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Einstein love letters to purported spy fail to sell

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Letters written by Albert Einstein revealing his love affair with a purported Soviet spy failed to sell Friday at a New York City auction.

The nine letters had been estimated to fetch $250,000 to $350,000, but bidding only reached $180,000 and they were withdrawn from the sale.The letters caused a public stir when their contents were revealed by Sotheby's earlier this month, and their failure to sell surprised officials at the auction house.

Written in German by Einstein to Margarita Konenkova from his home in Princeton, N.J., in 1945 and 1946, the letters show the two had a lovers' vocabulary, with affectionate nicknames for things they shared and for the room where they would meet.

"There was wide interest in the letters because they showed a part of Einstein's life, a period in his life that hadn't been known before," said Sotheby's spokesman Matthew Weigman.

A collection of 14 letters by Frederic Chopin sold for a higher-than-expected $309,350, with the bulk of them purchased by a Warsaw-based group dedicated to the study of the Polish composer.

The price topped the $250,000 that Sotheby's officials expected. Letters by Chopin rarely come up for sale, they said.

Eight of the letters were bought by the Chopin Association, which said it plans to exhibit them in Poland. They include the last known letter written by the composer, who died in 1849, in which he discusses love and his impending death.

All 14 letters were written to Chopin's close friend, Albert Grzymala. In them, Chopin laments a disastrous trip he took with his lover, George Sand, to Majorca, where he became ill with tuberculosis, and his difficulties living in London, where he was ill and not making enough money.

Sotheby's officials said there was a strong possibility the Einstein letters would fare better in a private sale.

An Einstein manuscript detailing his theory of relativity failed to sell at auction two years ago and sold three days later in a private sale for $5 million, they said.

Einstein and Konenkova knew each other at Princeton where, historians say, she was assigned to influence scientists at the prestigious university.

Konenkova and her husband were recalled to the Soviet Union in 1945.

Also selling in the auction were six watercolors by Nelly Toll, painted when she was 8 years old and hiding from Nazis during World War II.

A British dealer successfully bid $12,000 for them.

Toll, whose younger brother was one of the first Polish Jews to be sent to Auschwitz, hid for more than a year with her mother in an apartment in Poland.