The Nobel Prize for Chemistry awarded to Hungarian-born scientist George de Hevesy, who concealed two other Nobel
medals from the Nazis before receiving his own, will be offered at
auction Nov. 23 by Morton & Eden in London.
Listed as Lot 77 in the sale, de Hevesy's medal for 1943, bestowed in
1944, carries an estimate of £120,000 to £150,000 ($157,507 to
$196,884 in U.S. funds).
“George de Hevesy’s work and achievements have led, in particular,
to enormous advances in radiobiology, medical research and clinical
diagnosis, including XRF [X-ray fluorescence], and not surprisingly he
was recognized with numerous accolades and honors during his
lifetime,” said David Kirk, Morton & Eden specialist in War
Medals, British and World Orders and Decorations, and British Coins.
“The medals have remained in Hevesy’s family until now and it is a
huge privilege to be able offer these medals to be appreciated by a
Mysterious zinc cent discovered in antique store.
A 1982 Lincoln cent and cent blanks encased in acrylic are
possibly employees’ souvenirs from when the Ball Corp. began
supplying the Mint with cent planchets.
Included with Hevesy’s Nobel Medal for Chemistry are three other
medals he received for scientific research: the Royal Society’s
silver-gilt Copley medal, designed by Mary Gillick and awarded in
1949; the Royal College of Physicians’ Baly Medal in silver by J.S.
and A.B. Wyon, named and dated 1951; and the large gold Atoms for
Peace Award by the Medallic Art Co., New York, dated 1958.
De Hevesy’s legacy
The founder of radio analytical chemistry, de Hevesy was a joint
discoverer in 1923 with Dirk Coster of the element hafnium. De Hevesy
developed the use of radioactive isotopes as “tracers.” For this work
he was awarded the Nobel Prize medal; he simultaneously accepted the
Nobel Institute's offer of Swedish citizenship.
The official citation for de Hevesy’s prize used the terms
“isotopes” and “tracers,” terms either not yet coined or imbued with
their scientific meaning when de Hevesy began his career in
Manchester, England, in 1911, with Ernest Rutherford, who received the Nobel Prize
for Chemistry in 1908.
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According to Morton & Eden, before de Hevesy was awarded his
Nobel Prize medal, he concealed two Nobel medals from the Nazis in
1940 by dissolving them in a solution of aqua regia, a mixture of
nitric acid and hydrochloric acid.
“Under the Third Reich in Germany private ownership of gold was
declared illegal and could incur the death penalty,” according to
Morton & Eden. “The medals were those of the German physicists Max von Laue and James Franck, Nobel laureates in 1914 and 1925
respectively, whose personally-named and potentially incriminating
gold medals were stored at the Bohr Institute in Copenhagen. Hevesy,
who was working there in the summer of 1940 when the Germans invaded
Denmark, had to quickly think how to hide the gold medals.
“After rejecting the idea of burying them, he simply made them
disappear by dissolving them in aqua regia, a mixture of nitric
and hydrochloric acid. The flask containing its inconspicuous looking
solution sat innocently on a shelf and stayed there undisturbed until
the end of the War. Hevesy was then able to recover the gold by
reversing the chemical process and subsequently return the
reconstituted metal to the Nobel Foundation where it was duly used to
make restrikes of the two medals. These were then re-awarded to both
their original recipients in 1952.”
The de Hevesy Nobel medal, designed by Erik Lindberg, is struck in
23-karat gold, weighs 207.55 grams and is 66 millimeters in diameter.
The obverse features a portrait left of Alfred Nobel. The reverse,
inscribed INVENTAS VITAM IUVAT EXCOLUISSE PER ARTES, features
allegorical figures — Science holding a scroll, unveiling Nature
holding a cornucopia, with REG. ACAD. SCIENT. SUEC. below, divided by
a panel engraved G. HEVESY DE HEVES / MCMXLIV.The edge is marked GULD
and dated 1944.
According to the lot description, the piece has “light handling
marks,” but is “otherwise virtually as struck, in its fitted display
case of issue,” which, the lot description notes, is “slightly waterstained.”