Auctions | February 25, 2013

Dr. Crick’s 1962 Nobel Prize at Heritage Auctions

NEW YORK — The 1962 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine awarded to Dr. Francis Harry Compton Crick, along with Drs. James Dewey Watson and Maurice Hugh Frederick Wilkins, for “...their discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material” will be auctioned with an opening bid of $250,000 when it comes across the block at Heritage Auctions on April 10 as the highlight of the company’s Historical Manuscripts Signature® Auction.


The auction of the medal is a historic moment, marking the first time in decades that a Nobel Prize has been sold at auction. It has been kept in a safe deposit box in California since Crick’s widow passed away, and has been consigned to auction by his heirs. It is one of 10 lots consigned by the family, including Crick’s endorsed Nobel Prize Check, dated Dec. 10, 1962 and one of his lab coats. The trove also contains nautical logbooks, gardening journals and books from Crick’s personal collection.

“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, granddaughter of the famous scientist and spokesperson for the family. “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.”


In addition, the Prize's proceeds will again be used to promote ground-breaking scientific research, as a portion of the sale will be awarded to the new Francis Crick Institute in London set to be completed in 2015.


“The discovery of the structure of DNA launched a scientific revolution and forever changed human understanding of life,” said Sandra Palomino, Director of Historical Manuscripts for Heritage Auctions. “This medal is the embodiment of the respect and recognition that came with that momentous breakthrough.”


Crick showed an aptitude toward science at an early age, receiving a Bachelor of Science in Physics from University College London at the age of 21. He met James D. Watson (b. 1928), a 23 year-old American postdoctoral zoologist with a background in genetics, in 1951. The two men, discovering a shared common goal of solving the molecular structure of deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, became close friends and partners.

Crick, alongside Watson and Wilkins, received his Nobel Prize 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 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, Francis Crick’s son, “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, Crick - never one to rest on his laurels, went right back to work.


“We know he deeply appreciated the recognition by his peers,” said Michael, “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.”


Crick’s granddaughter echoes those sentiments about his humble nature and attitude of hard work.


“My Granddad was honored to have received the Nobel Prize,” she said, “but he was not the type to display his awards; his office walls contained a large chalkboard, artwork and a portrait of Charles Darwin.”


Crick’s initials are engraved on the reverse of the 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 - two beautifully handwritten, vellum pages, 9.5" x 13.5", in Swedish, dated Stockholm, October 18, 1962 - is also included.


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