James Watson's Nobel Prize for DNA Discovery Up for Auction

Watson's Nobel Prize medal.
This Nobel Prize medal was awarded to James Watson in 1962 for his research on the structure of DNA. (Image credit: CHRISTIE'S IMAGES LTD. 2014, Single Use)

You may never actually win a Nobel Prize, but that doesn't mean you can't take one of these prestigious awards home with you. Next week, the Nobel Prize gold medal that was awarded to James Watson in 1962 for the discovery of the twisted-ladder structure of DNA hits the auction block in New York City.

The medal will be sold on Dec. 4, and Christie's New York, the auction house conducting the sale, said this piece of scientific memorabilia could fetch between $2.5 million and $3.5 million.

Also included in the upcoming auction are the handwritten notes that Watson wrote for his acceptance speech at the Nobel Prize banquet ceremony on Dec. 10, 1962, in Stockholm, Sweden. A draft of the lecture he gave the day after the ceremony is also up for auction, and is expected to sell for at least $200,000. [Creative Genius: The World's Greatest Minds]

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Watson, as well as his colleagues Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins, for their discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA. Widely considered to be one of the most important scientific discoveries of the 20th century, the finding gave rise to the science of molecular biology and greatly advanced the field of medicine.

This is the first time in history that a living Nobel Prize recipient (Watson is now 86 years old) has elected to auction off his or her prize medal, according to Christie's. Watson intends to donate a portion of the proceeds from the sale to organizations that support scientific research, as well as academic and charitable institutions.

Just last year, Christie's auctioned off another, related piece of memorabilia— a letter penned by Watson's colleague Crick in 1953. The seven-page, handwritten letter, which was sent to Crick's then-12-year-old son, sold for an astounding $6,059,650. The note outlined the discovery that would eventually earn Crick, Watson and Wilkins the coveted Nobel Prize.

Not long after Christie's sold Crick's so-called "secret of life" letter, another New York auction house, Heritage Auction, sold the scientist's Nobel Prize gold medal. Crick's medal was sold to a Chinese biotech executive for $2 million. The buyer said he planned to use the medal to promote science in China. Portions of the proceeds from that sale were also donated to research institutions in the United States and the United Kingdom, according to Heritage Auction.

With the sale of both Watson and Crick's Nobel Prize medals, only one of the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine medals remains in the possession of its original owner. Though Wilkins died in 2004, it does not appear that his family ever put the medal up for sale.

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Elizabeth Peterson

Elizabeth is a former Live Science associate editor and current director of audience development at the Chamber of Commerce. She graduated with a bachelor of arts degree from George Washington University. Elizabeth has traveled throughout the Americas, studying political systems and indigenous cultures and teaching English to students of all ages.