Nobel Prize for Sale; Belonged to DNA Pioneer Francis Crick

Francis Crick in 1993. with his Nobel Prize medal as an inset. Heritage Auctions, Daniel Mordzinski AFP/Getty Images

Reported by Ned Potter and Susanna Kim:

In 1953 Francis Crick and James D. Watson published a short paper in the journal Nature with a quiet title: "Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid." They changed the world with it - they were describing DNA, the molecule in the cells of living things that determines their genetic characteristics. They and a fellow researcher, Maurice Wilkins, won the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1962.

Now, 60 years later, Crick's family is offering his gold Nobel medal and diploma for sale at auction - and venturing into territory almost as uncharted as DNA was before Crick, Watson and others got to work on it.

Update: Heritage Auctions, which is organizing the sale, said it knows of only one Nobel medal that's been sold in the last 70 years - and only heard of that one after announcing the Crick sale. Heritage said on Tuesday that the other medal - a physics prize from 1975 - was sold last year for about $43,000 in Sweden. It has suggested an opening bid for Crick's medal of $250,000. But how much would someone pay for a piece of history? The analysis of DNA was one of the great scientific accomplishments of the last century. What's more, it's cloaked in controversy; many historians and scientists say more credit ought to go to Rosalind Franklin, who did some of the measurements on which the Nature paper was based. (She died in 1958, before the prize was awarded; Crick lived until 2004.)

And why sell a Nobel Prize? According to Heritage, Crick's family said a portion of the proceeds would go to the Francis Crick Institute, scheduled to open in London in 2015. The family said the new facility will be used in the search for cures for some of the world's most devastating diseases.

Photos: Highest-Priced Items for Sale

"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, a granddaughter of the scientist, in a statement from the auction house.

"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."

The medal will be displayed in London March 5-6, and the auction is scheduled for April 10 in New York City. Also being offered: The endorsed check Dr. Crick received for 85,739.88 Swedish Krona, plus an old lab coat he wore.

The medal has been kept in a safe deposit box in California since Crick's widow died in 2007, said Heritage Auctions.

"My Granddad was honored to have received the Nobel Prize," Kindra Crick said, "but he was not the type to display his awards; his office walls contained a large chalkboard, artwork and a portrait of Charles Darwin."

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