The Nobel Prize medal that Francis Crick won for his role in a historic DNA discovery was sold Thursday for more than $2 million to a Shanghai biotech executive who plans to use it to promote science in China, the auction house behind the sale said.
The buying spree at Heritage Auctions in New York follows Wednesday's record-setting $6 million sale of a letter that Crick wrote to his son in 1953, in which the scientist sketched out the DNA molecule's double-helix structure weeks before the discovery was revealed publicly.
The purchaser of that letter has remained anonymous, but Heritage Auctions said the 23-carat gold medal was bought by Jack Wang, who heads a Shanghai-based biomedical venture called Biomobie. At the end of a vigorous round of bidding, Wang put in the top offer of $1.9 million for the medal and its accompanying diploma. The traditional buyer's premium boosted the total price to $2,270,500.
Among those in the audience were members of Crick's family — including his son, Michael, whose letter was sold at Christie's the day before. "This is a good week for you guys, eh?" Kathleen Guzman, the auctioneer at Heritage Auctions, joked after the bidding for the medal ended.
Heritage said Wang also purchased the canceled check that Crick received as his monetary share of the Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology back in 1962, for a total price of $77,675. That year's prize was shared with Crick's collaborator, James Watson, as well as rival researcher Maurice Wilkins. The face value on the check was 85,739.88 Swedish krona, which is equal to a little more than $13,500 today. The current monetary value attached to the Nobel Prize is $1.25 million.
The Shanghai bidder rounded out his collection with an $8,962.50 lab coat of Crick's, emblazoned with a gold spiral logo reminiscent of a DNA molecule.
Heritage Auctions' president, Greg Rohan, told NBC News that Wang intended to display the items in Shanghai to promote science and medicine in China. In a statement issued by the auction house, Wang made a connection between the discovery of DNA's double-helix structure in 1953 and his company's work with a hand-held device that's intended to have a therapeutic device.
"Dr. Crick’s Nobel Prize medal and diploma will be used to encourage scientists unraveling the mysteries of the Bioboosti, a bio electrical signal that may control and enable the regeneration of damaged human organs,” Wang said in the statement. "The discovery of the Bioboosti may launch a biomedical revolution like the discovery of the structure of DNA. It may recover damaged human organs and retard the aging process, achieving the goal of self-recovering from disease and poor health conditions."
Nobel Prize medals are rarely sold, although Danish physicist Aage Niels Bohr's 1975 medal was auctioned last year at a price of $47,755. Heritage expected Crick's medal to go for more, in part because the DNA double-helix discovery was so groundbreaking. Nevertheless, the purchase price was toward the high end of expectations: In advance of Thursday's sale, the value was estimated at $500,000 or more.
Crick's family held onto the medal after the biologist's death in 2004 but decided to sell it in conjunction with the 60th anniversary of the DNA milestone. In addition to the medal and the diploma, the check and the lab coat, the auction offered an assortment of books, maps and journals from Crick's collection up for sale. The big-ticket item was a set of four gardening journals that went for $10,755.
Before the sale, Michael Crick told NBC News that 20 percent of the proceeds would go to the Francis Crick Institute in London, which is scheduled to open in 2015. The remainder will be divided among Francis Crick's heirs.
More about DNA:
- Science will profit from sale of letter and prize
- What about Rosalind Franklin?
- NBC News archive on DNA
Check the Heritage Auctions website to learn more about the medal and associated sale items.
Alan Boyle is NBCNews.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. To keep up with Cosmic Log as well as NBCNews.com's other stories about science and space, sign up for the Tech & Science newsletter, delivered to your email in-box every weekday. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.