CNN reports that James D. Watson, who in 1962 got the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (along with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins) for revealing the structure of DNA, is selling his Prize medal in an auction:
The coveted gold medal is expected to go under the hammer for up to $3.5 million in a sale at Christie’s in New York on December 4.
It will be the first time a Nobel Prize has been sold by a living recipient.
At first I couldn’t understand why he’d sell it, as he’s 85 and isn’t exactly at the age where he needs a Ferrari (nor is he poor by any means!), but the article explains:
Watson says he intends to use part of the money raised by the sale to fund projects at the universities and scientific research institutions he has worked at throughout his career.
“I look forward to making further philanthropic gifts to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, the University of Chicago, and Clare College Cambridge,” he said in a statement.
He added that the auction would mean he could “continue to do my part in keeping the academic world an environment where great ideas and decency prevail.”
Last year, Francis Crick’s “Secret of Life” letter to his son, in which he explained the structure of DNA weeks before the discovery was officially announced in the April 1953 edition of the journal Nature, was sold for $6.06 million.
The world record price — more than three times its pre-sale estimate — made it the most expensive letter ever sold at auction.
Good for him, and at least he’ll be alive when he sees the medal turned into more science. I fervently wish that some museum would buy it, so we could all see it (I’ve never seen a real Nobel medal), but I fear a private collector will snap it up.
Here’s the Medicine or Physiology medal from the Nobel Prize site, with an explanation (each of the Prizes has a different medal):
The medal of the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute represents the Genius of Medicine holding an open book in her lap, collecting the water pouring out from a rock in order to quench a sick girl’s thirst.
It’s real gold, of course. The About Education website adds this:
The exact weight of a Nobel medal varies, but each medal is 18 karat green gold plated with 24 karat (pure) gold, with an average weight of around 175 grams [JAC: a bit more than 6 ounces]. Back in 2012, 175 grams of gold was worth $9975 or about ten thousand US dollars. The modern Nobel Prize medal is worth in excess of $10,000! The Nobel Prize medal may be worth even more than its weight in gold if the medal goes up for auction.
That’s for damned sure, as the medal is also engraved with the winner’s name, and this one will have Watson’s on it. It’s the medal given for the most significant discovery in biology of our era.
Go have a look at Crick’s “secret of life” letter at the Smithsonian site. It’s pretty amazing, and lays out all the detail before the famous Nature paper was published. Here’s one cool bit:
I’m sure Matthew will talk about this letter in his upcoming book on the genetic code.
h/t: Bruce Grant