Skip to main content
Go to accessibility options


    "I heard someone whisper as I passed 'That's young Sabin; he purified "Polio" virus just like an enzyme.'"

    Large Collection of Albert Sabin Letters and Photographs. An extensive archive of ten letters from Albert Sabin to his cousin, film actress Sylvia Sidney. The letters date from 1931 to 1934 when Sabin was a young man training at Bellevue Hospital in New York and The Lister Institute for Preventive Medicine in London. Albert Sabin would solidify his place in history with the development of the oral polio vaccine in 1961 and this lot features what is likely his earliest mention in manuscript about his interest in polio and vaccines. The letters discuss early laboratory experiments, his initial research into polio, vaccines, and his relationship with Sidney. Accompanied by three black and white photographs of Sabin and one of Sidney.

    Albert Sabin December 10, 1931 Autograph Letter Signed. Five pages, 8.5" x 11", Otisville, New York; December 10, 1931. Fascinating and frank letter discussing laboratory experiments, "purifying the polio" vaccine, and early trials with paralyzed children. It reads in part: "...July brought with it an epidemic of infantile paralysis, a disease so little under control, so spectacular in its manifestations, so sadly devastating in its effects, that it captured my imagination...attempting to find a place where I might step in and advance the knowledge of the disease. The experimental procedures were strange to me - Ordinary laboratory animals are not susceptible to this disease; only one certain type of monkey could be used, and it had to receive the injection directly into the brain...In October I was able to read a paper at the Academy of Medicine showing that it was possible to purify the virus of the disease in the same manner as one purifies enzymes...A week later, as I was walking down into the stately dining-room of the Rockefeller Institute, where...I heard someone whisper as I passed: 'That's young Sabin; he purified "Polio" virus just like an enzyme.' I felt a chuckle within me; it was great fun. All those hot Saturdays and Sundays in the lab with the brains and the monkeys, instead of on the beach - did it pay? At that moment, I had no doubt that it associate professor...came out with a skin test for infantile paralysis...Permission was granted me to use the paralyzed children at Willard Parker Hospital to investigate this skin test. I would come daily with my syringes and solutions of monkey and human brains to inject the children, and at the very sight of me they would begin to cry, until even I regarded myself as almost criminal. One day I thought of rewarding each injection with a lollipop. The wails stopped and when I came on the ward the next day, all the kids were actually clamoring to be injected..."

    Albert Sabin January 26, 1932 Autograph Letter Signed. Three pages, 8.5" x 11", New York City; January 26, 1932. Sabin writes to Sylvia on his philosophical musings on postmortems and his tendency to sing while performing them at midnight. It reads in part: "...My life in the hospital although too busy to allow for meditation and prayer is nevertheless a very interesting one. My chief job for the next six months is to perform post-mortem examinations, i.e. to observe and study the organic changes which have given rise to the symptoms during the life and which may have been the cause of death. This constant occupation with death (for now I am interested only in the patients who give good promise of dying soon) brings up once more all those philosophical contemplations on the nature of life and death and on the ultimate significance, if any, of man's activities...I know, or attempt to know, the men and women during life, attempt to learn not only their diseases, but also their interests, their ambitions, their hatred and their loves. Then I see them dead; sometimes I see others cry for them - other times there are no others. Then I cut them up, cold and motionless, beyond all ambition, all love, and all hatred, - cut out their organs, some of which I keep and some of which I return in pieces helter -skelter - and send them to their hereafter..."

    Albert Sabin December 3, 1933 Autograph Letter Signed. Two pages, 8.5" x 11", no place; December 3, 1933. Sabin writes to Sylvia about attending the Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, enquires about a recent illness of Sylvia's, and announces his move to London to begin work at the Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine.

    Albert Sabin December 26, 1933 Autograph Letter Signed. Eight pages, 5.5" x 7.25", [London]; December 26, 1933. Sabin writes to Sylvia to discuss his arrival in London, his first meeting with Professor John Ledingham, director of the Lister Institute, and about his experience being propositioned by a sex worker. He also wrote lovingly about his reaction to reading Sylvia's telegram. It reads in part: "Tired as I was, I closed my eyes and imagined you there; my arms were around your waist, forearms rested on your back, hands on you shoulder-blades, you were close to me, and I was kissing you - I did not feel your lips. It was like a reverie and its duration seemed infinite. It seemed very real yet somehow imaginary and detached. It was the sweetest parting - yet actually not a parting at all...Not having been properly warned by my companion, there resulted a situation the like of which one never encounters in New York. When I was approached by a relatively beautiful young lady who said: 'Hello, darling etc. (very soft on the l's),' and I replied in the politest manner - 'No, thank you' it was apparently the wrong thing to say. For politeness to them has apparently come to signify weakness, and weakness perseverance. The whole thing was amusing at first, then repulsive, and in the end very pathetic. New York is much to be commended for its relative subtlety in this respect."

