A letter written by pioneering scientist Dr Francis Crick containing what is probably the first description he gave of the discovery of DNA has been sold for a world auction record.
But rather than revealing all to fellow
eminent scientists, or the world's press perhaps, his signature at
the bottom - 'daddy' - gives a clue to the recipient.
Dr Crick sent the seven-page letter to his
son Michael who was at boarding school at the time, outlining the
breakthrough. It sold at
Christie's New York on April 10 for $5.3m (£3.5m), shattering
the $1m-2m estimate.
The March 19, 1953, letter - bought by an
anonymous phone bidder - told the 12-year-old in blue ink on pale
blue paper how Dr Crick and James Watson had found the copying
mechanism "by which life comes from life", complete with a simple
diagram of DNA's double helix structure, which he admitted was not
drawn very well.
Christie's sale sets a new world auction
record for a letter, beating the $3m (then £1.6m) for an 1864
Abraham Lincoln letter sold at Sotheby's New York in April 2008. To
Mary Tyler Peabody Mann, it was Lincoln's response to the
"Children's Petition to the President asking him to free all the
little slave children in this country", signed by 195 boys and
girls under the age of 18.
A 1939 Albert Einstein letter to President
Roosevelt, informing him of recent experiments by Fermi and
Szilard, the possibility of using chain reactions for construction
of bombs, and discussing availability and quality of uranium, made
$1.9m (then £1.32m) at Christie's New York in March 2002.
The buyer's premium at Christie's New York
Dr Crick - along with fellow doctors Watson
and Maurice Wilkins - was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or
Medicine in 1962, and his medal was also sold on April 11 at
Heritage Auctions (19% buyer's premium)for $1.9m (£1.26m)
against an estimate of $500,000.
Heritage said the Nobel Prize medal had been
kept in a safety deposit box in California since Dr Crick's widow
passed away, and was one of ten lots consigned to auction by his
heirs. The Christie's letter was also consigned by family.
Nobel Prize medal sales are very rare but
this is actually the second one to be offered in the past six
months. Danish physicist Aage Niels Bohr's 1975 Nobel Prize for
Physics sold for about €37,500 (£30,240) last November at
Bruun Rasmussen of Denmark, albeit below estimate.
A gold medal for the first Nobel Peace Prize
awarded to an Englishman - Sir William Randal Cremer, an early
union leader, MP and founder of several peace organisations - in
1903 sold for a premium-inclusive £11,550 ($17,441) at
Sotheby's in November 1985.
Above: William Faulkner's Nobel medal
and draft of his acceptance speech - to be offered by Sotheby's New
York in June.
William Faulkner's 1950 Nobel Prize for
literature will be sold by Sotheby's New York in June along with a
handwritten draft of his acceptance speech and diploma (in one lot,
estimate in excess of $500,000). Faulkner started the draft while
staying at the Algonquin Hotel in New York en route to the ceremony
in Oslo and it is written on the hotel's letterhead. The Faulkner
items have been consigned by his heirs.
Both Dr Crick's medal and letter will be
supporting medical science. The medal sold to Jack Wang, chief
executive of Biomobie, a biomedical firm in Shanghai, who had flown
in for the auction. He said: "Dr Crick's Nobel Prize medal and
diploma will be used to encourage scientists unravelling the
mysteries of the Bioboosti, a bio-electrical signal that may
control and enable the regeneration of damaged human organs."
Half the proceeds of the Christie's sale
will benefit the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla,
California (where Dr Crick spent the last years of his career doing
brain research), and about 20% of the proceeds from the Heritage
sale will go to the new Francis Crick Institute, a research
facility set to open in London in 2015.