Monday, March 25, 2013

Francis Crick's Nobel Medal up for sale

"Francis Crick's Nobel Prize medal to be auctioned"

The family of Francis Crick, one of three men who received the Nobel Prize for discovering DNA structure, announced a plan to auction his 23-carat gold medal. Part of the proceeds are to be offered to research institutions.


Wynne Parry

February 26, 2013

The Christian Science Monitor

Sixty years after the discovery of DNA's spiraling, ladder-like structure first hinted at the mechanism by which life copies itself, one of the Nobel Prize medals honoring this achievement is up for sale.

Three men who played crucial roles in deciphering DNA's double helix in 1953 later received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. The family of one of those men, Francis Crick, plans to sell his medal, the accompanying diploma and other items at auction with a portion of the proceeds set to benefit research institutions in the United States and the United Kingdom.

"It had been tucked away for so long," said Kindra Crick, Francis Crick's 36-year-old granddaughter, of the medal. "We really were interested in finding someone who could look after it, and possibly put it on display so it could inspire the next generation of scientists." Francis Crick passed away in 2004 at the age of 88. 

There is little precedent for this sale. Nobel medals appear to have changed hands publicly in only a couple of instances. This particular medal, like others made before 1980, is struck in 23-carat gold, and recognizes a particularly high-profile accomplishment in biology, one fundamental to modern genetics.

The auction house handling the sale, Heritage Auctions, has valued the medal and diploma at $500,000, which is "an educated guestimate," said Sandra Palomino, Heritage Auctions' director of historical manuscripts. Estimates by Heritage's in-house coin experts went as high as $5 million, Palomino said.

The April auction will also include Crick's award check with his endorsement on the back, the scientist's lab coat, his gardening logs, nautical journals and books. Separately, the family hopes to sell a letter Crick wrote in 1953 to his then-12-year-old son Michael, who is Kindra's father, describing the discovery's meaning. The auction house Christies, which Kindra Crick said is handling the sale, declined to confirm plans to sell this letter.

The medal was not displayed much within Crick's family. Kindra remembers that the Nobel, which she has yet to see herself, was locked in a room with her grandfather's other awards and other family heirlooms after he moved to California at the age of 60. After the scientist's wife, Odile, passed away in 2007, the medal was sequestered in a safe deposit box. Crick's children, including Kindra's father, Michael, attended the award ceremony in 1962, but saw almost nothing of the medal afterward.

Kindra plans to get a look at the medal before the auction.

"My grandfather was not the type of personality to show off," she said. "His conversation tended to be on what's next as opposed to reminiscing about the past … I guess he always thought there was more to come."

Crick's family hopes to see the medal displayed publicly after its sale; however, Kindra Crick acknowledged that a public auction offered no guarantee a buyer would display the award. But she is optimistic, saying those individuals or institutions with enough interest in science to bid on the medal are also likely to display it publicly. [Creative Genius: The World's Greatest Minds]

Crick's family and Heritage Auctions plan to donate a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the medal and the other items to The Francis Crick Institute, a medical research institute scheduled to open in London in 2015. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the letter will go to benefit the Salk Institute in California, where Francis Crick studied consciousness later in his career, Kindra said.

On Feb. 28, 1953, according to legend, Crick and his colleague James Watson announced that they had discovered the "secret of life" in a pub frequented by other Cambridge University scientists.

This followed Watson's realization that the molecular bonds between the two types of base pairs in DNA — adenine with thymine and cytosine with guanine — were identical in shape, suggesting a double helix with complementary halves, Watson recounts in "The Annotated and Illustrated Double Helix" (Simon & Schuster, 2012).

This discovery was the result of a combination of approaches; Watson and Crick built models, trying to determine how the molecules known to make up DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) fit together. Meanwhile, two of their colleagues, Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin, created images by bouncing X-rays off DNA crystals.

One of Franklin's images, called Photograph 51, provided key evidence of a helical shape.

