$1.5 million Einstein auction breaks record

October 24, 2017

Originally appeared in From the Grapevine News
By Benyamin Cohen From the Grapevine News


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)


When Albert Einstein was staying at a Japanese hotel in 1922, he found himself without any cash for tips. So he scribbled two notes and handed them to the bellhop, reportedly telling him, “One day these will be worth something.”

The world’s favorite genius certainly knows how to make a prediction. Those two notes sold at auction in Israel on Tuesday for $1.56 million, the largest sale of Einstein memorabilia in recent history. Why the high price? Since the buyer wishes to remain anonymous, it’s anyone’s guess. One theory is this: Einstein documents usually sell in the vicinity of $100,000 to $200,000. Those are typically letters typed by Einstein and have his signature on the bottom. The notes that were sold this week were in Einstein’s own handwriting.

“I just sent the seller an email,” auctioneer Gal Wiener told From The Grapevine. “I told him, ‘Congratulations! You just became a millionaire.'”

The next most expensive document is likely the 1987 auction of hand-written paper where Einstein spelled out his famous formula, E=mc2. That scribble and its accompanying pages 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.

Albert and Elsa Einstein at the University of Commerce, Tokyo, with Japanese faculty. Two notes he wrote on that trip were sold at auction. (Photo: Albert Einstein Archives/HUJ)


In the two pages at the Japanese hotel, Einstein offered his basic theory of happiness. The first note is translated to: “A quiet and modest life brings more joy than a pursuit of success bound with constant unrest.” Einstein also handed the bellhop a second note that is translated to: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

Einstein bequeathed his papers to Hebrew University in Jerusalem, a school he helped establish. It is home to the official Albert Einstein archives, which just announced it will be opening the archives to the public. But items that belonged to others, like the notes auctioned off this week, are often sold to collectors.

2017 has been a landmark year for Einstein auctions. In June, Michael Jackson’s best friend, Uri Geller, purchased a letter written by Einstein in which the Nobel Prize winner praised Israel as being “intellectually active and interesting.” The letter held special resonance for Geller, who has lived in Israel his entire life. A letter written by Einstein about his theory of relativity was auctioned off earlier this year.

Six decades after his death, Einstein memorabilia continues to flood the marketplace. In 2015, a batch of Einstein’s letters fetched $420,000 at auction. In 2016, we reported on a letter that Einstein wrote to his son that was auctioned for around $100,000. An autographed copy of the iconic photo of Einstein sticking his tongue out sold for $125,000 at auction. Perhaps the renewed interest in Einstein objects is, in part, due to a National Geographic TV series about the beloved genius. An auction which coincided with the show’s finale netted $210,000.

“The interest in Einstein does not fade into history,” said Hebrew University’s Hanoch Gutfreund, who helps run the Einstein archives. “If anything, the interest in Einstein increases with time. It’s greater now.”