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 Wallaces 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 Wallaces thrilling and indeed inspiring travel books when he was a young boy, regards Wallace as a hero. In Sir David Attenboroughs 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 Auctioneers 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 Wallaces 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 Wallaces line of thought to Darwins own.
What then transpired, however, was that the two theories were presented together, Wallaces paper, together with extracts from Darwins 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 Wallaces 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 Wallaces 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 Wallaces death, a bronze sculpture by Anthony Smith portraying the naturalists 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.
Wallaces medals are offered by direct descent.