Have you ever thought that a small bit of mold could be worth $14,617? Probably not, and you might not even believe such a story, but you might change your mind if you knew the mold in question was the one responsible with one of the greatest discoveries of the 20th century.
The mold was sold yesterday at the Bonhams auction for $14,617. The mold we are talking about is, of course, the first sample that led to the discovery of penicillin. It belonged to Dr. Alexander Fleming and was accompanied by a small handwritten note by Fleming himself that read “the mould that first made penicillin”.
The man who agreed to pay such a huge sum for this tiny piece of fungus did not wish to have his identity revealed. However, we have to agree that the mold constitutes quite an important piece of history and for some such a price might seem too small.
Fleming is considered to be the man who discovered penicillin. However, in 1945, he had to share a Nobel prize with Ernst Boris Chain and Howard Walter Florey for this particular finding. The experts are in no doubt that the mold sample belonged to Fleming himself. What they doubt is the fact that the original Penicillium chrysogenum test batch came from this sample.
It took some time until the world came to appreciate Fleming’s discovery. Once they recognized the value of his finding, Fleming started handing over mold samples in glass cases to different scientists and dignitaries. Some of those who received such a present are Winston Churchill, Pope Pius XII, or Marlene Dietrich.
However, some were not so happy about receiving such a gift. Kevin Brown, the archivist at the Alexander Fleming Laboratory Museum, declared that Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth II’s husband, received a new mold sample every time he met Fleming and he did not seem so happy about it.
We can understand why receiving mold as present was regarded by some people disturbing or disgusting. However, they did not understand what a big discovery this was and how important penicillin turned out to be.
Penicillin was responsible with saving the lives of 80 to 200 million people. Thus, that mold is quite an important piece of history in whose absence the world would have been much different.
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons