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How Much Is A Nobel Prize Medal Worth?

John Nash, winner of the 1994 Nobel Prize in economics, giving a lecture in 2007.
Rajanish Kakade
Hindustan Times via Getty Images
John Nash, winner of the 1994 Nobel Prize in economics, giving a lecture in 2007.

Sotheby's is auctioning the Nobel Prize in economics awarded to John Nash, the mathematician known both for his work on game theory and for his life story as portrayed in the movie A Beautiful Mind.

Both the gold medal and the handwritten certificate that came with it are up for sale, and Sotheby's estimates the award will bring in between $2.5 million and $4 million.

The auction is scheduled for Monday at 2 p.m., ET in New York.

Nash was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics in 1994 for work he did as a graduate student at Princeton University decades earlier. In between, he had suffered from schizophrenia that made it difficult for him to work.

"I became first disturbed in 1959, and I didn't hear voices until the summer of 1964 I think. But then after that, I heard voices, and then I began arguing with the concept of the voices," he said in the PBS documentary A Brilliant Madness. "A delusional state of mind is like living a dream."

In a 2004 interview with Nash published on the Nobel Prize website, he said winning the award "had a tremendous impact on my life, more than on the life of most [Nobel] Prize winners because I was in an unusual situation. I was unemployed at the time."

Nash and his wife, Alicia, died in a car crash in 2015.

This is not the first Nobel Prize to be sold at public auction, and they often bring in tens of thousands of dollars, if not millions.

Last year alone, the 1963 physiology or medicine prize awarded to Alan Lloyd Hodgkin sold for $795,614, the 1988 physics prize awarded to Leon Lederman went for $765,002 and the 1971 economics prize awarded to Simon Kuznets brought in $390,848.

The prizes awarded to both James Watson and Francis Crick for the discovery of DNA have gone to auction. Crick's sold for $2.27 million in 2013, and his family told the auction house handling the sale that the proceeds would go to the Francis Crick Institute for medical research in London.

Watson's sale of his medal was both more fruitful and more fraught. After Christie's sold it for a stunning $4.75 million in 2014, the Russian billionaire who bought it returned the medal to Watson, saying "In my opinion, a situation in which an outstanding scientist has to sell a medal recognizing his achievements is unacceptable," as we have reported.

But selling a Nobel Prize isn't necessarily guaranteed to bring in big money. A May 2016 auction for the 1982 physics prize awarded to Kenneth Wilson failed to reach the $450,000 minimum bid (it's currently back on sale in an auction that ends later this month).

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Rebecca Hersher (she/her) is a reporter on NPR's Science Desk, where she reports on outbreaks, natural disasters, and environmental and health research. Since coming to NPR in 2011, she has covered the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, embedded with the Afghan army after the American combat mission ended, and reported on floods and hurricanes in the U.S. She's also reported on research about puppies. Before her work on the Science Desk, she was a producer for NPR's Weekend All Things Considered in Los Angeles.
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