Published March 13, 2014
Carlos Saavedra Lamas, the late Argentinian foreign minister, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1936 and became the first person from Latin America to receive the prestigious honor.
But for decades after his death, the prize “fell into darkness,” said John Kraljevich, a specialist in historical medals and a consultant to Stack's Bowers. It was finally found about 20 years ago after an American collector got wind that the medal was sold at a South American pawn shop, where it was purchased for the value of its gold.
Now the 68-year-old Nobel Peace Prize is headed to the action block in Maryland. The New York-based Stack's Bowers Galleries is offering it for sale March 27 in Baltimore.
Since it was found in the pawn shop, the medal changed hands several more times until it was purchased by another American collector, whose estate is now selling it.
The 23-karat relic weighs 222.4 grams, which in today's market would make it worth $9,168 for the gold alone. As an object to collectors and world history, its value is much greater.
The award will be only the second Nobel Peace Prize to come to auction.
"I can't think of many public collections that have a Nobel Prize, never mind a Nobel Peace Prize medal," said Ute Wartenberg, executive director of the American Numismatic Society. "This is an incredible rarity."
Saavedra Lamas won the award for his role in negotiating the end of the Chaco War between Paraguay and Bolivia. A tiny file mark found on the medal's edge likely was made to determine its worth.
"Back then, you'd grind a little piece off to figure out just how fine the gold was," Kraljevich said. "Had the shop owner not recognized that it might be worth more to somebody than just the value of the bullion ... it would have been melted and thrown in with broken gold earrings."
The auction also includes the first Pulitzer Prize for Public Service to come to auction. The 14-karat gold medallion was presented to the now-defunct New York World-Telegram in 1932.
The Peace Prize is one of five Nobel awards created by the Swedish industrialist and inventor Alfred Nobel along with recognitions in chemistry, physics, medicine and literature.
Other Nobel awards have sold at auction, but the only Nobel Peace Prize known to have sold at auction is the 1903 medal awarded to Sir William Cremer of England, Stack's Bowers said. It brought nearly $17,000 at Sotheby's London in 1985.
As a historical artifact, the 1936 Peace Prize could bring $50,000 to $100,000 or more, said Kraljevich.
"It's certainly more famous than a Pulitzer. I would say it's more famous than an Olympic gold medal," Kraljevich said. "When you look at the list of past recipients, they're obviously some of the most important people to walk the face of the globe in the last 100-plus years."
The World-Telegram Pulitzer Prize is owned by the same consignor selling the Nobel Peace Prize. Kraljevich estimated it could sell for $15,000 to $30,000 but noted that could change since it's the first Pulitzer for Public Service to ever come to auction.
The public service award is the only category of the prestigious journalism and arts prize to be awarded a gold medal; the others receive monetary awards.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.