The Nobel Peace Prize, which was auctioned off by Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov to raise money for Ukrainian refugee children, sold for $103.5 million Monday night, breaking the previous record for a Nobel Prize.
A spokesman for Heritage Auctions, which handled the sale, could not confirm the identity of the buyer but said the winning bid was placed by proxy. The $103.5 million sale is equivalent to 100 million Swiss francs, suggesting the buyer is overseas.
“I was hoping there would be tremendous solidarity, but I didn’t expect it to be so much,” Muratov said in an interview after bidding in the nearly three-week auction that ended on World Refugee Day.
Previously, $4.76 million was paid for a Nobel Prize medal in 2014 when James Watson, whose co-discovery of the structure of DNA earned him a Nobel Prize in 1962, sold his medal. Three years later, the family of his fellow recipient, Francis Crick, received $2.27 million in bids, also conducted by Heritage Auctions.
Muratov, who was awarded the gold medal in October 2021, helped found the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta and was the publication’s editor-in-chief when it was shut down in March due to the Kremlin’s crackdown on journalists and public dissent following the Russian invasion of the Ukraine.
It was Muratov’s idea to auction his prize, having already announced that he would donate the accompanying $500,000 prize to charity.
Muratov said the proceeds will go directly to UNICEF to help children displaced by the war in Ukraine. Just minutes after the bidding ended, UNICEF informed the auction house that the money had already been received.
Online bidding began on June 1 to coincide with the celebration of International Children’s Day. Many bids were received by telephone or online. The telephone contract catapulted the tender from a low million to astronomical heights.
Muratov left Russia on Thursday for his trip to New York City, where live bidding began Monday night.
Early Monday, the top bid was just $550,000. The purchase price had been expected to go upwards – but not above $100 million.
“I can not believe it. i am awesome I personally am stunned. I am impressed. I don’t really know what happened in there,” said Joshua Benesh, Heritage Auctions’ chief strategy officer.
“We knew there had been a tremendous increase in interest over the past few days from people who were moved by Dimitry’s story, by Dimitry’s generosity, which the global audience was listening to tonight,” he said.
Muratov and Heritage officials said even those who didn’t participate in the bid can still help by donating directly to UNICEF.
Muratov shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Filipino journalist Maria Ressa last year.
The two journalists, each receiving their own medals, were honored for their fight to uphold freedom of expression in their respective countries despite being targeted by harassment, their governments and even death threats.
Melted down, the 175 grams of 23-karat gold in Muratov’s medal would be worth around $10,000.
Muratov has criticized Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the war that began in February, which caused nearly 5 million Ukrainians to flee to other countries for security reasons, leading to the biggest humanitarian crisis in Europe since World War II.
Independent journalists in Russia have come under scrutiny, if not outright government targets, by the Kremlin. Since Putin came to power more than two decades ago, nearly two dozen journalists have been killed, including at least four who worked for Muratov’s newspaper.
In April, Muratov said he was attacked on a red-painted Russian train.
Since its inception in 1901, nearly 1,000 Nobel Prize winners have been recognized for achievements in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and peacebuilding.
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