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Scientist Alfred Russel Wallace medals, co-discoverer of evolution, to be auctioned by Morton & Eden
The Linnean Society of London, Darwin-Wallace Medal, in gold, by Frank Bowcher, commissioned by the Society to mark the 50th Anniversary of reading of joint papers by Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace “On the Tendency of Species to form Varieties; and on the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection” on 1st July 1858. Est: £10,000-15,000.

LONDON.- Alfred Russel Wallace OM, FRS (1823-1913), was one of the greatest scientists and evolutionary thinkers of the modern era. Together with his contemporary Charles Darwin, Wallace is acknowledged as the co-founder of the theory of natural selection, more commonly termed today as evolution.

In recognition of his many scientific achievements, Wallace received a number of prestigious medals and awards during his lifetime including the important Darwin-Wallace medal in gold awarded by the Linnean Society of London (est: £10,000-15,000) and the Order of Merit (est: £12,000-£15,000).

These along with others from Wallace’s collection are to be offered at auction in London by Morton & Eden on 20 July. The group of 9 significant medals will be sold individually with an overall collective estimate in excess of £52,000.

Sir David Attenborough, who first encountered Wallace’s “thrilling and indeed inspiring travel books” when he was a young boy, regards Wallace as a hero. In Sir David Attenborough’s opinion; “For me there is no more admirable character in the history of science”. A naturalist, geographer, an intrepid explorer, anthropologist, biologist, ornithologist, spiritualist, writer, poet and illustrator, Wallace was also, like Sir David Attenborough, acutely aware of the potentially dangerous environmental impact of human activity on our planet. Aside from many shared passions, Sir David Attenborough, like Wallace, was also awarded the Order of Merit in addition to being a Fellow of the Royal Society plus other shared learned societies.

James Morton, Director of Auctioneer’s Morton & Eden, said: “It is a huge honour to offer these medals at auction. Medals of such historic significance are extremely rare and they bear testament to Wallace’s enormous contribution to the revolutionary scientific discoveries of the 19th century which remain hugely relevant today.”

Wallace formed his theory of natural selection and the origin of species at the same time as Charles Darwin was independently developing his own research into what has since become more generally termed ‘evolution’.

When Wallace sent Darwin a draft of his paper ‘On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely From the Original Type’ early in 1858, Darwin wrote despairingly “all my originality, whatever it may amount to, will be smashed”, so similar was Wallace’s line of thought to Darwin’s own.

What then transpired, however, was that the two theories were presented together, Wallace’s paper, together with extracts from Darwin’s unpublished work, at the historic meeting of the Linnean Society on 1 July 1858.

What could have developed into a fierce professional rivalry in fact became, particularly on Wallace’s part, a relationship based on mutual respect and deference. Their relationship was described by the President of the Linnean Society Dr D H Scott in 1908 as “a generous rivalry in which each discoverer strives to exalt the claims of the other…….”.

In fact After Wallace’s death in 1913 a portrait plaque by Albert Bruce-Joy was erected in Westminster Abbey in 1915, next to the existing memorial to Darwin, who had died in 1882.

One hundred years later in 2013, to mark the Centenary of Wallace’s death, a bronze sculpture by Anthony Smith portraying the naturalist’s 1859 pursuit of the spectacular Golden Birdwing butterfly was unveiled at the Natural History Museum, where many thousands of the specimens collected by Wallace in his expeditions are housed and studied.

A prolific writer, during his lifetime Wallace published numerous essays as well as more than 20 books including The Malay Archipelago (1869), Darwinism (1889) and his autobiography My Life (1905), as well as lesser-known works concerned with social criticism, Mesmerism, Spiritualism and even, as late as 1907, his consideration of possible extraterrestrial life in Is Mars Habitable?

Wallace, who lived to the great age of 90 was a pure scientist and never sought self-publicity. Ever modest concerning his own great achievements, Wallace famously remarked to his editor that he had become “rather tired of medals”, although his correspondence reveals otherwise.

Wallace’s medals are offered by direct descent.

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