University Archives


Einstein Appreciates a Birthday Gift that Causes Him to Recall – and Sketch – a Childhood Dexterity Game, "Pigs into the Sty"

“What you sent me hit a weak spot of mine, which, as we all know, is a true womanly skill…. The game of patience with the little balls is a simplification of one that was popular in my childhood, called 'Pigs into the Sty'. It went like this....”

Einstein generally disliked being the center of attention, and was relatively uncomfortable with birthday celebrations. In 1944, in a "New York Times" interview, he asked, “What is there to celebrate? Birthdays are automatic things. Anyway, birthdays are for children.” He described his 75th birthday as “a natural disaster, a shower of paper full of flattery under which one almost drowned.”  Despite that, Mrs. Dammann clearly had a knack for giving perfect meaningful gifts. 

A 1p autograph letter signed by German physicist Albert Einstein, addressed to a certain Mrs. Dammann, Princeton, March 22, 1947. In German. 8.25" x 9.25", on lightly embossed “A Einstein” letterhead with his Mercer St, Princeton, New Jersey address. Signed by Einstein as "A. Einstein."  Professionally removed from old board and conserved. Included with the letter is a period example of the game, not the original owned by Einstein as a child.

Complete Translation:

"22 March 47

Dear Mrs. Dammann,

It was sweet of you to think of me on my birthday. What you sent me hit a weak spot of mine, which, as we all know, is a true womanly skill. Aside from that, I know that these little things are not so easy to come by these days. The game of patience with the little balls is a simplification of one that was popular in my childhood, called 'Pigs into the Sty'. It went like this:

I think I drew in one too many walls; I guess it was only two. The thing with the pieced-together ball is a masterwork. I wonder who invented it.

Thank you so much.

Yours, A. Einstein."

"Pigs into the Sty" was a handheld game composed of a round cardboard box with four concentric rings. It challenged players to get four clay balls or “pigs” from the outer ring to the center or "sty" of the maze through small openings in each successive ring. The simple game helped children develop concentration, determination, and dexterity. 

Einstein sent this letter to Mrs. Dammann in care of Café Old Europe at 2182 Broadway in New York City. William Kanter, who had operated Café New York in Vienna before the paramilitary Sturmabteilung forced its closure in 1933, reopened Café Old Europe in New York in November 1945. It was an “exile café” that became an “international social center,” especially for displaced Austrians and German Jews, with dining, dancing, and entertainment.

Albert Einstein was born on March 14 (now known as "Pi Day"), in the Kingdom of Wurttemberg in the German Empire to non-observant Ashkenazi Jewish parents. In 1894, his family moved to Italy. Einstein went to Switzerland to finish his secondary schooling, and graduated from the Swiss Federal Polytechnic in Zürich in 1900. When his sister Maja Einstein later described his childhood, she recalled, “He filled his leisure time by working on puzzles, doing fretsaw work, and erecting complicated structures with the well-known "Anker" building set, but his favorite was building many-storied houses of cards.” In 1903, he married Mileva Maric (1875-1948), with whom he had two sons. In 1905, he received a PhD. from the University of Zürich and published his revolutionary paper on Special Relativity, including the mass–energy equivalence formula, E = mc2. In 1915, Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity introduced the idea that gravity can be explained as the warping of four-dimensional spacetime. Many physicists doubted this approach until 1919, when a group of British astronomers confirmed the theory by measuring the bending of starlight grazing the sun during a solar eclipse. In 1919, he and Mileva divorced and he married his cousin Elsa Löwenthal. In 1922, the forgetful genius found himself in a hotel in Tokyo without money to tip a messenger who delivered the telegram informing Einstein that he had been awarded the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery of the photoelectric effect. Instead, he gave the boy a tip in the form of a note that he predicted would one day be worth far more: “A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness. Albert Einstein.”  That note was dubbed his “Theory of Happiness” when it sold at auction in October 2017 for $1,560,000.

Ruth Edith Dammann (1901-1993) was born in Berlin, Germany, into a Jewish family. In 1937 she immigrated to New York from Le Havre, France, aboard the "S.S. Normandie." She was listed as a single house worker who spoke German and Yiddish. She apparently returned to Europe, and lived in Paris, France, for a time. In June 1941, she again immigrated to New York from Lisbon, Portugal, on the "S.S Mouzinho," but this time without a visa. She was listed as divorced with an occupation of “Artistic Flowers". The board of special inquiry initially denied her entrance, but she appealed. In September 1941, she was admitted for six months, under Section 3(2) of the Immigration Act of 1924, “the Dept of State having waived passport and passport visa requirements.”

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


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