US Coins

National Medal of Science award sells in New York

The National Medal of Science awarded in 1968 to J. Presper Eckert for his work in developing computer technology along with a letter signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson brought $20,000 in a June 15 Christie’s auction in New York.

Images courtesy of Christie’s.

A National Medal of Science awarded in 1968 to J. Presper Eckert sold for $20,000 at a June 15 Christie’s auction in New York City. 

Eckert (1919 to 1995) received the medal in recognition of his “pioneering and continuing contributions in creating, developing, and improving the high-speed electronic digital computer.” 

The lot consisted of Eckert’s medal in a velvet-lined black leather case and a certificate signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson for the co-invention of ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer), the world’s first large-scale multipurpose digital computer that contained nearly all the circuitry used in present-day high-speed digital computers. The lot also included a White House invitation and the program for the Jan. 17, 1969, presentation ceremony, along with two black-and-white photographs of the event. 

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The lot was offered as part of Christie’s Fine Printed Books & Manuscripts Including Americana with an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000. 

The medal was produced by Medallic Art Co. in New York with an obverse depicting a man, surrounded by earth, sea, and sky, contemplating and struggling to understand Nature. The crystal in his hand represents the universal order of the basic units of living things while the formula outlined in the sand symbolizes scientific abstraction. 

It was designed by Don De Lue and was based on a design by Richard H. Bolt, associate director for planning at the National Science Foundation. The design was approved by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in Executive Order 10910, signed Jan. 17, 1961.

As Christie’s notes in its description, the co-invention of ENIAC is among the most important inventions of the past 200 years: “J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly began their work on ENIAC at the Moore School of Electrical Engineering in 1943 to aid the war effort by computing ballistic firing tables. By the time ENIAC was announced to the public in early 1946 it was 1000 times faster than any other computer in existence and capable of being re-programmed. Eckert and Mauchly went on to found the world’s first computer company and build BINAC and UNIVAC, the first commercial digital computers.”

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The items in the lot came from the Eric C. Caren Collection and the collector wrote in his introduction — titled “These are a few of my favorite things”— “In 1965 when The Sound of Music came out I was not yet six years old, but already I had caught the collecting bug and I loved the movie. In fact “Climb Every Mountain” still moves me to tears on occasion but always has inspired me to “Search High and Low” for the material that is presented proudly here by Christie’s and by me.” 

Caren started his collecting journey by acquiring newspapers, and focused his next 50 years collecting unique and rare items that offer solid content, display value, rarity and provenance. Of the consigned medal, he says the award, recognizing the first large scale computer, honors “an invention which changed the world much as the light bulb did in the previous century.” 

The National Medal of Science was established by Congress in 1959 as a presidential award to be presented to individuals “deserving of special recognition by reason of their outstanding contributions to knowledge in the physical, biological, mathematical, or engineering sciences.” 

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