Bonhams : FLEMING (SIR ALEXANDER) Presentation sample of penicillin, mounted by Fleming in the original medallion presentation case, with autograph covering letter, London, 12 and 13 December 1946
FLEMING (SIR ALEXANDER) Presentation sample of penicillin, mounted by Fleming in the original medallion presentation case, with autograph covering letter, London, 12 and 13 December 1946

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Lot 163
FLEMING (SIR ALEXANDER)
Presentation sample of penicillin, mounted by Fleming in the original medallion presentation case, with autograph covering letter, London, 12 and 13 December 1946

Sold for £ 18,812 (US$ 24,074) inc. premium
FLEMING (SIR ALEXANDER)
Presentation sample of penicillin, mounted by Fleming in the original medallion presentation case, the reverse inscribed by him (in red ink of the type used to annotate slides): "To/ Miss Inger Knop/ with kind regards// Penicillium notatum// Alexander Fleming// Dec.12 1946", with the original autograph covering letter signed ("Alexander Fleming"), written the following day sending it to Miss Knop: "A lucky charm for 1947./ A culture of the penicillium which I found at St Mary's Hospital in 1928, and which was the beginning of penicillin./ It brought me much luck perhaps it will you"; plus the original envelope (printed with the warning: 'Fragile – With Care/ Pathological Specimen'); plus the original fitted card case, and a stamped return address printed with the name of R.B. Turner & Co Ltd of London [listed in the 1940 edition of The Chemist and Druggist as 'manufacturer and dealer in scientific and chemical apparatus, surgical and dental instruments']; and transcripts of letters by Miss Knop to her brother and one to her from Fleming, Fleming's letter 1 page, 8vo; the sample in a spectacle-glass medallion case with black plastic surround, 53mm. diameter, London, 12 and 13 December 1946

Footnotes

  • 'A CULTURE OF THE PENICILLIUM WHICH I FOUND AT ST MARY'S HOSPITAL IN 1928, AND WHICH WAS THE BEGINNING OF PENICILLIN – ALEXANDER FLEMING', a fine example of one of the mould medallions produced by Fleming from the original samples in his laboratory at St Mary's: 'Using his usual ingenuity and imaginative approach to laboratory techniques, he invented a method of growing the penicillin on discs of blotting paper, which he then fixed with formalin and mounted between sheets of spectacle glass enclosed by tortoiseshell or gold rims' (Kevin Brown, Penicillin Man: Alexander Fleming and the Antibiotic Revolution, 2004, p.176).

    As he drily notes in his letter to his Danish friend, the discovery of penicillin had indeed brought Fleming "much luck" in recent years: 'The high profile given to penicillin changed Fleming's standing in science and medicine. On 18 March 1943 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, a position he had sought for some twenty years. In 1944 he was made a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and knighted, and in October 1945 he received with Florey and Chain the Nobel prize for physiology and medicine' (Michael Worboys, ODNB).

    Recipients of these unconventional medallions, of which ours is an early example, included Pope Pius XII (who was given a prototype stuck together with Elastoplast in return for a papal medal when he received Fleming in audience in 1945), the Queen Mother, Prince Philip, Marlene Dietrich, Churchill and Roosevelt: 'These insignificant-looking artefacts soon took on the status of holy relics, and indeed one of them, given by Fleming to Edgar Lawley, Vice-Chairman of St Mary's Board of Governors and a Trustee of the Wright Fleming Institute, in 1952, was actually mounted in a gold desk stand reminiscent of the medieval reliquaries used to house saints' body parts or fragments of the true cross' (Brown, pp.176-7).
Contacts
FLEMING (SIR ALEXANDER) Presentation sample of penicillin, mounted by Fleming in the original medallion presentation case, with autograph covering letter, London, 12 and 13 December 1946
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