The gold medal, thought to be the first Nobel Prize for Literature awarded in 1902 to German historian Theodor Mommsen, had been estimated to top $400,000 at auction in New York in January.
Its appearance on the market sparked consternation from Mommsen’s descendants who had given the original medal of a quite different design to the Marbach archives 14 year ago. It is the oldest Nobel Prize for literature as no medal was awarded in the category in 1901, the first year of the Nobel Prize. To the verso is a motif of a young man writing together with a muse holding a lyre.
It is unclear if the Heritage medal, that carries Mommsen’s name, is a counterfeit or a later striking. It depicts a personification of nature rising from the clouds alongside the genius of science – a design typically associated with Nobel Prize medals awarded for achievements in Physics and Chemistry.
Heritage Auctions spokesman Eric Bradley said after the withdrawal: “Although this piece is indeed a real Nobel Prize gold medal, Heritage Auctions has determined the award is not the one bestowed to Theodor Mommsen. We continue to look into this medal and it will be returned to the current owner.”
Heritage Auctions has sold several Nobel Prize gold medals in recent years, achieving more than $2.2m for Francis Crick’s medal and diploma awarded for discoveries in human DNA.