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Did these toy building blocks inspire young Einstein’s imagination?


Albert Einstein’s toy building blocks

Albert Einstein’s much-loved childhood building blocks have been listed for sale on AbeBooks.co.uk.

Housed in two wooden boxes, the set features approximately 160 pieces with some chipped from use. Did these humble toy building blocks nurture the imagination of the boy who would become the world’s greatest physicist? It’s inspiring to think that these simple blocks were indeed the starting point for Einstein.

Einstein – who famously said “Imagination is more important than knowledge” – was born in the German city of Ulm in 1879, and according to his sister, Maja Winteler-Einstein, the young Albert built “complicated structures” with these blocks.

Albert Einstein

The set was created by Anker-Steinbaukasten – a German company famous for its toy stone building blocks that come in red, blue and tan colours. They are made from a composite natural material that includes quartz sand, chalk, coloring, and linseed oil. Anker-Steinbaukasten blocks have been enjoyed by millions of German children since the 1880s. German aviation pioneer Otto Lilienthal started manufacturing them, using designs by educator Friedrich Fröbel, founder of the kindergarten system. The blocks are intended to stimulate manual dexterity, creativity and three-dimensional perception.

Under the leadership of Adolf Richter, who died in 1910, Anker ‘stones’ became extremely popular before going into decline around the start of World War I. Today, vintage Anker sets are much-sought after by collectors. Part of the joy of owning vintage Anker blocks is that they can still be used. The company was revived in 1995 and is once again manufacturing toy building blocks.

The blocks are listed for sale at $160,000 by Seth Kaller from White Plains, New York.

Kaller purchased the blocks at auction last year after they were put up for sale by an agent working on behalf of Einstein’s descendants. Kaller specialises in historic documents and artifacts. He will be displaying the blocks at this year’s New York Antiquarian Book Fair on March 9-12.

Kaller describes them as “a unique and important artifact of Einstein’s childhood.” He adds: “Fellow scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer, as well as architects Frank Lloyd Wright and Walter Gropius, are among the geniuses who are known to have played with Anker blocks.”

Objects associated with Einstein are extremely collectable. For instance, a 1920 signed first edition of Relativity: The Special and General Theory written by Einstein sold for $12,500 on AbeBooks in 2007. Several letters from Einstein are listed for five figures on the AbeBooks marketplace. A cruise ship postcard from Einstein, featuring sketches by the scientist, is listed for sale at $49,000.

An 1894 advert for Richter’s Anker-Steinbaukasten

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