The Royal Society King’s Medal in gold awarded to the British scientist Sir John Frederick William Herschel, KH, FRS (1792-1871), is estimated to sell for more than £60,000 today when it is included in the sale of Orders, Medals and Decorations (opens in new tab) at Morton & Eden in London.
William Herschel was not only a highly regarded astronomer, who discovered the planet Uranus. A study he referred to as “star gazing" before anyone else, but he can be credited with significant discoveries in the science of photography. As an experimental photographer who invented the blueprint, it's thought that he introduced the terms photography, positive and negative to the English language, and he collaborated with the pioneering photographer Henry Fox Talbot.
The Royal Society’s Royal Medal, also known as the King’s Medal (or, later, Queen’s Medal), was created by George IV in 1826 as a highly-distinguished award for contributions to the ‘advancement of natural knowledge’ or ‘in the applied sciences’. It is made of solid gold and weighs almost 10 ounces, but hasn't been seen for 70 years since it last appeared at auction and sold for £150.
James Morton, Director of Morton & Eden says: “This gold medal of 1833 is outstanding not only because it is a rare and magnificent survivor from the early years of this prestigious award but also because it was presented to the extraordinary polymath Sir John Herschel."
During his lifetime, Herschel was also awarded two other Royal Society Gold Medals in 1836 and 1840, which were sold in 1951 but have now been lost. He was buried in 1871 in Westminster Abbey near Sir Isaac Newton’s tomb, (whose portrait is on the reverse of the gold medal), followed 11 years later by Charles Darwin.
The auction will take place online on 7 December 2022 (opens in new tab) and it is likely to appeal to a wide range of collectors and institutions.