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Rare Einstein manuscript sells for record-smashing $13 million at auction

A picture taken on November 22, 2021 shows pages of one of the preparatory manuscript to the theory of general relativity of Albert Einstein, during their presention a day before being auctionned at Christie's auction house in Paris.
A picture taken on November 22, 2021 shows pages of one of the preparatory manuscript to the theory of general relativity of Albert Einstein, during their presention a day before being auctionned at Christie's auction house in Paris. (Image credit: Getty)

A 54-page manuscript co-written by Albert Einstein and Swiss engineer Michele Besso has sold at auction on Tuesday (Nov 23) for a record-breaking $13 million.

According to Christie's auction house, which hosted the sale, the manuscript has set a new record for the most expensive autographed scientific document ever sold. The identity of the buyer has not been revealed, though Christie's noted that the auction attracted the interest of buyers around the world.

The manuscript in question was written by Einstein and Besso between June 1913 and early 1914, when the pair tested equations that would ultimately become the foundation of Einstein's theory of relativity.

According to Christie's, 26 pages of the manuscript are written in Einstein's hand; 24 are written in Besso's; and three pages are jointly written by the two. Many pages also feature margin notes, including an excited "stimmt!" (that's German for "It works!") inked by Einstein next to one of his equations.

The manuscript is exceptional for its rarity, Christie's noted, as Einstein seldom kept drafts of his own writing and correspondences; Besso, on the other hand, preserved much of his work with Einstein for posterity. Thanks to Besso, this manuscript is one of only two surviving drafts showing the foundations of general relativity.

The sale came with a hefty price tag, even for the works of Einstein. In May 2021, a letter from Einstein to a rival physicist, which contained his famous E=mc2 equation, sold at auction for $1.2 million. In 2017, two short notes that Einstein wrote to a bellboy at a Tokyo hotel — including one describing his "formula" for happiness — sold for $1.5 million.

Originally published on Live Science.

Brandon Specktor

Brandon has been a senior writer at Live Science since 2017, and was formerly a staff writer and editor at Reader's Digest magazine. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post, CBS.com, the Richard Dawkins Foundation website and other outlets. He holds a bachelor's degree in creative writing from the University of Arizona, with minors in journalism and media arts. He enjoys writing most about space, geoscience and the mysteries of the universe.