A set of Albert Einstein’s handwritten notes for the theory of relativity were sold last night in Paris for €11.7m - four times what auction house Christie’s had estimated.
Across 54 pages, the document contained work for the theory of general relativity, which Einstein published in 1915.
A spokesperson for Christie’s said: “This is without a doubt the most valuable Einstein manuscript ever to come to auction.”
The auction house did not reveal who the buyer was.
The notes were written in 1913 and 1914 in Zurich by Einstein and the Swiss engineer Michele Besso, his lifelong friend.
Einstein did not tend to keep working documents and experts said it was “almost like a miracle” that it had survived.
According to Christie’s, it provided a “fascinating plunge into the mind of the 20th century’s greatest scientist”.
Einstein and Besso tried to explain an anomaly in the orbit of Mercury with equations Einstein would use to prove the theory of general relativity.
The pages contain many calculations written in black ink on wrinkled, lightly yellowed paper. However, the document also showed Einstein was not infallible.
Both he and Besso made several errors, and when Einstein realised he abandoned the notes.
He went on to correct the mistakes later, but Besso kept the original document in pristine condition at his home until he died in March 1955.
It was not clear if Besso took the manuscript, or if Einstein sent it to him to continue working on it. The document contains 26 pages written by Einstein, 25 by Besso, and three written jointly.
Einstein died the month after Besso, by which time he had won the Nobel Prize and was hailed as one of the greatest geniuses in history.
Scientific documents written by Einstein before 1919 are very rare. Christie’s said that, apart from a manuscript held at the Albert Einstein Archives in Jerusalem, the Einstein-Besso manuscript was the only existing document showing the beginnings of the theory of general relativity.
It was “one of the most important scientific documents of the 20th century”, the auction house said. (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2021)
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