Lot 81
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Chadwick, James

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  • Chadwick, James
  • The 1935 Nobel Prize medal and diploma for physics presented to James Chadwick for his discovery of the neutron
  • gold medal, documents and books
Nobel gold medal by Erik Lundberg, bust of Alfred Nobel facing left; alfr•nobel in left field; nat• / mdccc / xxxiii / ob• / mdccc / xcvi in field right; signed lower left edge (incuse) e•lindberg 1902, reverse, allegorical vignette of Science unveiling Nature, legend inventas•vitam•iuvat•excoluisse•per•artes around; in exergual area, j•chadwick / mcmxxxv engraved on plaque, to either side of plaque, reg•acad•—scient•suec•, signed to right of figure of Scientia, erik / lindberg; rim marked guld 1935 (Kungliga Mynt och Justeringsverket [Swedish Royal Mint]) diameter 67 mm (2 5/8 in.), weight 6.6 troy oz. (23 carat); a few edge knocks and test cuts, with rubbing at high spots. Housed in maroon morocco gilt case, gilt dentelles; suede and satin interior; some rubbing  to extremities. —

Nobel Prize Diploma, 2 vellum leaves (each 14 x 10 1/8 in.; 357 x 257 mm) with calligraphic inscriptions in Swedish within gilt and gouache architectonic frames by Elsa O. Noreen, signed by the President and Secretary of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Mounted as linings in a blue morocco portfolio, covers elaborately gilt-paneled with interlocking cipher an cornerpieces, front cover with central cartouche of laurel leaves incorporating a stylized "JC," rear cover with central device of a star with emanating gilt rays surrounded by four crowns, dense gilt dentelles surrounding vellum panels of diploma; very lightly darkened at edges. Housed in fleece-lined blue cloth drop-spine box; a little rubbed at extremities. —

Accompanied by a number of other awards and related materials given to Chadwick throughout his career, including the Mackenzie-Davidson Medal of the British Institute of Radiology, bronze, 1932; the Melchett Medal of the Energy Institute, bronze, 1946; the Copley Medal of the Royal Society of London, silver-gilt, 1950; the Faraday Medal of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, bronze, 1950; and the Guthrie Medal and Prize of the Physical Society and Institute of Physics, bronze, 1967. The Melchett, Copley, and Faraday medals are all accompanied by original diplomas. Also accompanied by a number of published book and other secondary sources that discuss Chadwick’s life and career. A full inventory of the ancillary materials is available on sothebys.com or from the Books and Manuscripts Department.


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Catalogue Note

The discovery of the neutron by Sir James Chadwick in 1932 must surely rank as one of the most significant scientific events of all time, leading as it did to the first atom bomb. Few discoveries have so directly shaped the course of history. Small wonder that Chadwick was not only awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics, but also a knighthood by King George VI and the Medal for Merit by President Truman.

The existence of nuclear capability has arguably been the key to restricting mankind to conventional weaponry when conflict arises and  may have helped prevent the outbreak of another world war. And nuclear power remains an indisputably relevant, albeit controversial, alternative source for fuel.

Yet, fascinatingly, high on Chadwick’s list of benefits to be derived from his discovery of the neutron was medicine—hence his investment of his Nobel Prize money in an early example of a cyclotron machine, when he moved from Cambridge to Liverpool University. Designed at Cal Berkeley by Ernest Lawrence (recipient of the Nobel for Physics in 1939), the apparatus enabled Chadwick to work on a neutron therapy to combat cancer, pioneering work that today is recognized by fast neutron radiotherapy (FNT) and boron neutron capture therapy (BNCT).

Despite being able to lay claim to diverse and towering accolades, Chadwick never lost his natural capacity for modesty—to always recognize important research undertaken by assorted predecessors and contemporaries—and his enduring capacity to face personal challenges with immense determination. He was no stranger to hardship, for, on being awarded a Research Fellowship from the Royal Commission shortly before World War I, he elected to study beta radiation under Hans Geiger in Germany, and was consequently interned in a camp at Ruhleben for the duration of hostilities.

Above all, however, stood Chadwick’s remarkable powers of diplomacy: but for this, it is perfectly feasible that the race to create an atom bomb during World War II would have been lost. Chadwick, as Chief of the British Mission of Physicists 1943-45, worked between Washington, D.C., and Los Alamos, and brought cohesion to the assembled team of international team of scientists. A byword for honesty and trust, he won the full backing of General Leslie Groves, who was placed in overall command of the atom bomb project. But to really understand the importance of Chadwick’s part in the race that culminated in the end of hostilities in 1945, one needs to turn back the clock to 1941, when he alone—amidst devastating German raids on Liverpool—took the project further:

“I remember the spring of 1941 to this day. I realized then that a nuclear bomb was not only possible—it was inevitable. Sooner or later these ideas could not be peculiar to us. Everybody would think about them before long, and some country would put them to action. And I had nobody to talk to. You see, the chief people in the laboratory were Frisch and Rotblat. However high my opinion of them was, they were not citizens of this country, and the others were quite young boys. And there was nobody to talk to about it. I had many sleepless nights. But I did realize how very, very serious it could be. And I had then to start taking sleeping pills. It was the only remedy.”

Chadwick’s subsequent MAUD (Military Application of Uranium Detonation) Committee Report, which landed on Franklin Roosevelt’s desk in October 1941, quickly convinced the President to invest the resources and finances required to deliver the first atom bomb, via the Manhattan Project. It has been said but for Chadwick’s independent actions in 1939-41 that the closing stages of the war may have been very different, and that the Allies would have suffered appallingly in terms of additional casualties.

