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The Building Blocks of Albert Einstein’s Creative Mind
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A unique and important artifact of his childhood.

[ALBERT EINSTEIN]. Ephemera. Set of Anker-Steinbaukasten children’s building blocks by F. Ad. Richter & Cie., Rudolstadt, [Germany], c.1880s. Approximately 160 composite quartz sand, chalk, and linseed oil blocks in red, limestone and slate gray, in various sizes and shapes, together with three or more sets of building plans, all contained in two wooden boxes with printed Anker-Steinbaukasten labels.

Inventory #24284       Price: $160,000

Einstein spent his childhood building “complicated structures” with these Anker-Steinbaukasten blocks. Accepting his later theory that “Imagination is more important than knowledge,” the toys that encouraged his imagination became building blocks for the most important scientific theories of the last millennium.

His sister Maja Winteler-Einstein, describing his childhood, recalled that “The games he played … were very characteristic of Albert’s capacities. These were mostly puzzles, fretsaw work, the erection of complicated structures with the well-known Anker building blocks, and above all the construction of multi-storied card castles, with which he filled his leisure.” (“Beitrag für sein Lebensbild” in The collected papers of Albert Einstein. ed. John Stachel. Volume 1: The early years. 1879-1902. (Princeton University Press, 1987) p.lix. Translated from German.)

Based on the work of German educator Friedrich Froebel (who created the concept of kindergarten) these composite stone blocks were a popular toy of the 1880s and 1890s.  The blocks were designed to help develop childrens’ tactile senses and manual dexterity, and also to stimulate imagination, creativity and three-dimensional perception. Fellow scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer, as well as architects Frank Lloyd Wright and Walter Gropius are among the geniuses who are known to have played with Anker blocks. 

Provenance

The set had passed by direct descent from Albert Einstein to the consignor from whom we acquired the blocks at Christie’s London on July 13, 2016. 

Condition

A few blocks chipped and worn, with original instructions and boxes worn, soiled and defective.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) was a German-Swiss born theoretical physicist internationally recognized as one of the greatest physicists of all time. He enunciated the general theory of Relativity, with law explaining the relationship between the speed of light and its consequence, the equivalence of mass and energy (E=MC2). For his work in theoretical physics—largely for his 1905 paper on photons and photo-electricity—Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics (announced in November 1922, retroactive for 1921). Working on a unified field theory, he then attempted to explain gravitation and electromagnetism within one set of laws. With the expulsion of Jewish scholars from Germany after Hitler’s rise to power, Einstein joined the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey (1933), which became the most celebrated research center in the world. In 1939, he signed a letter written to President Franklin Roosevelt warning him of the possibility of Germany developing a nuclear bomb. He urged the U.S. to begin uranium research, thus beginning the top secret “Manhattan Project.” Later, at Princeton, he tried to develop a unified field theory and to refute the accepted interpretation of quantum physics, both unsuccessfully. Einstein received U.S. citizenship in 1940.  


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