NEW YORK — A 64-year-old letter by Albert Einstein, known as the “God letter” because of its ruminations on formal religion, sold for almost $2.9 million in Manhattan on Tuesday.
Christie’s, the auction house that had estimated the letter would sell for $1 million to $1.5 million, said the page-and-a-half message went for $2,892,500 after a four-minute bidding battle between two clients on the telephone. Christie’s did not identify the winner.
It beat what Christie’s said had been the most valuable Einstein letter sold, a typed copy of his 1939 note to President Franklin D. Roosevelt that Christie’s sold for $2.1 million in 2002. That letter warned of the possibility “of the construction of extremely powerful bombs” and served as a catalyst for research that led to the Manhattan Project.
Einstein, who was 74 when he wrote the God letter, was responding to a book by German philosopher Eric Gutkind titled “Choose Life: The Biblical Call to Revolt.” Einstein used the letter to reject the idea of a God who plays an active part in everyday life, answering individual prayers. He also declared that he was anything but enthralled with Judaism, even as he said he was proud to be a Jew.
“The word God is for me nothing but the expression of and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of venerable but still rather primitive legends,” Einstein wrote. “No interpretation, no matter how subtle, can (for me) change anything about this.”
The letter apparently remained in the hands of Gutkind’s heirs until 2008 (he died in 1965), when it was auctioned for $404,000 in London. The buyer then was not identified. It went up for sale again, on eBay in 2012, for
$3 million. A Christie’s spokeswoman said before Tuesday’s auction that it was not sold then and that the buyer in 2008 was the seller this time.