Einstein’s Autograph Discovered in Library Book
Steven Sewell ’13 was doing research in Holman Library when he made an astonishing discovery: a book signed by Albert Einstein.
Steven, who is pursuing a master's degree in education with a science emphasis, was working on a poster about British astrophysicist Arthur Eddington for Dr. Adam Tournier’s Concepts in Science course. Eddington worked to verify Einstein's theory of general relativity by observing a solar eclipse in 1919. Steven decided to consult the book, Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist. Published in 1949, it contains an autobiographical statement by Einstein, 25 essays by prominent physicists and philosophers, and Einstein's responses.
As he opened the book, Steven saw “Albert Einstein. 49” handwritten on the flyleaf.
“It took me a minute to really take in what I was looking at. I really didn't expect to see a book this old in general circulation, and when I saw Einstein's signature, my jaw dropped,” he said. “For a split second, I wanted to shove the book in my bag, because I would love to have this book in my own library. But then my conscience caught up with me and thought I'd better let the librarian know that this book should be better secured. I read a few pages, found the quote I was looking for, and included it in my sources for my poster. Then I went to Dr. Tournier, who was in the library at the time, and showed him what I found--no surprise he had a similar reaction—and we presented the book to the librarian.”
It is Number 22 in a limited edition of 760 copies printed. An inscription by the editor appears on the title page. Dated March 28, 1955, it reads, “To Dr. Milburn P. Akers, with the deep appreciation and best wishes of Paul A. Schilpp.”
Dr. Milburn Akers ’25 was president of the Board of Trustees in the 1960’s and the great-grandson of McKendree’s first president, Peter Akers. Milburn Akers presented the book to the Benson Wood Library in 1957 and it ended up in general circulation.
To determine the book and signature’s authenticity, Deborah Houk ‘91, technical services and government documents librarian, consulted Anthony Garnett of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America. “He met with me to look at the book and appraised its value as $3,000,” she said. “Because the book does not have the outer box it originally was sold in, the value was lowered. This book normally sells for $12, 000 to $15,000.”
Einstein’s book is now safely secured and may be used by special arrangement on site only. It will eventually be displayed in a showcase in the Special Collections room.