Crick, Watson and Wilkins received the Nobel Prize in 1962. Franklin did not because she passed away in 1958, and the Nobel Prize is not awarded posthumously.
Form means function

In the years prior to this discovery, scientists knew of the existence of DNA (a type of molecule known as a nucleic acid), but not what it looked like or its true function. They also knew genes carried traits from generation to generation, but many scientists believed genes to be made of proteins, said Jan Witkowski, executive director of the Banbury Center at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York.

The discovery of the structure of DNA was key to understanding the molecule's function as the code for genes. Watson and Crick understood this, but when they described their discovery in a paper in the journal Nature in April 1953, they wrote coyly of the implications: "It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing we have postulated immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism for genetic material."

However, in the letter to 12-year-old Michael, dated March 19, 1953, Crick drew a diagram spelling out the scientists' theory of how DNA replicated: the double helix and its base-pair rungs separated to create templates for new strands.

"In other words, we think we have found the basic copying mechanism by which life comes from life," Crick wrote to his son. The scientists signed the letter, which appears in "The Annotated and Illustrated Double Helix," "lots of love, Daddy."

A geneticist himself, Witkowski lists the discovery of the structure of DNA as one of the three most pivotal accomplishments in biology, along with Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection and Gregor Mendel's principles of inheritance. 

"Of course, it wasn't so much what each discovery was in itself, but what avenues it opened up and what it led on to," said Witkowski, who with Alexander Gann, edited the "Annotated and Illustrated Double Helix."

"Francis Crick's Nobel Prize gold medal heading to auction"


Paul Gilkes

March 13th, 2013

Coin World

British scientist Dr. Francis Harry Compton Crick’s gold 1962 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, for co-discovering the structure of DNA, will cross the auction block April 11 in New York City.

The medal, accompanied by Crick’s Nobel diploma and medal presentation case, is one of 11 lots consigned by Crick’s heirs to be included in Heritage Auctions April 10 and 11 Historical Manuscripts Signature Auction.

It is the second Nobel Prize medal to be offered at public auction in six months. The Danish auction house Bruun Rasmussen Auctioneers in November 2012 sold the 1975 Nobel Prize for Physics awarded to Danish physicist Aage Niels Bohr. Bohr was one of three Nobel laureates recognized for Physics. He was the son of Niels Henrik David Bohr, also a 1922 Nobel Prize winning physicist.

The Bohr medal realized 280,000 Danish kroner or the equivalent of about $47,755 in U.S. funds at auction. The Crick medal has an opening bid of $500,000.

The Crick items consigned to the Heritage Auctions sale include Crick’s endorsed Nobel Prize check, dated Dec. 10, 1962, for his one-third share of the prize money, and one of his lab coats.

Also being offered are nautical logbooks, gardening journals and books from Crick’s personal collection.

The sale is being held by Heritage at the Ukrainian Institute of America at The Fletcher-Sinclair Mansion, 2 E. 79th St., New York.

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the consigned Crick items will be used to promote scientific research at the new Francis Crick Institute in London, set to be completed in 2015.


Dr. Crick and two of his fellow researchers — Dr. James Dewey Watson and Dr. Maurice Hugh Frederick Wilkins — received their medals 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 DNA 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, Dr. Crick’s son, continuing, “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, Dr. Crick — never one to rest on his laurels — went right back to work, Michael Crick said of his father.

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

The medal

Dr. Crick’s medal has been secured in a safe deposit box in California since Dr. Crick’s widow, Odile, passed away July 5, 2007, according to Heritage officials. Dr. Crick died July 28, 2004, in San Diego, Calif.

Dr. Crick’s medal is one of the three Nobel Prize medals presented to the researchers “for their discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material,” according to, the official Nobel Prize website. It was a discovery that launched a scientific revolution and forever changed man’s understanding of life, according to the website.

Designed by Swedish artist Erik Lindberg, the 65-millimeter medal weighs 198.6 grams.

Struck in 23-karat gold, the obverse features a side portrait of Alfred Nobel with the dates of his birth and death in Roman numerals. The reverse “ ... represents the Genius of Medicine holding an open book in her lap, collecting the water pouring out from a rock in order to quench a sick girl’s thirst,” according to the auction lot description.

