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Lot #6045
Albert Einstein 1909 University of Geneva Honorary Diploma

Einstein's first honorary doctorate diploma, awarded by the University of Geneva in 1909

Estimate: $40000+
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Einstein's first honorary doctorate diploma, awarded by the University of Geneva in 1909

Historic diploma awarded to Albert Einstein by the University of Geneva for an honorary doctorate in physics, one page, 17 x 21.25, July 9, 1909, bearing printed signatures of University Rector Robert Chodat, Dean of the Faculty R. Gautier, and Senate Secretary Paul Moriand. Below the crest of the University of Geneva, the diploma reads, in full: "Diplome de Docteur es Sciences Physiques Honoris Causa. Le Sénat de l’Université de Genève, reconnaissant que Monsieur A. Einstein a bien mérité de la Science, lui confère le grade de Docteur ès sciences physiques 'honoris causa.'" The white paper university seal affixed to the lower remains intact, with a few small tears. Handsomely matted and framed to an overall size of 25 x 32.25. In fine condition, with a few creases and overall toning.

On Friday, July 9, 1909, the University of Geneva awarded over 100 honorary degrees on the occasion of the 350th anniversary of its founding by John Calvin. Among the persons honored were the German physicist Albert Einstein, the French chemist and physicist Marie Curie, and the German chemist Wilhelm Ostwald. Einstein was awarded the honorary doctorate on the suggestion of his former teacher, Charles Eugène Guye, then the Director of the Physical Institute of the University of Geneva.

Einstein's humorous recollection of the event, in his own words, appears in Albert Einstein: A Documentary Biography by Carl Seelig: 'One day I received in the Patent Office in Bern a large envelope out of which there came a sheet of distinguished paper. On it, in picturesque type (I even believe it was in Latin) was printed something that seemed to me impersonal and of little interest. So right away it went into the official wastepaper basket. Later, I learned that it was an invitation to the Calvin festivities and was also an announcement that I was to receive an honorary doctorate from the Geneva University. Evidently the people at the university interpreted my silence correctly and turned to my friend and student Lucien Chavan, who came from Geneva but was living in Bern. He persuaded me to go to Geneva because it was practically unavoidable but he did not elaborate further.

So I travelled there on the appointed day and, in the evening in the restaurant of the inn where we were staying, met some Zurich professors…Each of them now told in what capacity he was there. As I remained silent I was asked that question and had to confess that I had not the slightest idea. However, the others knew all about it and let me in on the secret. The next day I was supposed to march in the academic procession. But I had with me only my straw hat and my everyday suit. My proposal that I stay away was categorically rejected, and the festivities turned out to be quite funny so far as my participation was concerned.

The celebration ended with the most opulent banquet I have ever attended in all my life. So I said to the Geneva patrician who sat next to me, ‘Do you know what Calvin would have done if he were still here?’ When he said no and asked what I thought, I said, ‘He would have erected a large pyre and had us all burned because of sinful gluttony.’ The man uttered not another word, and with this ends my recollection of that memorable celebration.'

It was Albert Einstein‘s first honorary doctorate, but many more would follow.

Auction Info

  • Auction Title: Remarkable Rarities
  • Dates: #669 - Ended September 23, 2023