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Albert Einstein at Home

LiveAuctionTalk.com:  by Rosemary McKittrick

Photo courtesy of Christie's.

Albert Einstein had his unique ideas about physics from the beginning.  Often restless and bored in class he skipped out and when test time came borrowed notes and crammed.

I’m so lucky to have found you, a creature who is my equal, and who is as strong and independent as I am.
— Albert Einstein

He even skipped his Physics classes because the teacher refused to teach the latest theories.  He preferred hanging out in coffeehouses discussing science and philosophy with friends.

Einstein didn’t hold Physics as an established set of ideas but rather as a living science full of puzzles waiting to be solved. 

He entered the Zurich Polytechnic Institute at age 17 in 1896 and the one thing that did hold his interest was the one and only female student in his class Mileva Maric.  She could discuss complicated scientific ideas with him and he relished that. 

Einstein’s mother was opposed to the relationship and Einstein responded by getting Mileva pregnant.  She returned home to Serbia and delivered a girl named Lieserl. 

“Is she healthy and does she already cry properly,” Einstein wrote.  “I love her so much and I don't even know her yet.” 

The couple married in 1903 and the following year their son Hans Albert was born.  Seven years later son Eduard was born.  The fate of Einstein’s first child remains a mystery. 

“I am now a married man and lead a most agreeable existence with my wife. She looks after everything excellently, is a good cook and is always in good humour,” Einstein wrote to friend Albert Besso. 

Mileva’s letters reveal she was an intellectual match to Einstein.  She researched scientific data, checked calculations, suggested proofs and copied notes and manuscripts for him.  His letters to her reveal his early stab at theories that later made him famous.    

“I’m so lucky to have found you, a creature who is my equal, and who is as strong and independent as I am,” he said. 

Early in the marriage Einstein invited former girlfriend Anna Meyer-Schmid to meet him at work. Mileva intercepted the letter and insisted he renege on the invitation.  Einstein decided she was overreacting but complied with the request. 

It created a rift in an already troubled marriage. Einstein’s wife complained of being starved for love.  To make things worse he became involved with his cousin Elsa Loewenthal.  The following summer Einstein and Mileva separated. 

Mileva moved to Switzerland and in the following years Einstein kept in touch with his sons through letters and holiday visits.   

Einstein eventually married Elsa.

“It is not ideal to be the wife of a genius,” Elsa said.  “Your life…seems to belong to everyone else.”  Elsa died in 1936.

Einstein’s friend Alice Kahler suggested Einstein should never have married at all.  He was too consumed with work.  She said he would have been fine with a housekeeper, secretary and a series of undemanding mistresses who never interfered with his work.  That’s pretty much how Einstein lived the last 20 years of his life.  

On July 6, Christie’s featured a selection of Einstein’s letters to a friend on the block. Here are some current values.

Einstein Letters to (Albert) Michele Besso:

Autograph correspondence card signed; Lucerne, 15 July 1917; postmarked the following day; in German, one page, passion always wins against reason; about wife Mileva and his children;  $16,250.

Autograph letter signed; January 1903; in German, 4 pages; Einstein on married life in the weeks after his wedding – and the finalization of one of his first papers;  $17,500.

Autograph letter signed; Princeton, 10 October 1938; in German, two pages, on his efforts to help Jewish refugees;  $18,750.

Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller.  For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column.  Her LiveAuctionTalk.com website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles.  Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.

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