Einstein’s violin is up for sale

March 3, 2018 by norman lebrecht


Bonhams New York are estimating $100-150,000 for the March 9 sale of a violin that once belonged to Albert Einstein.

The maker’s inscription reads: ‘Made for the Worlds[sic] Greatest Scientist Profesior[sic] Albert Einstein By Oscar H. Steger, Feb 1933 / Harrisburg, PA.’

Steger was a cabinet maker and member of the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra. He made the violin for Einstein on hearing that the physicist, a passionate amateur violinist, was to be resident scholar at Princeton.

Einstein passed on the violin to Lawrence Wilson Hibbs, son of a Princeton janitor and handyman Sylas Hibbs, and it has remained in the Hibbs family ever since.


image: Bonhams.



Comments (13)

  1. Larry W says:

    Word is Einstein was not a good musician. He couldn’t count.

    1. Nicht Schleppend says:

      It’s not exactly string theory!

    2. John Borstlap says:

      Einstein considered the usual metrical divisions as being relative.

  2. Bruce says:

    I can’t remember who is supposed to have said this, but it was from the 1930’s or 40’s: “We’ve got Kreisler, Heifetz, Elman and [list of other famous violinists of the time], but the only one who looks like a violinist is Einstein!”

  3. Rob says:

    The top string equals E

  4. Kathryn Swantee says:

    Apparently Einstein played relatively well…

  5. Patrick Brislan says:

    Einstein’s greatest gift to music was that he became a nuclear physicist.

  6. Pianofortissimo says:

    What would mr Einstein say about being placed on the beach by Mr Glass?

    1. Harmonious Dragmaster says:

      “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”[?]

  7. mike hibbs says:

    Einstein and Sylas would play chess, Larry was a violinist employeed by the navy in the 1940s.

  8. John Borstlap says:

    But what happened to his carpet slippers?

  9. Malcolm Kottler says:

    To complete this story, On March 9, 2018, at Bonhams in New York, this violin given to Einstein sold for $420,000 + the buyer’s premium (25% on the first $250,000 and $20% on the remaining $170,000). A telephone bidder bought the violin.

    From the information provided by the auction gallery, it is unclear how much, if ever, Einstein played this particular violin. It looks like it was given to him, unsolicited.

    1. barbara wolff says:

      I am quite sure you are right, Malcolm.
      In the first place, at that time (1933, arriving in Princeton) Einstein played a violin he adored (it will soon turn out that the instrument is not as good as he thought/felt, but such was his taste; see page 205). Moreover, Steger’s gift was the product of a cabinet maker, not of a luthier, and this was a difference which even Einstein was able to notice.-

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