“We have discovered the secret of life” was the almost bizarre announcement made in the Eagle pub in Cambridge on the 28th of February 1953 by Cavendish Laboratory scientist Francis Crick. He was, as we now know, referring to the discovery of the structure of DNA (the genetic code) by himself, and fellow scientist James Watson (who had also popped in for a beer) supported by the work of Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins. In 1962 Crick, Watson and Wilkins were awarded the Nobel prize for their discovery. Regrettably Franklin had died five years previously.
On the 19th of March 1953 Crick wrote to his son, Michael, then at boarding school, describing their discovery. This remarkable seven page letter written by a thirty-three year old scientist to his twelve year old son describes their discovery. The letter begins, “My Dear Michael, Jim Watson and I have probably made a most important discovery. We have built a model for des-oxy-ribose-nucleic-acid (read carefully) called DNA for short…..” The letter ends “When you come home we will show you the model. Lots of love, Daddy”. By model he refers to the Double Helix illustrated rather crudely in the letter.
Last month this most evocative of letters was sold by Christies in New York, on behalf of the family for £3.5 million to an anonymous buyer. A world record for an autograph letter.
The following day at Heritage auctions, also in New York, further items were sold on behalf of the family. Included was Crick’s Nobel Prize medal which achieved an astonishing £1.47 million pounds. It was sold to Jack Wang, the CEO of Biomobie, a Shanghai biomedical firm who said he would have paid twice that sum had he been pushed.