At the Whitman Coin Expo in Baltimore this week, one item in particular catalyzed the action in the auction room. The 1936 Nobel Peace Prize medal awarded to Argentine scholar and diplomat Carlos Saavedra Lamas, long presumed to be lost, brought a buzz to the auction room by garnering $1,116,250 before the gavel fell.
Lamas, who (among myriad other achievements) served as President of the Assembly of the League of Nations, died in 1959, and took with him the location of his medal. It purportedly did not resurface until about 20 years ago, when it was purchased for its gold content at a South American pawn shop. Eventually, after being traded several times, it was consigned to auction after being found in the course of an estate liquidation.
Even considering that the medal contains a hefty 8 troy ounces of gold, worth about $10,000 intrinsically, the collectible appeal of this one-of-a-kind item drove up bidding into the rarefied seven-figure territory. (Depending on the price of gold, the actual gold content of the Nobel Prize medals varies from year to year. 8 ounces is historically above average.) According to CoinWorld, who first published the story, this is the first Nobel Prize to be auctioned in the U.S. The last time one went up for auction anywhere was in London in 1985, when the medal awarded to Sir William Cremer in 1903 sold for five figures.
The Lamas gold medal was auctioned by Stack's Bowers at the Baltimore show. The Whitman Expo will be continuing through the weekend, concluding on March 30.