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Lot #6049
Niels Bohr's Gold 1957 'Atoms for Peace' Award and (2) Danish Medals

Niels Bohr's 18K gold 1957 'Atoms for Peace' award, presented by President Dwight D. Eisenhower


Estimate: $250000+
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UPDATE: The New York Times covered the award ceremony in a column on March 15, 1957.


Niels Bohr's 18K gold 1957 'Atoms for Peace' award, presented by President Dwight D. Eisenhower

Extraordinary collection of medals awarded to Dr. Niels Bohr, who made fundamental contributions to the understanding of atomic structure and quantum theory, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922—a medal that he auctioned off himself in 1940 to benefit the Finnish Relief Fund, which now resides in the Danish Historical Museum in Fredriksborg. A philosopher of science and promoter of scientific research, he went on to become a premier advocate for peaceful international cooperation on nuclear energy. This collection features three of Bohr's significant medals: his historic gold Atoms for Peace Award, his Danish Golden Medal of Merit with Crown, and his Danish Galathea Medal in Silver.

The highlight of the collection is the Atoms for Peace Award presented to Bohr in 1957 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Gold (marked "18K" on edge), 79 mm, 346 gm, by the Medallic Art Co., New York. The front features allegorical figures representing peace and science, over the legend: "For the benefit of mankind"; the reverse features a symbol representing an atom, with text above: "The Atoms for Peace Award, A Memorial to Henry Ford and Edsel Ford." The top edge is engraved, "Niels Henrik David Bohr - 1957," and the bottom edge is stamped with the maker's mark and fineness. Housed in its original navy blue leather presentation case. Includes an original program from the presentation of the award.

In his 'Atoms for Peace' speech before the United Nations on December 8, 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower called for efforts in nuclear technology research to re-focus on its capacity for making progress for humankind, rather than on the development of weapons of war. In response to that goal, Henry Ford II, Benson Ford, and Henry Clay Ford proposed that the Ford Motor Company Fund authorize an appropriation of one million dollars—to be granted at a rate of $100,000 annually for ten years—to recognize outstanding contributions to the peaceful application of nuclear energy. A board of trustees was named to identify and select the individual who had made the greatest contribution to the development of peaceful uses of atomic energy, awarding them with a cash honorarium accompanied by a commemorative gold medal. If the board failed to discover a candidate meriting recognition, the award would be held over to the following year.

Niels Bohr became the first to be recognized as an Atoms for Peace Award recipient, and was personally presented with the medal by President Eisenhower on October 24, 1957. In his remarks, Eisenhower praised Bohr's lifelong dedication to scientific inquiry: 'In honoring Dr. Bohr, we pay tribute to a great man, one whose mind has explored the mysteries of the inner structure of the atom, and whose spirit has reached into the very hearts of men….By disclosing the secrets of nature and in particular those of the atom, science makes possible new technologies by which these secrets are applied. The world now has a choice between the technology of abundance and the technology of destruction—between the use of power for constructive purposes or for war and desolation…Our country has sought to encourage the application of atomic energy in the arts of peace—toward the end of happiness and well-being for all men and women. So, in saluting and honoring Dr. Bohr in the presentation of the first Atoms for Peace Award, which the Ford family has so thoughtfully provided, we give recognition to a scientist and a great human being who exemplifies principles the world sorely needs—the spirit of friendly scientific inquiry, and the peaceful use of the atom for the satisfaction of human needs.'

The other medals are:

A Danish Medal of Merit in Gold with Crown, 37 mm, 59 gm, engraved "Niels Henrik David Bohr" on the bottom edge, suspended from its original red-and-white ribbon. The front features the portrait of King Christian X of Denmark, and the reverse features a wreath with "Fortient" at center. This medal is an extreme rarity, as it was awarded just four times during the long reign of Christian X.

A Danish Galathea Medal in Silver, 30 mm, 17 gm, suspended from its original red-and-white ribbon. Established by King Frederik IX, this medal was awarded to recognize individuals who assisted in creating, and participated, in the Scientific Danish Deep Sea Expedition between September 1, 1950 and July 17, 1952; Niels Bohr was a member of this executive committee.

This remarkable collection symbolizes Niels Bohr's foundational contributions to the modern understanding of the atom, as well as his advocacy for peaceful nuclear research. The hopes and hazards of nuclear technology remain at the forefront of scientific inquiry today: scientists continue to seek new, cleaner ways to power modern life, and the world has been reminded of the importance of non-proliferation given Russia's suspension of its last nuclear arms treaty with the United States and invasion of Ukraine.

Auction Info

  • Auction Title: Remarkable Rarities
  • Dates: #669 - Ended September 23, 2023