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Nobel Prize Awarded to Molecular Biologist James Watson for Sale at Auction

By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek …..

Once called the Caligula of Biology[1], now set to score big on the sale of one of the world’s most prestigious scientific medals…


Nobel Prize Awarded to Molecular Biologist James Watson for Sale at Auction

James Dewey Watson, an internationally recognized molecular biologist and part of the team of researchers responsible for discovering the double helix structure of DNA in 1953, has consigned his gold Nobel Prize Medal to Christie’s for auction.

The medal is one of three pieces of Watson memorabilia tied to the award being offered at a December 4, 2014 auction in New York.

Watson won the medal in 1962 when he and his research partners Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for “the discovery of the molecular structure of DNA, which could be said to have initiated the ‘Genetic Revolution’.”[2] Sadly, Watson and Crick colleague Rosalind Franklin, whose own research was instrumental to DNA’s decoding, was not recognized.

Watson’s decision to sell comes seven years after a controversial interview Watson gave to The Sunday Times, wherein he said that socioeconomic development on the African continent was “inherently gloomy” due to the fact that “all of our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really.”[3]

The incendiary comments were not unusual for Watson but there was an immediate backlash, costing Watson his job and lucrative speaking engagements. In a recent interview with The Financial Times, Watson said that he had been excommunicated from the scientific community–that “no one really wants to admit I exist.”[4]

The medal itself is described by Christie’s as being “66 mm in diameter” and “struck in 23 carat gold”.[5]

On the medal’s obverse is a left-facing profile of Alfred Nobel, with the inscription “ALFR. NOBEL” to the left of the bust, and his dates depicted in Roman numerals to the right.

Along the edge is designer Erik Lindberg’s signature and the date 1902.

On the reverse is an allegorical vignette of the figure of science unveiling nature, coupled with the legend  INVENTAS VITAM IUVAT EX COLUISSE PER ARTES, a line from Virgil’s Aeneid that translates to “Let us improve life through science and art”. Around the edge is the inscription J. D. WATSON / MCMLXII.

The medal comes in its original red morocco gilt case. It has a reserve price of $2.5 million and Christie’s estimates that the medal will bring between $2.5 million and $3.5 million when live bidding starts.

This is the second high-profile Nobel Prize medal offered for sale in 2014.

The first was the Nobel Peace Prize awarded in 1936 to Argentine Carlos Saavedra Lamas for his role in ending the Chaco War between Paraguay and Bolivia. It fetched $1.116 million–considerably higher than pre-auction estimates–at a Stack’s Bowers auction at the Whitman Expo in Baltimore.

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[1] https://www.msu.edu/course/lbs/333/fall/wilson.html

[2] http://www.nobelprize.org/events/nobel-week-dialogue/2012/panellists/james-watson.html

[3] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/fury-at-dna-pioneers-theory-africans-are-less-intelligent-than-westerners-394898.html

[4] http://tinyurl.com/pxelh2n

[5] http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/books-manuscripts/watson-james-dewey-nobel-prize-medal-in-5857953-details.aspx?from=searchresults&intObjectID=5857953&sid=bfbd3348-349c-4745-96ba-69f200dd0310

Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker
Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker
Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker have been contributing authors on CoinWeek since 2012. They also wrote the monthly "Market Whimsy" column and various feature articles for The Numismatist and the book 100 Greatest Modern World Coins (2020) for Whitman Publishing.

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