    Albert Sabin January 28, 1934 Autograph Letter Signed. Thirteen pages, 5" x 8", London; January 28, 1934. In this lengthy letter to Sylvia, he discusses when he first realized he had fallen in love with her and how that love has matured over time. Despite their love, Sabin and Sidney would marry different people in 1935. It reads in part: "...Sylvia how I loved you when we were children, and how little you realized it; how that boyish heart of mine was wrung with pain and jealously, filled with the desire to be loved and wanted by you - yet the realization of the unreasonableness, the utter hopelessness to sit by and hear visitors talk sheepishly to this child about her sweethearts and have them glance at the pimpled, long-nosed boy at the other end of the table with a look of obvious elimination...I remember looking at all the boys with pleasant features and faces - faces which I thought you would undoubtedly like, and I would envy them and, deep in my heat cursing God ready subconsciously, to sacrifice everything in life and sell the very soul to the devil for a face that would please you..."

    Albert Sabin February 25, 1934 Autograph Letter Signed. Two pages, 5.5" x 7.25", [London]; February 25, 1934. Sabin writes to Sylvia to describe his new flat in Chelsea and how well he is getting along with his roommate, a man named Donald Bateman.

    Albert Sabin April 1, 1934 Autograph Letter Signed. Four pages of a bifolium, 5" x 8", London; April 1, 1934. Sabin continues to ruminate on his love for Sylvia before updating her on the progress of his work, which he claims is being hindered in London by the sun's refusal to shine. It reads in part: "...My work has been very trying in the past few months, for the light has consistently refused to reveal itself. One little of [sic] ray of light, one indication that perhaps another bit of truth is about to be snatched from the vast mysterious unknown, is sufficient to buoy me up, to drive me on, and make me happy...pretty soon I hope to find myself favored with a whole glorious beam and, until then or your next letter, life can't be so bad."

    Albert Sabin June 18, 1934 Autograph Letter Signed. Seven pages, 5" x 8", London; June 18, 1934. Sabin writes about the visit he's had from his friend, Sidney Kingsley, and Kingsley's recent Pulitzer Prize win. He writes about the discussions he has had with Kingsley about Sylvia's acting before writing of a new virus he is experimenting with. It reads in part: "...The evidence I have obtained indicates that I have discovered a new virus - an invisible infectious agent which when introduced into a man's skin can kill him. How frequently it attacks man is still to be determined...I've spent much time in studying its properties, succeeded in infecting monkeys with it and studied the disease in them, etc., etc. - a little world full of interest all for myself at the moment. Some people may not think my way of life ideal or even beautiful but I have arranged it so as to overcome the impediments by which nature attempts to dissipate a man's energy - no inhibitions, no sublimations, the mind free to think and concentrate - and I don't want to get married..."

    Albert Sabin September 19, 1934 Autograph Letter Signed. One page, 5.25" x 8", London; September 19, 1934. Sabin writes to thank Sylvia for a photograph of herself she has mailed him.

    Albert Sabin October 26, 1934 Autograph Letter Signed. Seven pages, 5" x 8", London; October 26, 1934. He writes to Sylvia to discuss his enthusiasm with the breakthrough in his research and his excitement over his appointment to the Rockefeller Institute. It reads in part: "...I have forgotten entirely about myself. For I have become absorbed in a bit of research which has consumed and still is consuming my entire being - every waking and sleeping thought and feeling. When I first conceived the idea I trembled when I visualized all the possibilities - first as a conquest over ignorance and then as an application to practical medicine and public health. For in it I saw a possible tool for checking and investigating epidemics of many different kinds and the ecstasy I felt at the very prospect of possibly being directly responsible for saving even a single child from the horrors of infantile paralysis...I say that ecstasy is indescribable and as a source of happiness unsurpassed. Then the campaign of experiments and tests - slow, tedious, methodical, - physically incapable of keeping pace with my burning, almost tormenting imagination. But already much of ignorance is conquered, and the practical application at which my whole being glowed, appears to be within my very grasp..."

    Condition: A few instances of light toning along the edges. The letter from December 10, 1931 has some light edgewear and one very small area of soiling on the first page. The January 26, 1932 letter has some soiling along the right margin that extends through that letter. Overall, very good.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    November, 2021
    6th Saturday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 1
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 628

    Buyer's Premium per Lot:
    25% on the first $300,000 (minimum $49), plus 20% of any amount between $300,000 and $3,000,000, plus 15% of any amount over $3,000,000 per lot.

    Sold on Nov 6, 2021 for: Sign-in or Join (free & quick)
    Track Item

    Heritage membership

    Join Now - It's Free

    1. Past Auction Values (prices, photos, full descriptions, etc.)
    2. Bid online
    3. Free Collector newsletter
    4. Want List with instant e-mail notifications
    5. Reduced auction commissions when you resell your
    Consign now
    • Cash Advances
    • More Bidders
    • Trusted Experts
    • Over 200,000 Satisfied Consignors Since 1976
    Only 9 days left to consign to the 2022 February 11 Manuscripts Signature® Auction !

    Learn about consigning with us

    Heritage has gone above and beyond my expectations in handling all of my transactions in a thoroughly professional manner. I would not hesitate to recommend them to anyone worldwide for the exemplary auction and valuation services they provide.
    Richard H.,
    Corsicana, TX
    View More Testimonials receives more traffic than any other auction house website. (Source:

    Video tutorial

    Getting the most out of search