World Coins

Francis Crick's Nobel Prize gold medal heading to auction

British scientist Dr. Francis Harry Compton Crick’s gold 1962 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, for co-discovering the structure of DNA, will cross the auction block April 11 in New York City.

The medal, accompanied by Crick’s Nobel diploma and medal presentation case, is one of 11 lots consigned by Crick’s heirs to be included in Heritage Auctions April 10 and 11 Historical Manuscripts Signature Auction.

It is the second Nobel Prize medal to be offered at public auction in six months. The Danish auction house Bruun Rasmussen Auctioneers in November 2012 sold the 1975 Nobel Prize for Physics awarded to Danish physicist Aage Niels Bohr. Bohr was one of three Nobel laureates recognized for Physics. He was the son of Niels Henrik David Bohr, also a 1922 Nobel Prize winning physicist.

The Bohr medal realized 280,000 Danish kroner or the equivalent of about $47,755 in U.S. funds at auction. The Crick medal has an opening bid of $500,000.

The Crick items consigned to the Heritage Auctions sale include Crick’s endorsed Nobel Prize check, dated Dec. 10, 1962, for his one-third share of the prize money, and one of his lab coats.

Also being offered are nautical logbooks, gardening journals and books from Crick’s personal collection.

The sale is being held by Heritage at the Ukrainian Institute of America at The Fletcher-Sinclair Mansion, 2 E. 79th St., New York.

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the consigned Crick items will be used to promote scientific research at the new Francis Crick Institute in London, set to be completed in 2015.

Recipients

Dr. Crick and two of his fellow researchers — Dr. James Dewey Watson and Dr. Maurice Hugh Frederick Wilkins — received their medals from the hand of King Gustav VI Adolf of Sweden at the Stockholm Concert Hall on Dec. 10, 1962.

Rosalind Franklin, who also contributed to the DNA discovery, died in 1958 before the Nobel was awarded. It is not awarded posthumously.

“The whole family went to the grand ceremony in Stockholm where the Nobel Prizes were awarded by the King of Sweden,” said Michael Crick, Dr. Crick’s son, continuing, “My Dad dressed for the occasion, gave a speech and danced with my sister, Gabrielle. It was a great honor to be there.”

After receiving the medal, however, Dr. Crick — never one to rest on his laurels — went right back to work, Michael Crick said of his father.

“We know he deeply appreciated the recognition by his peers,” Michael Crick said, “but he did not talk much about winning the medal after the event. That was the thing about my Dad; he was a very focused scientist and after DNA he went on to work on the mechanism of protein synthesis, deciphering the three-letter nature of the genetic code and determining the origins of life on earth. He was a driven scientist his whole life.

“At 60, he turned his attention to theoretical neurobiology and for the next 28 years helped advance the study of human consciousness.”

The medal

Dr. Crick’s medal has been secured in a safe deposit box in California since Dr. Crick’s widow, Odile, passed away July 5, 2007, according to Heritage officials. Dr. Crick died July 28, 2004, in San Diego, Calif.

Dr. Crick’s medal is one of the three Nobel Prize medals presented to the researchers “for their discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material,” according to Nobelprize.org, the official Nobel Prize website. It was a discovery that launched a scientific revolution and forever changed man’s understanding of life, according to the website.

Designed by Swedish artist Erik Lindberg, the 65-millimeter medal weighs 198.6 grams.

Struck in 23-karat gold, the obverse features a side portrait of Alfred Nobel with the dates of his birth and death in Roman numerals. The reverse “ ... 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,” according to the auction lot description.

An inscription appears above the figures, reading: INVENTAS VITAM JUVAT EXCOLUISSE PER ARTES. Taken from the sixth song, verse 663, of Virgil’s Aeneid, it is translated as “Inventions Enhance Life Which Is Beautified Through Art.”

The lower outside section of the medal bears a second inscription, REG. UNIVERSITAS MED. CHIR. CAROL (“The Karolinska Institutet”).

The Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institutet, a medical university in Europe, is responsible for choosing the laureates for the award for Physiology or Medicine.

Dr. Crick’s initials and surname are engraved on the reverse of his Nobel Prize medal, along with the year of the prize, 1962, presented in Roman numerals: F. H. C. CRICK/MCMLXII. The second piece of the prize, the Nobel diploma — on two vellum pages, 9.5 inches by 13.5 inches, handwritten in Swedish, dated Stockholm, October 18, 1962 — is also included.

Anniversary of discovery

“This year marks the 60th anniversary of the historic discovery of the structure of DNA and 50 years have passed since Francis Crick was awarded the Nobel Prize,” said Kindra Crick, Dr. Crick’s granddaughter. “For most of that time, the Nobel Prize and the unique personal diploma have been locked up. By auctioning his Nobel, it will finally be made available for public display and be well looked after. Our hope is that, by having it available for display, it can be an inspiration to the next generation of scientists.” ¦


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