$6 Million DNA Letter: Historic Francis Crick Note Sold At Auction

A letter written by British scientist Francis Crick has fetched $6 million at a New York auction, massively exceeding expectations.

The seven-page note, a letter from Crick to his son, 12-year-old Michael, outlined the double-helix structure of the DNA molecule, which Crick and James Watson had just discovered.

The final winning bid for the letter was $5.3 million. That will rise to $6,059,750, according to auction house Christie’s.

In the handwritten letter, dated March 19, 1953, an enthusiastic Crick uses diagrams to explain to his young son how “des-oxy-ribose-nucleic-acid (read it carefully)” duplicates and encodes instructions for the development and function of living things. Before signing off with “Lots of love, Daddy,” the scientist concludes:

“In other words we think we have found the basic copying mechanism by which life comes from life.”

The $6 million DNA letter is special because it could be one of the first instances of Crick and Watson’s discovery being noted down. The findings from their landmark study did not appear in the journal Nature until April 1953, many weeks after Crick’s note to his son. Writing in the Christie’s catalogue, son Michael says:

“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 discovery.”

The letter was estimated to fetch between $1 million and $2 million at auction, but eventually trebled that prediction.

A handwritten letter from Albert Einstein to President Franklin D. Roosevelt warning about the potential of nuclear weapons sold for just over $2 million in 2002.

Crick’s family has revealed it will give half of the proceeds from the $6 million DNA letter to the Salk Institute in California, where Crick studied consciousness later in his career.

Francis Crick, who passed away in 2004, was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1962, along with colleagues James Watson and Maurice Wilkins. Crick’s Nobel Prize medal (pictured below) will go on sale Thursday, and is expected to fetch $500,000.