Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Intellectuals Autographed by Albert Einstein




1947 Portrait by Philippe Halsman


Gimbel's Intellectuals display page autographed by Albert Einstein



Back in the 1980s, the late eminent Luxembourg specialist and postal historian, Robert Danzer, used to drop by my office when he came from New York City to the San Francisco Bay Area to visit his son in Carmel.  He enjoyed regaling about obscure aspects of Luxembourgian philately while sipping a premier California cabernet sauvignon at lunch (usually at my expense).   On one of these occasions, he mentioned that he had heard that Albert Einstein had autographed album pages on which the Intellectuals series had been mounted.  He was quite excited about his efforts to locate such an album page, although as far as I know he never succeeded.  But this link between the Intellectuals series, which was primarily issued to raise funds to assist Jewish professionals fleeing Germany, and Albert Einstein stuck in my memory.  Someday, somewhere I thought, maybe I'll find what had eluded my devoted philatelic friend, Bob Danzer.

So you can imagine my joy in 2008 when, while surfing eBay, I noticed a Gimbels Stamp Dept. album page on which a mint set of the Intellectuals was mounted with ... yes ... Einstein's autograph in the upper left, just as Bob Danzer had described it!  My only disappointment was that the album page had been defaced by someone noting the Scott catalog numbers of the stamps in ballpoint pen, apparently oblivious to the authentic Einstein autograph on the page.  Wonder of wonders!

The text at the top and bottom of the album page corresponds to Gimbels' reference in a 1935 news release captioned 'Regarding the Luxemburg Stamps to Aid the Refugee Intellectuals,' which states that:

[t]he Government of Luxemburg in collaboration with the International Committee to secure Employment for Refugee Professional Workers, has issued on May 1, 1935, a special series of stamps that is selling officially at double their face value.  The nominal value, of course, goes to the Luxemburg Government.  The excess value goes to the International Committee, to aid its efforts to help the Refugee Professionals.  The Committee is now helping thousands of these men and women, in all parts of the world regardless of their nationality, creed or political faith.  Doctors, lawyers, teachers, journalists, chemists, engineers, artists -- professionals pictured "in action" on this unique series of stamps.  Luxemburg, through the Committee, has appointed GIMBELS sole agent for these stamps in the United States.

Gimbels Famous Stamp Section, the largest of any American department store, appreciates the honor of this appointment.  As in the case of a similar appointment to handle the Byrd Antarctic Stamps and Covers, we will show our appreciation by co-operating wholeheartedly and BY SELLING THESE STAMPS AT COST, without any profit whatsoever, at Gimbels Stamp Dept., 33rd St. & B'way, N.Y.C.

[The news release then lists 14 prominent members of the Committee.]

The complete set consists of 15 values from 5 centimes to 20 Fr. at $3.94.  There may also be purchased shorter sets, as:  13 values from 5c to 5 Fr. at $1.38 [or] 10 values from 5 to Fr. 1.75 at 53c.

Source:  Henry Friedlander, Archives of the Holocaust, Vol. 7 (Taylor & Francis, 1990) ISBN: 082405489X; 9780824054892.

And in an autograph auction on the web, I noticed a small envelope (shown below) bearing the 5c and 50c Intellectuals signed in the lower right "Allo Achtung! Albert Einstein."  The auction description notes that

the remainder of [the] envelope bears a pencil-written statement of provenance stating, "Prof. Albert Einstein arrived from Bermuda and autographed Luxembourg Charity Stamps at Gimbels Stamp Dept."


Indeed, Einstein's biographer, Walter Isaacson, writes at p. 437 of Einstein: His Life and Universe that:

Now that [Einstein and his wife] had decided to stay in the United States, it made sense for Einstein to seek citizenship.  When Einstein visited the White House, President Roosevelt had suggested that he should accept the offer of some congressmen to have a special bill passed on his behalf, but Einstein instead decided to go through the normal procedures.  That meant leaving the country, so that he -- and Elsa, Margot, and Helen Dukas -- could come in not as visitors but as people seeking citizenship.  So in May 1935 they all sailed on the Queen Mary to Bermuda for a few days to satisfy these formalities.

Luxembourg issued the Intellectuals series on May 1, 1935.  And to Gimbels' credit, they persuaded Albert Einstein to  autograph their promotional album page featuring the stamps upon his return from Bermuda that month. 

Fortunately this example of Gimbels' album page with Einstein's autograph has been preserved, confirming Bob Danzer's belief back in the 1980s that such existed somewhere. 

Bob, I'd be glad to buy another bottle of that expensive cabernet you liked if only you could be here to enjoy it and this postal history treasure with me!


Mark said...

Probably 30-35 years ago I was offered this same set with Einstein's autograph. I declined the offer. I don't remember who had it, but it might have been Frank Geiger. Although I got a mint hinged set about that time, it is something I always am sorry that I never spent the money then.

luxmark on ebay

BrianMarkle said...

Yes, there is no doubt that Einstein visited Bermuda in 1935. I have acquired a long lost 16mm film of Einstein on the Queen Mary.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting. Too bad someone wrote all over the page but nevertheless it is still a very interesting item. If for any reason you were ever to sell this then please, please contact me. I was not aware this existed and I would be very interested. I am an Engineer from the U.S. but I have been living in Bonn, Germany for the last 5 years and I collect only Luxembourg Philately.