicist Albert Einstein. (AP Photo, File)

Handwritten calculations scrawled by Albert Einstein as he was developing his theory of general relativity are set to go up for auction for an expected 2-3 million pounds ($2.7-4.1 million).

The manuscript, in which the famous physicist tried to explain an anomaly spotted in the orbit of Mercury, is “without doubt the most valuable Einstein manuscript ever offered at auction,” said Christie’s France and auction house Aguttes, who will run the sale in Paris on November 23, The Guardian reported on Tuesday.

It is one of just two surviving works documenting the early versions of the theory of general relativity. The other is now in the Einstein archives at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

The notes span 54 pages, written down between June 1913 and early 1914, the report said, adding that 26 are in Einstein’s handwriting, 25 were written by his friend and collaborator, Swiss engineer Michele Besso, and three were written on by both.

“Covered in equations and calculations, with extensive corrections and crossings-out, it sees the pair tackling the anomaly in the orbit of the planet Mercury, a problem that had bedeviled the scientific community for decades, using the early version of the field equations of Einstein’s general theory of relativity,” The Guardian reported.

“Einstein’s autographs from this period, and more generally from before 1919, are extremely rare,” said Adrien Legendre of Christie’s, according to the report. “It provides a remarkable insight into Einstein’s work and a fascinating dive into the mind of the greatest scientist of the 20th century.”

Handwritten notes by Albert Einstein on the theory of general relativity that will go up for sale in November 2021 at Christie’s France and Aguttes. (Christie’s Images Ltd.)

The notes contain a calculation error since Einstein made a mistake in the sun’s mass on page 28, eventually leading him to set his approach to general relativity aside, concerned about its theoretical consistency, the report said.

But Besso decided to keep the manuscript with him when he left Zurich.

“It is thanks to him that the manuscript has, almost miraculously, come down to us: Einstein would probably not have bothered to keep what he saw as a working document,” Christie’s was quoted as saying.

Einstein returned to the approach in September 1915, developing it into the theory known to this day, which indeed accounts for the anomaly in Mercury’s orbit.

“The human understanding of the workings of the universe had been changed forever. General relativity came to transform the human understanding of the workings of the universe, with consequences, including gravitational time dilation, light deflection and gravitational waves, which are still being explored today,” Christie’s said.

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