Albert Einstein fairly loathed receptions in his honor but if it's any comfort to his ghost the gathering at the Smithsonian's Federal-style reception hall yesterday was extremely small -- maybe 30 people.

And most of the talk was about seminars and gold medals (Einstein authorized one, for a distinguished scientist, and this Einstein Centennial year it will be given at Princeton on Sunday). Everyone was careful not to be sentimental.

Except it remained for Michael Collins, acting Einstein would have gone through the floor at. The thing everyone in the room felt should be said, and Collins said, it.

"With just a pencil and paper," he said, and paused.

Some nodded automatically, knowing what was coming.

Collins said he never stopped marveling that Einstein, with just pencil and paper, and a few nerves renning up to the brain, got closer to the reality of the universe then all the astronauts put together, for all their billion-dollar equipment.

Since Collins was one of the first astronauts in space, it was good of him to say it and, of course, true.

Brooke Hindle, Otto Mahr -- between them they have run the Museum of History and Technology for some years -- Wilton Dillon, who runs the Smithsonian's seminars, a few representatives from the National Academy of Science, Silvio Bedini who is chief for rare books -- all men of scientific discipline, let the words sink in.

Seminar notes, word of a special Einstein stamp with first-day covers from Princeton, a few gracious words from Princeton, a few gracious words from Dr. Harry Woolf, director of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, where Einstein worked so many years, occupied some of the time.

But the thing that seemed to touch the small group, all of them identified in some way with the year-long Smithsonian and Institute programs honoring Einstein's centennial, was the thought of a pencil and paper opening up universes as one mere mortal-jotted his symbols down.

Woolf said that what the year-long exhibits and programs are all about is simply to remind us all of the glory of scientific work in a society where it is not always thought of as a paramount undertaking of society.

And the work of one man, at that. More brilliant and more profound than others, no doubt, but one man for all that.