Highest Bidders Win Einstein's Dirty Laundry

A collection of Albert Einstein's letters, including some eyebrow-raising ones to his first wife, and a 1913 manuscript on relativity theory were sold at auction today for about $1.3 million at Christie's in New York.

Fetching the highest price was the paper, "On the motion of the perihelion of Mercury," written by Einstein and Michele Besso. It was purchased for $398,500 by the scientific book dealer Jeremy Norman & Co. According to the auction house, this was "the third-highest price paid at auction for an Einstein manuscript." The record, says Christie's manuscript expert Chris Coover, was set by an essay on relativity theory that sold for $1,050,000 in 1987 and for more than twice that amount at a postauction sale earlier this year.

Creating the biggest preauction stir were 53 love letters Einstein wrote to his first wife, Mileva Maric. The two met at the Zurich Polytechnic Institute in 1896 when Einstein was 17. They had a daughter in 1902 who was apparently given up for adoption. In 1903 he married Maric, sometimes described as "the woman who did Einstein's math," and they had two sons together.

During the early years, his letters were filled with endearments--in one he wrote "I'm so lucky to have found you, a creature who is my equal, and who is as strong and independent as I am!" But by 1914 the marriage had become an empty shell. According to a Reuters dispatch, in his letters Einstein ordered Maric to keep his clothes and rooms neat, serve him three meals a day, and "renounce all personal relations with [him], except when they are required to keep up social appearances." She also had to "expect no affection from [him] . . . [and] answer at once when [he] speak[s] to [her]. . . ." Einstein finally divorced Maric in 1919. The love letters together sold for $442,500.

The love letters to Maric--and the existence of the out-of-wedlock daughter--were unknown until 1986 when they were "rediscovered" that year in a family bank vault in California.