Rare manuscript by Albert Einstein containing preparatory work for his theory of relativity goes up for auction – and is set to fetch up to £2.5 MILLION

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  • The 54-page Einstein-Besso manuscript was handwritten between 1913 and 1914
  • This led to the famous theory of relativity finally being published in November 1915.
  • Christie’s is hosting Tuesday’s sale on behalf of the Aguts auction house in Paris

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A rare manuscript by Albert Einstein containing preliminary work for his theory of relativity could fetch up to £2.5 million at auction this week.

The 54-page ‘Einstein-Basso Manuscript’ was handwritten in Zurich, Switzerland in 1913 and 1914 by 34-year-old Einstein and his friend, the Swiss engineer Michel Basso.

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It is estimated to sell for between two and three million euros (£1.67 million to £2.5 million), according to Christie’s, which is hosting the sale on behalf of the Aguttes auction house in Paris.

Einstein’s famous theory of relativity, published in November 1915, transformed theoretical physics and astronomy during the 20th century.

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A page from the Einstein-Besso manuscript, a 54-page working manuscript jointly written between June 1913 and early 1914 by Albert Einstein and Michelle Besso that documents an important stage in the development of the general theory of relativity, Christie’s displayed in the auction. House in Paris, France

He worked to develop the theory of general relativity, as calculated from papers by Albert Einstein and Michel Besso.

He worked to develop the theory of general relativity, as calculated from papers by Albert Einstein and Michel Besso.

History of the Einstein-Besso Manuscript

Before they could complete their joint project, Beso had to leave Zurich and return to Gorizia, where he lived at the time.

It is thanks to this circumstance that the Einstein-Besso manuscript survives at all.

It appears that Besso left the manuscript with Einstein in Zurich. In early 1914, Einstein sent it to Besso, urging his friend to complete the project.

Finally, Besso calculated the perihelion motion predicted by another theory (Nordstrom), using some of the same techniques he and Einstein had used, but Besso then abandoned the project.

However, for the rest of his life, he retained the working manuscript from this pioneering collaboration with a friend whom he greatly admired.

Had the manuscript remained in Einstein’s possession, it would almost certainly have been discarded.

Source: Christie’s

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Today, the ‘Einstein-Besso manuscript’ provides ‘a fascinating dip into the mind of the greatest scientist of the 20th century’ leading to the development of the theory, according to Christie.

The equations in this manuscript failed to solve the problem, but the improved equations finalized in 1915 were ultimately successful.

“It is undoubtedly the most valuable Einstein manuscript ever to be auctioned,” Christie’s said.

This is not the first time the auction house has owned the item – in 2002 it sold it to a European dealer for $559,500 (about £357,000 at the time), according to physics today those days.

But this figure could be lower than the new selling price by the end of the bidding beginning Tuesday, November 23.

Christie said it was thanks to Beso that the manuscript – which came to light in 1988 – was preserved for posterity.

It was ‘almost like a miracle’ as the German-born genius was unlikely to regard himself as a simple working document.

‘If the manuscript had remained with Einstein, it would almost certainly have been rejected,’ says the auction house.

Einstein intended to test whether the theory could account for the discrepancy in the precession of Mercury’s perihelion.

French astronomer tienne Klein said, ‘The present manuscript documents Einstein’s test of his first theory.

The general theory of relativity, published by Einstein in November 1915, is a fundamentally new way of understanding gravity.

‘Thanks to this new principle, it is no longer understood as a force applied to and between objects in space, but as a distortion of spacetime geometry.

‘Putting it in front of us is especially moving. Einstein did not usually keep his drafts.

‘It is thanks to Michel Basso, who admired his friend, that the manuscript was preserved and delivered to us.’

A page from an early manuscript, on which Einstein worked with his friend at the age of 34.  Einstein is pictured in the background

A page from an early manuscript, on which Einstein worked with his friend at the age of 34. Einstein is pictured in the background

The pages of one of the early manuscripts are presented the day before the auction by Christie's auction house in Paris.

The pages of one of the early manuscripts are presented the day before the auction by Christie’s auction house in Paris.

The ‘extraordinary’ document is one of only two surviving working scientific manuscripts from the major period of the origin of the general theory, Christie says.

The second, the so-called Zurich Notebook of late 1912/early 1913, is now in the Einstein Archives of the Hebrew University.

The Einstein–Besso manuscript consists of 26 pages in Einstein’s handwriting, 25 pages in Besso, and three pages with entries from both collaborators.

There are ‘many pages with extensive corrections in the formulas’ or entire sections of calculations have been cut out.

The lower part of a sheet is torn, but the work was probably done by one of the two men.

Books specialist Vincent Belloy at Christie's holds the pages of the manuscript.  This is not the first time the auction house has owned the item – in 2002 it sold it to a European dealer for $559,500 (about £357,000 at the time).

Books specialist Vincent Belloy at Christie’s holds the pages of the manuscript. This is not the first time the auction house has owned the item – in 2002 it sold it to a European dealer for $559,500 (about £357,000 at the time).

The Einstein–Basso manuscript consists of 26 pages in Einstein's handwriting, 25 pages in Besso, and three pages with entries from both collaborators.

The Einstein–Basso manuscript consists of 26 pages in Einstein’s handwriting, 25 pages in Besso, and three pages with entries from both collaborators.

Einstein, who died in 1955 at the age of 76 and is considered one of the greatest physicists of all time, revolutionized his field with the theory of relativity.

In letters written shortly after his landmark November 1915 paper, Einstein listed three reasons for abandoning the older version of the theory.

One was the fact that it gave an incorrect result for Mercury’s perihelion motion; The second was that the earlier theory was inconsistent with the relativity of rotation.

‘Technology developed in this…

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