An inscription appears above the figures, reading: INVENTAS VITAM JUVAT EXCOLUISSE PER ARTES. Taken from the sixth song, verse 663, of Virgil’s Aeneid, it is translated as “Inventions Enhance Life Which Is Beautified Through Art.”

The lower outside section of the medal bears a second inscription, REG. UNIVERSITAS MED. CHIR. CAROL (“The Karolinska Institutet”).

The Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institutet, a medical university in Europe, is responsible for choosing the laureates for the award for Physiology or Medicine.

Dr. Crick’s initials and surname are engraved on the reverse of his Nobel Prize 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 — on two vellum pages, 9.5 inches by 13.5 inches, handwritten in Swedish, dated Stockholm, October 18, 1962 — is also included.

Anniversary of discovery

“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, Dr. Crick’s granddaughter. “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.”


Francis Harry Compton Crick was born on June 8th, 1916, at Northampton, England, being the elder child of Harry Crick and Annie Elizabeth Wilkins. He has one brother, A. F. Crick, who is a doctor in New Zealand.

Crick was educated at Northampton Grammar School and Mill Hill School, London. He studied physics at University College, London, obtained a B.Sc. in 1937, and started research for a Ph.D. under Prof E. N. da C. Andrade, but this was interrupted by the outbreak of war in 1939. During the war he worked as a scientist for the British Admiralty, mainly in connection with magnetic and acoustic mines. He left the Admiralty in 1947 to study biology.

Supported by a studentship from the Medical Research Council and with some financial help from his family, Crick went to Cambridge and worked at the Strangeways Research Laboratory. In 1949 he joined the Medical Research Council Unit headed by M. F. Perutz of which he has been a member ever since. This Unit was for many years housed in the Cavendish Laboratory Cambridge, but in 1962 moved into a large new building - the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology - on the New Hospital site. He became a research student for the second time in 1950, being accepted as a member of Caius College, Cambridge, and obtained a Ph.D. in 1954 on a thesis entitled «X-ray diffraction: polypeptides and proteins».

During the academic year 1953-1954 Crick was on leave of absence at the Protein Structure Project of the Brooklyn Polytechnic in Brooklyn, New York. He has also lectured at Harvard, as a Visiting Professor, on two occasions, and has visited other laboratories in the States for short periods.

In 1947 Crick knew no biology and practically no organic chemistry or crystallography, so that much of the next few years was spent in learning the elements of these subjects. During this period, together with W. Cochran and V. Vand he worked out the general theory of X-ray diffraction by a helix, and at the same time as L. Pauling and R. B. Corey, suggested that the alpha-keratin pattern was due to alpha-helices coiled round each other.

A critical influence in Crick's career was his friendship, beginning in 1951, with J. D. Watson, then a young man of 23, leading in 1953 to the proposal of the double-helical structure for DNA and the replication scheme. Crick and Watson subsequently suggested a general theory for the structure of small viruses.

Crick in collaboration with A. Rich has proposed structures for polyglycine II and collagen and (with A. Rich, D. R. Davies, and J. D.Watson) a structure for polyadenylic acid.

In recent years Crick, in collaboration with S. Brenner, has concentrated more on biochemistry and genetics leading to ideas about protein synthesis (the «adaptor hypothesis»), and the genetic code, and in particular to work on acridine-type mutants.

Crick was made an F.R.S. in 1959. He was awarded the Prix Charles Leopold Meyer of the French Academy of Sciences in 1961, and the Award of Merit of the Gairdner Foundation in 1962. Together with J. D. Watson he was a Warren Triennial Prize Lecturer in 1959 and received a Research Corporation Award in 1962. With J. D. Watson and M. H. F. Wilkins he was presented with a Lasker Foundation Award in 1960. In 1962 he was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a Fellow of University College, London. He was a Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, in 1960-1961, and is now a non-resident Fellow of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, San Diego, California.

In 1940 Crick married Ruth Doreen Dodd. Their son, Michael F. C. Crick is a scientist. They were divorced in 1947. In 1949 Crick married Odile Speed. They have two daughters, Gabrielle A. Crick and Jacqueline M. T. Crick. The family lives in a house appropriately called «The Golden Helix», in which Crick likes to find his recreation in conversation with his friends.

No comments: