Has anyone seen Einstein’s Pen?

People who know me know that I have an unhealthy obsession with pens and pencils.  And, when it comes to pens, I love fountain pens.  There is just something about them, classic and traditional … a high quality writing instrument in the age of keyboards and touchscreens.

So it should be no surprise to anyone that I decided to begin a quest to discover what kind of fountain pen Albert Einstein used during his glory years of scientific discovery.  The pen of choice for most people in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries was the fountain pen.  Today, a fountain pen is seen more as a luxury than a necessity, but back then, the fountain pen was the workhorse of anyone using a pen.  So, when I decided to find out more about this pen, I first visited the Fountain Pen Network (FPN).  This is a bulletin board dedicated to talking about all things fountain pens … it is one of my favorite sites!

My search began when I learned that the FPN has an entire discussion on the topic of Einstein’s pen!  The discussion revolves around this picture of Einstein becoming a U.S. citizen in 1940.  Notice the pen in his jacket pocket …

After much discussion on the site, most people came to the conclusion that it is either a Pelikan 100 N or a 100 C.  (To read the entire debate, click here.)

So, I guess that’s it.  The easiest quest ever, right?  Not so fast.  This photo is from 1940, and despite it being Einstein’s pen, it is very unlikely the pen that Einstein used to develop his most famous theories.  And, let’s face it.  It would be so much cooler to see that one.

So … as I continued to read the threads, I found my next clue.  Someone posted that Einstein gave away his most famous pen, the pen that he used to develop the Theory of Relativity, to Paul Ehrenfest in 1921.  Now we’re getting somewhere.  Included in the post is a link to an article about this pen.  (It is written in Dutch and required a Google translation for me to understand it!  See the translation here.)  According to the imperfect translation, Ehrenfest states “This pen has been used for years and by Einstein at least the period from 1912 to 1921 – so all his designs and calculations on the general theory of relativity and gravitation in this period were written with this pen. He gave me this in 1921.”   Even better than the article was a picture of the pen!  So, here it is:

According to the FPN, it is a Waterman Taper-cap.  Have I mentioned how much I love the FPN?!?

So, finally, my quest ends.  Right?  Not really.  This is certainly the pen that he used but, look at the picture.  It’s so small.  I just wasn’t happy with it.  I really needed to see this pen close up.  So I had no choice but to continue my quest.

Finally, after hours of searching, I came across a video tour of the Boerhaave Museum in Leiden where the pen is currently located.  As I watched the video, understanding none of it (it is in Dutch after all), I saw it.  There it was.  The docent pulled it out of the vault and placed it on the table.  I was blown away.  Such a simple and unassuming pen.  This is the pen that helped Einstein to redefine the Universe as we know it.  It was an amazing moment.  Below is a screenshot of the pen from the video.  Enjoy!

Well, there you have it, Einstein’s pen … or at least one of them … at least the one that he used to write his most important work.  What’s next, you ask?  I wonder what pencils he liked to use.

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The perfect cup of coffee

There is an old Hungarian mathematics quote that I love to recite, “A mathematician is a device which turns coffee into theorems.”  Well, on Christmas morning, I received the perfect gift from my daughters to complement the quote. (To my fellow geometry fans, notice the choice of word ‘complement’.)

Let’s face it, this is my dream coffee cup … a cup containing 20 of the greatest achievements of human thought. Now each morning when I drag myself out of bed at 4:30, I will have a little inspiration to go along with the first cup, and the second, the third, and, of course, the fourth … you get the idea.

For those of you looking to order your own, please click here.

The perfect pencil

The number one tool of any mathematician is the pencil.  I know, some will argue that you prefer to use a pen.  In fact, I had a professor in college who believed that “real mathematicians” used only pen.  His argument was simple and logical:  a pen records all of your ideas while a pencil encourages a more permanent destruction of your old ideas. And, how many of us mathematical hobbyists have erased our graphite errors only to realize later that we had the perfect idea ten attempts ago?  (Of course, I never had the heart to provide him with the perfect counterexample to his argument … a pencil without an eraser.  I guess I am too kind.)

Don’t get me wrong.  I, too, enjoy using a pen to work on mathematics. In fact, I have a real love of fountain pens and nothing feels better than recording your ideas using one.  However, the real workhorse of our subject is the pencil.

Where was I?  Yes … the pencil.  So, what is the perfect pencil?  Well, again, the debate will rage on … some people love mechanical pencils and some people love wooden pencils.  Mechanical pencils are cool and can fit in your pocket.  Wooden pencils have a great smell and can fit behind your ear.  Myself, I love both.

But, if I had to choose, the perfect pencil would be the Dixon Ticonderoga.  Maybe it’s because it’s the pencil I grew up with or maybe it is the smooth writing, but nothing says math to me like that pencil.

Am I right?  Am I wrong?  Please leave me your comments on the perfect pencil.