Einstein note on modest living sells for $1.56 million

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Gal Wiener of the Winner’s auction house displays notes written by Albert Einstein in 1922 on hotel stationery. AFP

JERUSALEM (AFP) – A note that Albert Einstein gave to a courier in Tokyo briefly describing his theory on happy living sold at auction in Jerusalem on Tuesday for $1.56 million, the auction house said.

The winning bid for the note far exceeded the pre-auction estimate of between $5,000 and $8,000, according to the website of Winner’s auction house.

“It was an all-time record for an auction of a document in Israel,” Winner’s spokesman Meni Chadad said.

The buyer was a European who wished to remain anonymous, he said.

The note, on Imperial Hotel Tokyo stationery, says in German that “a quiet and modest life brings more joy than a pursuit of success bound with constant unrest”.

Bidding, in person, online and by phone, started at $2,000. A flurry of offers pushed the price rapidly up for about 20 minutes until the final two potential buyers bid against each other by phone.

Applause broke out in the room when the sale was announced.

“I am really happy that there are people out there who are still interested in science and history and timeless deliveries in a world which is developing so fast,” the seller said on condition of anonymity after the sale.

A second Einstein note written at the same time that simply reads “where there’s a will, there’s a way” sold for $240,000, Winner’s said.

The German-born physicist, most famous for his theory of relativity, was on a lecture tour in Japan when he handwrote the autographed notes, previously unknown to researchers, in 1922.

He had recently been informed that he was to receive the Nobel Prize for physics, and his fame outside of
scientific circles was growing.

A Japanese courier arrived at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo to deliver Einstein a message. The courier either refused to accept a tip, in line with local practice, or Einstein had no small change available.

Either way, Einstein didn’t want the messenger to leave empty-handed, so he wrote him two notes by hand in German, according to the seller, a relative of the messenger.

“Maybe if you’re lucky those notes will become much more valuable than just a regular tip,” Einstein told the messenger, according to the seller, a resident of the German city of Hamburg.

Two other letters Einstein wrote in later years were also auctioned on Tuesday, fetching prices of $33,600 and $9,600.

In June, letters written by Einstein about God, Israel and physics sold for nearly $210,000 at a Jerusalem auction.

Roni Grosz, the archivist in charge of the world’s largest Einstein collection at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, said the notes shed light on the private thoughts of the great physicist, whose name has become synonymous with genius.

“What we’re doing here is painting the portrait of Einstein – the man, the scientist, his effect on the world – through his writings,” Grosz said. “This is a stone in the mosaic.”

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