This letter sure has dominant genes — a 1953 missive from the co-discoverer of DNA’s structure to his 12-year-old son explaining how “life comes from life’’ was auctioned for a record-setting $6 million yesterday.
Francis Crick’s so-called “secret of life’’ letter to his son Michael at boarding school, saying that he and James Watson had discovered DNA’s double-helix structure, went for $5.3 million at Christie’s in Rockefeller Center. The total hit $6,059,750 with the buyer’s commission.
The handwritten, seven-page note, which the auction house had estimated would fetch “only” $1 million to $2 million, set a world-auction record for any letter, it said.
The previous record was $3.4 million, set in 2008 by an Abraham Lincoln letter, said Francis Wahlgren, Christie’s international department head of books and manuscripts.
The winning bid was made over the phone by a “private individual’’ who wants to remain anonymous for now, he said.
“Jim Watson was in the room’’ for the auction, said Wahlgren, adding that the famed 85-year-old scientist “was happy to see history made.’’
Crick, Watson and Maurice Wilkins were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962.
The letter is “a priceless object,’’ Wahlgren said. “It summarizes one of the greatest advances of the 20th century expressed in a very poignant letter to his son. And it’s significant in that it announces their discovery well ahead of the publication in the scientific journal.’’
The letter to his son was written about a month before the landmark research was published.
The British scientist’s letter includes a simple drawing of the DNA double-helix molecule. He cautions that the model he and Watson built “looks much nicer than this.’’
The letter begins with a major understatement: “Jim Watson and I have probably made a most important discovery.’’
In easy-to-understand language, it says “We have built a model for the structure of de-oxy-ribose-nucleic-acid (read it carefully) called D.N.A. Our structure is very beautiful,’’ he tells his boy.
And he adds, that “We think we have found the basic copying mechanism by which life comes from life. You can understand that we are very excited.”
“Read this carefully so that you understand it. When you come home we will show you the model,’’ wrote Crick, who ended the letter, “Lots of love, Daddy.’’
Michael Crick, who attended the auction, wrote about the letter for the Christie’s catalog, saying, “As far as we know, this is the first public description of these ideas that have become the keystone of molecular biology and which have spawned a whole new industry and generations of follow-on discoveries.’’
After leaving England, Francis Crick, who died in 2004, spent decades doing research at the Salk Institute in California. His family has said half the proceeds of the letter’s sale will go to benefit the institute.
In another auction today, Crick’s 1962 Nobel Prize medal goes under the hammer at Heritage Auctions which estimates it could bring over $500,000.
Twenty percent of the proceeds from that auction will go to the new Francis Crick Institute which is scheduled to open in 2015.
Michael Crick told the Associated Press that the family hopes the buyers will give people the opportunity to see the items “and that they will be an inspiration for future scientists.’’
Article by: RITA DELFINER
Source: New York Post goo.gl/qYN0e