John F. Nash (A Beautiful Mind) Nobel Prize heads to auction ... again
In 2016, the Nobel Prize of John Forbes Nash Junior went to auction with an official estimate of US$2.5 million to $4.0 million and even higher expectations. The medal failed to make reserve and was passed in, cooling expectations in the Nobel prize marketplace. Now the medal is heading to auction again with a far more conservative $500,000 to $800,000 official estimate, but with an academy-award-winning movie behind the story, unofficial expectations remain high.
In April 2013, a Nobel Prize medal won by Francis Crick for the discovery of the structure of DNA sold for $2,270,500 – 50 times more than any prior Nobel Prize medal had ever fetched at auction. The high price immediately catalyzed a new marketplace in Nobel Prize medals and when the Nobel Prize auction record doubled to $4,757,000 in 2014, the previously hallowed medal for advancing humankind's knowledge had garnered some serious credibility on the auction block. Nobel prizes now routinely sell for more than $500,000 at auction.
Not all Nobel prizes are created equally, though, and those two astonishing prices were both for the discovery of the structure of DNA, one of the landmark scientific discoveries in history. The $4,757,000 was paid for James Watson’s 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine – the medal he shared with Crick.
Since then there have been many high-priced medals, but only two have exceeded $1,000,000. The first was the $1,116,250 fetched in March, 2014 for the 1936 Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Argentinian Carlos Saavedra Lamas.
The second million-dollar-plus sale occurred earlier this year when the 1974 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences awarded to Friedrich von Hayek sold for £1,155,000 (US $1,516,833). Von Hayek may not be generally recognized as one of mankind’s greatest contributors, but he unquestionably was one of the great intellectual figures of the 20th century.
The Economist called him, “the Century’s greatest champion of economic liberalism" and the Sotheby’s auction description described him thus: "His writings as an economist and political philosopher, and especially his explanation of the relationship between market forces and personal freedom, have had a profound impact in shaping the modern world. His ideas and his books, notably ‘The Road to Serfdom’, transcend the academy. They were both a key part of the intellectual ferment that undermined the Soviet bloc, and have influenced generations of free-market policy-makers in the West and around the world."
Even America’s much-loved eccentric genius and best known scientist Richard Feynman couldn’t crack the million-dollar mark for his Nobel prize when it fetched $975,000 last year in another landmark auction where his famous papers fetched unprecedented amounts.
Similarly, the auction block can throw up some remarkable results. Earlier this year, the Nobel Prize of another of the world’s best known and most respected scientists went to auction and drew but a fraction of what was expected. The Nobel Prize in Physics awarded to Niels Bohr in 1975 for his significant contributions to atomic theory inexplicably sold for just $108,000.
The 1994 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences won by John Forbes Nash however, is a different matter. As we have endlessly demonstrated in our research, film, television or any type of media provenance generally multiplies the value of an object many times, and the captivating story of the American mathematician who made fundamental contributions to human understanding of game theory then battled mental illness won four academy awards as a movie.
Nash’s struggles with mental illness and his recovery became the basis for Sylvia Nasar's biography, A Beautiful Mind, as well as the film of the same name starring Russell Crowe, and made Nash's story internationally known.
In addition to the 1994 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, a treasure trove of John Forbes Nash memorabilia will also sell at this Christie’s auction, including the 1994 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences awarded to Reinhard Selten (for his contributions to Game Theory, specifically refining the Nash equilibrium concept for analyzing dynamic strategic interaction), plus a number of handwritten lectures and his original doctoral thesis.