It was really Chadwick’s report—and not Einstein’s celebrated 1939 letter to FDR—that prompted the Manhattan Project. (Einstein’s letter resulted only in the establishment of the U.S. Uranium Committee.) Even Robert Oppenheimer would later concede that the U.S. atom bomb project was all but doomed until the timely arrival of Chadwick’s report, owing to endless prevarication and the absence of compelling factual focus.

Chadwick was present at the successful first A-bomb test at Los Alamos with William Lawrence, a reporter for The New York Times, who later observed that “never before in history had any man lived to see his own discovery materialize itself with such telling effect on the destiny of man.” Chadwick’s place in history was assured, but he was not yet done, as he would be the British scientific advisor to the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission in 1945-46. There, he was the driving force in lobbying for Britain's entry into the “nuclear club,” which in his lifetime would also come to also include the U.S.S.R., France, and China.


Inventory of ancillary materials accompanying the James Chadwick Nobel Prize medal and diploma

1. The Mackenzie-Davidson Medal of the British Institute of Radiology, bronze, 1932, diameter 57 mm (2 ¼ in.), inscribed on bottom of rim JAMES CHADWICK, PH.D., F.R.S., 7th DECEMBER 1932, housed in original diced red morocco case.

2. The Melchett Medal of the Institute of Fuel (now the Energy Institute), bronze, 1946, diameter 63 mm (2 ½ in.), inscribed on reverse SIR JAMES CHADWICK 1946, housed in black cloth box. Accompanied by original calligraphic Melchett Medal certificate on vellum (16 ¾ x12 ½ in.; 425 x 318 mm), Westminster, 9 October 1946, signed by the President and Secretary of the Institute of Fuel and with its embossed seal.

3. The Copley Medal of the Royal Society of London, silver-gilt, 1950, diameter 57 mm (2 ¼ in.), inscribed on bottom of rim SIR JAMES CHADWICK, F.R.S., 1950, housed in original blue morocco box. Accompanied by original printed Copley Medal certificate on paper (12 ½ x 9 ½ in.; 317 x 242 mm), signed by the President and Secretaries of the Royal Society, London, St. Andrew’s Day [30 November] 1950, the certificate held in a blue morocco portfolio gilt with the arms of the Royal Society.

4. The Faraday Medal of the Institution of Electrical Engineers (now the Institution of Engineering and Technology), bronze, 1950, diameter 72 mm (3 in.), embossed on the obverse 28TH AWARD OF FARADAY MEDAL TO SIR JAMES CHADWICK FRS, housed in original maroon calf case. Accompanied by original calligraphic Faraday Medal certificate on vellum (17 ¾ x 13 ¾ in.; 452 x 350 mm), signed by the President, Secretary, and a Member of the Council of the Institution and with its embossed red paper seal, certificate rolled and preserved in original red cloth tube.

5. The Guthrie Medal and Prize of the Physical Society and Institute of Physics, bronze, 1967, diameter 63 mm (2 ½ in.), inscribed on bottom of rim 1967 JAMES CHADWICK, housed in original brown cloth case.

6. H. Schück and R. Sohlman. Alfred Nobel. London: William Heinemann, 1929. 4to. Limited edition, no. 64 of 100 copies printed for the Nobel Foundation, inscribed on the front free endpaper: “To Professor J. Chadwick with the compliments of the Nobel Foundation and of the authors.” Publisher’s half art vellum; soiled and very rubbed.

7. Photographic portrait of Chadwick (8 x 6 1/8 in.; 204 x 157 mm), silver print, tipped to a mat, the mat signed “Burrell & Hardman Liverpool,” and with studio label on verso.

8. 2 autograph letters signed by Judith Chadwick, daughter of James Chadwick, 5 March and 12 July [2000], one noting that “it was always Sir James’s wish that the neutron would be used for the treatment of cancer patients,” accompanied by original envelopes.

9. The Signatures in the First Journal-Book and the Charter-Book of the Royal Society: Being a Facsimile of the Signatories of the Founders Patrons and Fellows of the Society from the year 1660 down to the Present Time. London: Printed for the Royal Society at the Oxford University Press, 1936. Large folio. Publisher’s half buckram; very rubbed. Presumably presented to Chadwick at the time he received the Copley Medal.

10. A large group of reference books and secondary research materials: Sir Ernest Rutherford, James Chadwick, and C. D. Ellis, Radiations from Radioactive Substances (Cambridge, 1951); Sir James Chadwick, Radioactivity and Radioactive Substances (New York, 1953); Les Prix Nobel en 1935 (Stockholm, 1937); Ferenc Morton Szasz, British Scientists and the Manhattan Project (London, 1992); Reports of the Experts submitted to the Joint Palestine Survey Commission … October 1, 1928; Hector Bolitho, Alfred Mond, First Lord Melchett (London, 1933); Roy Hayman, The Institute of Fuel: The First 50 Years (London, 1977); John L. Lewis, 125 Years: The Physical Society and the Institute of Physics (Bristol and Philadelphia, 1999); W. J. Reader, A History of The Institution of Electrical Engineers 1871–1971 (London, 1987); McGeorge Bundy, Danger and Survival: Choices About the Bomb in the First Fifty Years (New York, 1988); Mary Catterall and David K. Bewley, Fast Neutrons in the Treatment of Cancer (London and New York, 1979); W. V. Mayneord, Some Applications of Nuclear Physics to Medicine (London, 1950); P. Schofield, ed., The Neutron and its Applications, 1982 (Bristol and London, 1983); Andrew Brown, The Neutron and the Bomb: A Biography of Sir James Chadwick (Oxford, 1997); Graham Farmelo, Churchill’s Bomb: How the United States Overtook Britain in the First Nuclear Arms Race (New York, 2013); 4 portfolios of research materials, mostly photocopies, compiled by the present owner, regarding Chadwick’s life and research; his Nobel Prize; and his other scientific awards and honors.