World Coins

Nobel prize winner for DNA research selling gold medal

The 1962 Nobel Prize gold medal for Physiology or Medicine awarded to Dr. James D. Watson is being sold by Christie's in a Dec. 4 sale in New York.

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Dr. James D. Watson, one of three 1962 recipients of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for co-discovering the structure of DNA, is offering his gold medal for auction Dec. 4 by Christie's in New York.

The auction is to be held in Christie's New York offices at 20 Rockefeller Plaza.

The medal is estimated to bring between $2.5 million and $3.5 million, according to Christie's.

The gold medal presented to one of Watson's co-recipients, Dr. Francis Crick, along with Crick's Nobel Prize diploma, brought $2,270,500 in an April 11, 2013, sale in New York by Heritage Auctions. Dr. Crick's medal and diploma were purchased by Jack Wang, the chief executive officer of Biomobie, a biomedical firm in Shanghai, China.

Watson's medal is identified by Christie's as being the first to be sold by a Nobel Prize recipient while the recipient is still alive.

Watson, 86, says he plans to use half the after-tax auction proceeds to continue his philanthropic donations, which include the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on New York's Long Island, the University of Chicago and Clare College Cambridge. Watson is chancellor emeritus and a research scientist at the New York laboratory, working on a cure for incurable cancers.

Clare College Cambridge was where Watson and Dr. Crick lived when on Feb. 28, 1953, they put together the basic features of the DNA double helix.

Designed by Swedish artist Erik Lindberg, Watson's 66-millimeter medal weighs 198.6 grams. 

The medal is 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 reverse bears a second inscription, REG. UNIVERSITAS MED. CHIR. CAROL (“The Karolinska Institutet”). 

Watson'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: J.D. WATSON/MCMLXII.

According to the Christie's lot description, the piece has a "rim marked 'GULD 1950' (Kungliga Mynt och Justeringsverket [Swedish Royal Mint])." The pieces were struck at the Swedish Royal Mint.

Waton, Crick and a third researcher who shared the 1962 prize, 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.

For more information on the sale, visit the Christie's website. The online catalog for the sale can be accessed here.

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