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Watson Nobel Prize Medal Sets Record at Christie’s Auction

By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek ….


On Thursday, Christie’s of New York auctioned a unique Nobel Prize medal belonging to Dr. James D. Watson, one of the 20th century’s most preeminent microbiologists and one of a team of scientists credited with discovering the structure of the DNA double helix.

As we reported on December 3, Watson’s decision to sell the medals and related documents came seven years after a controversial interview with The Sunday Times landed the Nobel Prize winner in hot water. During the interview, he asserted that Africans lacked the same level of intelligence as those in the “developed” world. The blowback, both in the public sphere and within the scientific community, was swift and proved fatal for Watson’s career as a scientist, educator, and lecturer.

Christie’s spokesperson Melissa Abernathy told CoinWeek that the medal had garnered strong interest from buyers all over the world.

When the bidding commenced, there were three bidders vying for the piece at Christie’s opening price of $1.5 million. The three quickly took the price to $3.8 million dollars before one of the bidders dropped out.

From there, the remaining two bidders went head to head at $100,000 increments. The winning bid (with buyer’s premium) was a record-setting $4.76 million, which according to Christie’s, was double the previous record price of a Nobel Prize medal at auction. Christie’s says that the winning bidder has chosen to remain anonymous.

Two additional pieces of Watson memorabilia were offered as well. A manuscript draft of Watson’s Nobel Prize “Banquet” Speech, written in blue ink on Grand Hotel Stockholm stationery brought $365,000, while an original holograph manuscript of Watson’s Nobel Lecture “The Involvement of RNA in the Synthesis of Proteins” brought $245,000.

In total, the three items brought $5.367 million.

With unique items such as Nobel Prize medals, gauging a market price can prove difficult. In the cases of this medal and the Nobel Peace Prize Medal awarded to Argentine Carlos Saavedra Lamas in 1936, both medals brought considerably more than pre-sale estimates.

Of the potential value of other medals, Abernathy wouldn’t speculate, but one can only wonder what kind of record-breaking prices that medals belonging to some of the 20th century’s most revered figures–such as Theodore Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela–would bring if they ever came to market.

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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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