|By Susan Emerson Nutter
NEW YORK, N.Y. — A note written by Nobel Prize-winning Dr. Francis Harry Compton Crick to his then 12 year old son, Michael, about discovering DNA set the record for a letter sold at auction when it brought more than $6 million.
Including the buyer’s premium the note earned $6,059,750 at Christie’s New York on April 11. The price bettered the previous $3.4 million (plus premium) record set for an Abraham Lincoln letter that sold in April 2008.
Crick, who died in 2004 at age 88, was awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine along with Drs. James Dewey Watson and Maurice Hugh Frederick Wilkins for the discovery of DNA.
In the seven-page letter dated March 19, 1953, written to his son at boarding school, Crick describes the structure of DNA as “something beautiful,” and includes a crude sketch of DNA’s double helix structure. “In other words, we think we have found the basic copying mechanism by which life comes from life,” Crick wrote.
In the letter, Crick asks his son to “read this carefully so that you will understand it. When you come home we will show you the model. Lots of love, Daddy.”
Based on the date of the letter, it is apparent that Crick spoke to his son about the group’s discovery of DNA a full month before the first published announcement.
Later that same week, the molecular biologist’s 1962 Nobel Prize medal in physiology or medicine was offered by Heritage Auctions. Estimated to bring more than $500,000, the medal and accompanying diploma was bid to an equally impressive $2.27 million – including a 19.5 percent buyer’s premium.
The selling of Crick’s Nobel Prize medal and diploma for “... their discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material,” was the highlight of Heritage Auctions’ Historical Manuscripts Signature® Auction at the Fletcher-Sinclair Mansion in New York.
“This auction, given the international attention it’s received, shows the continuing importance of Crick’s, Watson’s and Franklin’s discovery 60 years after they made it,” said Sandra Palomino, director of Historic Manuscripts at Heritage Auctions.
It is interesting to note that Crick’s heirs used two different auction houses for selling these items; Christie’s to sell the personal letter and Heritage to sell the Nobel Prize medal.
“This was an extremely intelligent move on the part of the Crick heirs,” Palomino stated.
“They did their research and felt the separate venues would be the best way to offer these very personal items to the public. Heritage was thrilled and honored to be chosen to sell the medal and diploma among other items.”
Heritage handled another dozen artifacts the Crick’s heirs sold to benefit scientific research.
Half the proceeds from the Christie’s sale will benefit the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, where Crick was a professor, his granddaughter said.
Twenty percent of the proceeds from the Heritage Auctions’ sale will go to the new Francis Crick Institute in London, a medical research institute due to open in 2015.
Heritage Auctions and the Crick heirs were excited the medal sold to Jack Wang, the CEO of Biomobie, a Shanghai, China, biomedical firm, who had flown in for the auction.
“Mr. Wang plans have the medal and diploma on public display,” Palomino explained. “This was a major bonus as far as the Crick heirs were concerned.”
Crick’s Nobel Prize had been kept in a safe deposit box in California since Crick’s widow passed away.
“Actually, for some of the family, the auction was the first time they had ever seen the medal,” Palomino pointed out. “And now it will be on display for all to see which is what the family had hoped would happen.”
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 consists of two handwritten vellum pages with original artwork where the figure rendered is holding a rod that incorporates the DNA helix.
Measuring 9 1/2 inches by 13 1/2 inches, written in Swedish, and dated Stockholm, Oct. 18, 1962, these diplomas will are to be framed for display.
Contact: Christie’s, (212) 636-2000
Heritage Auctions, (212) 486-3500