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Dad's Note To 12-Year Old Son Sells For $6 Million

Tuesday, 28 May 2013 | 2:20 PM ET
Source: Christie's

It's a handwritten letter from a father to his 12-year-old son, but it's not any dad writing to his preteen about the secrets of the world. This one penned by Nobel Laureate Francis Crick and tell about his new discovery, "des-oxy-ribose-nucleic acid," commonly known today as D.N.A.

At Christie's auction house, the double-sided, seven page note sold to anonymous buyer for a whopping $5.3M at auction – more than twice its high estimate. With the buyer's premium, the total cost came to $6,059,750.

The so-called "secret of life" letter was written to Crick's son Michael in 1953, shortly after Crick and his research partner James Watson discovered the double-helix structure of DNA. At the time, Michael was in the infirmary at his boarding school, and may not have been easy reading for the ill 12 year old to understand. Nevertheless, Crick stressed the significance of the information inside.

The 'Secret of Life' For $1 Million+
Tuesday, 9 Apr 2013 | 12:00 AM ET
It's been sixty years since scientists cracked the code of DNA. Now, a letter from the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA is hitting the auction block and contains the 'secret of life.' Be prepared to pay seven figures for this letter, which is up for grabs at Christie's on April 10. CNBC's Robert Frank explains in this Million Dollar Minute.

"Read this carefully so that you understand it," Crick wrote.

The letter outlines how D.N.A. is replicated, the process through which the genetic material is passed into a new cell, and includes sketches of the twisting structure of D.N.A., a groundbreaking idea at the time. Crick and Watson were in competition with two other groups of scientists to see who could discover the molecule's shape first.

The 60-year-old letter was written three weeks after Crick and Watson's discovery and before their findings were released to the world in the scientific journal, Nature.

Tom Lecky, head of Books and Manuscripts at Christie's, who hosted the sale April 10th, explained the importance of the information contained in the letter.

"You're seeing him not only working out these ideas – and of course he was out of necessity trying to boil this down and make it into a coherent understandable form – but also illustrating it, which was one of the key elements of the published paper," Lecky said.

"The great history it contains certainly warrants ... one of the strongest prices a modern letter has ever brought," Lecky said. Also boosting the value is the letter's personal nature. How often is a scientific discovery signed, "Lots of love, daddy"?

The Nobel Prize medal won by Francis Crick, also featured in the Million Dollar Minute, was sold at Heritage Auctions the following day for $2.27 million.