Can we recreate what Gutkind saw when he opened Einstein’s letter?

An employee of the Albert Einstein Archives at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem has told the Uncertaintist that the organization will try to synthesize a new image of the Einstein-Gutkind letter which would represent what it looked like a half century ago. “We may be able to create an original-like new print” by combining a black and white photocopy owned by the archives with the high quality color images recently released to the public for the upcoming eBay auction of the letter. “We’ll try to get a nice copy together.”

Although the new photographs show the current condition of the letter in detail, the letter itself has suffered patterned browning over the years. The photocopy, on the other hand, reflects the condition of the letter years ago, presumably in 1954 or 1955, before Eric Gutkind reportedly sold the letter in a public sale. Both images were made after Einstein or his staff creased the letter to place it in its mailing envelope. So, what might be recovered from the fusion of these images made decades apart could be close to the appearance of the letter when Gutkind first opened it in early January of 1954.

The archives acquired its image of the letter when its collection was still housed in Princeton, New Jersey, before being transferred to Jerusalem in 1981. The literary executor of Gutkind’s estate, Henry Le Roy Finch, gave the copy of a photocopy to Helen Dukas, who had been Einstein’s secretary and was then trustee of his literary estate, along with Princeton economist Otto Nathan. Eric Gutkind died in New York in 1965, at the age of 88.

Since 2003, The Albert Einstein Archives has teamed with the Einstein Papers Project at Caltech to maintain the Einstein Archives Online website.

In addition to offering its huge searchable catalog of documents, the collaboration launched a digitization project last March, which has placed thousands of images of Einstein material online. The digitization project is funded by the Polonsky Foundation in the United Kingdom. Polonsky previously funded the digitization of Isaac Newton’s writings located at the University of Cambridge.

The possibility of creating a definitive image of the original Einstein letter is exciting. Last month, Richard Dawkins wrote on his website

I hope that whoever wins this auction will display [the letter] prominently, complete with translations into English and other languages.

If all goes well at the archives, then digital imaging technology may help grant Dawkins’ wish and then some, giving us all a peek at the pristine letter as it may have looked when Eric Gutkind first read it.


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