Today, we heard the news that the world auction record for the sale of a letter has been smashed to smithereens.
And no wonder. The letter in question is the first written description of one of the most monumental scientific discoveries in history.
The letter was hand-penned by Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of the double helix structure of DNA. This 1953 breakthrough gave science an intimate understanding of the genetic composition and function of living things. In effect, they discovered, as Crick announced to a crowded Cambridge pub on the day of their breakthrough, ‘the secret of life’.
Very soon after this eureka moment, Crick wrote to his twelve year old son, who was away at boarding school, explaining in simple terms the significance of what they had discovered. He instructs: ‘read this carefully so that you understand it. When you come home we will show you the model’.
This letter is no dry scientific report, but affectionate, deeply personal pages, that convey the excitement the scientist must have felt and the desire to share his enthusiasm with his nearest and dearest. He describes the structure they had created as ‘beautiful’, and attempts to draw a picture of it, but admits that ‘I can’t draw it very well…the model looks much nicer than this’.
The letter sold at Christie’s for over $6 million. The previous auction record for a letter was $3.4 million, achieved by an Abraham Lincoln note in 2008. The price is testament to its historical significance, but also its personal, accessible nature. It is signed ‘Lots of love, Daddy’.
Crick and his partner were awarded the Nobel Prize for their discoveries in 1962. Watch this space for the results of the sale of that very same Nobel Prize award at Heritage Auctions, coming up today.