Sunday, June 3, 2018

einstein’s head: after 71 years, he looks pretty good, but maybe someone could fluff his hair

albert einstein 1947
Albert Einstein, 1947
Library of Congress
In 1947, Albert Einstein, a member of the Faculty at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, went to Katherine Stubergh’s waxworks studio in Hollywood, California, to participate in a “live blast.” Stubergh used this term to describe the process—or event—of making a plaster mold directly on a living person’s face. Into this mold a proprietary mixture of wax would be poured in order to create a replica of the person’s head. Stubergh’s habit was to make two heads from a “live blast” mold: one for the person who had commissioned the work and one for herself. Wherever Einstein’s head—the one made for him—ended up, I don’t know, but the Einstein head Stubergh made for herself is now part of an online auction at Skinner, Inc., in Marlborough, Massachusetts. When I heard of this auction, I got pretty excited and began tracing the route the head took to get from Hollywood to Marlborough and, as well, the route one might take from Pelkie to Marlborough.

einstein wax head by stubergh
Albert Einstein by Katherine Stubergh
Images courtesy Skinner, Inc.
The head’s journey begins in 1969 when Stubergh was raising money to establish a wax museum dedicated to the presidents of the United States. Along with other pieces, she sold Einstein’s head to Herbert A. Moore of Cave City, Kentucky. The head, age 22, was packed in a cardboard box, put on an airplane, flown to the Lexington airport. In Cave City it was put on display at Moore’s Mammoth Cave Wax Museum, sometimes referred to as the Cave City Wax Museum.

In 1982, Moore sold the museum, new owners took over, Einstein stayed put. In 2010 or 2011, the museum sold again, this time to an investment company (or somesuch), and the museum closed. In May of 2012 all of the wax figures, including Einstein’s head, now 65 years old, were put up for sale by auction. Einstein’s head had a reserve price, that price was not met, and in July the head turned up on eBay. The listing is preserved at Greatest Collectibles, and if you enjoy hyperbole and want more of the story in that format I encourage you to read it. I am satisfied with telling you that after seven days, 14 bidders and 81 bids, Einstein’s head sold for $111,100.

einstein wax head by stubergh
But there was a glitch. The winning bidder didn’t have the cash. Enter Preston Evans, an auctioneer from Georgia who had bought many of the wax figures from Mammoth Cave and who had been watching the eBay auction closely. Evans stepped in and proposed a trade. According to an article at Auction Publicity, for Einstein’s head Evans traded “a 1940s-era 4-cylinder motorcycle (worth about $50,000), around 40 vintage trains (including some by Lionel), two Batman arcade games, music boxes and phonographs” and some cash. On the last day of August, 2012, Evans opened Follow the Leader Wax Museum in Warm Springs, Georgia. Einstein’s head went back on display. Less than five years later it was back on the auction block.

When Evans decided to retire, his wax museum closed. Pa. Onsite Auction, a father and son operation, handled the sale of the wax figures, and, as best I can figure, they held on to Einstein. Now, one year later, Einstein’s 71-year-old head is part of a Fine Books & Manuscripts auction at Skinner that includes all sorts of arcana and ephemera such as a John Dillinger “Wanted” poster, very old books, maps, letters, deeds, Audubon hand-colored engravings, Arabic manuscripts, autographed photos, photos taken on the moon, photos from Roseland Ballroom. The auction began May 31, will end June 8. For a few days this coming week, all items will be available for a look-see and even handling at the auctioneer’s site in Marlborough. I am sorely tempted. The route there would go through Ontario, Canada, and follow for a time the route Sheldon and Fidelia Allen, characters in my ancestral journey, reportedly took to get from New York to Illinois in 1837; Josie and I could stop and gawk at Niagara Falls; we could stay one night in Cooperstown, New York; I could visit the Heroes of Baseball Wax Museum; and, in the end, I could hold Katherine Stubergh’s Einstein head in my hands, feeling the wax, staring into the glassy eyes, lamenting the bed hair, and inspecting the signature:
Katherine, Much thanks, Albert Einstein
Now, what is that worth?

But after much deliberation and quasi-planning, the mundaneness of bad timing will keep me home. I hold on to the idea, though, that one day I will meet Einstein’s head under circumstances that must remain, only for now, unknown.

Additional Sources
Warm Springs wax-museum figures up for auction, The Newnan Times-Herald, April 22, 2017
Einstein, Dolly Parton, Wolf Man and more up for bid in Gettysburg, Evening Sun, April 13, 2017
The Mysterious Afterlives of a Wax President, MTV News, February 17, 2017
Wax museum opens in Warm Springs, Ledger-Enquirer, August 31, 2012
Mammoth Cave Wax Museum Auction, RoadsideAmerica.com, May 9, 2012
Ohio auction to feature celebrity wax portraits, Antique Week, May 3, 2012