The Nobel Peace Prize put up for auction by the Russian journalist Dmitri A. Muratov to help Ukrainian refugees sold Monday night for $103.5 million to an anonymous buyer, obliterating the record for a Nobel medal.
The proceeds from the auction will go to UNICEF to aid Ukrainian children and their families displaced by Russia’s invasion of their country.
Mr. Muratov is the editor in chief of the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which suspended publication in March in response to the Kremlin’s increasingly draconian press laws. In an interview with The New York Times last month, he said he was inspired to auction the award he won last year by the Danish physicist Niels Bohr, who sold his medal to help civilian relief in Finland following the Soviet invasion of that country in 1939.
“We hope that this will serve as an example for other people like a flash mob, for other people to auction their valuable possessions, their heirlooms, to help refugees, Ukrainian refugees around the world,” Mr. Muratov said in a speech from the stage before the bidding began.
The previous record for auctioning off a Nobel medal came in 2014, when the prize belonging to James Watson, who shared in the discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA, sold for $4.1 million ($4.76 million, including the commission that goes to the auction house).
Heritage Auctions, which handled the sale of Mr. Muratov’s medal, has sold five former Nobel Prizes, including the one awarded to Watson’s co-discoverer, Francis Crick. That medal sold for $2.27 million in 2013.
Josh Benesh, the chief strategy officer for Heritage Auctions, which will not take a commission on the sale, said he was flabbergasted by the final price. The bidding had been mainly cruising along in increments of $100,000 or $200,000 when it suddenly spiked from $16.6 million to $103.5 million. Gasps filled the room when a Heritage Auctions employee manning the phone relayed the figure.
“I don’t think the object mattered,” Mr. Benesh said of the 23-karat gold Nobel medal up for auction. “I think the object is a metaphor, it’s a symbol for something. It’s the opportunity to stand up and say, ‘This is a cause that has meaning and it’s a problem that a donation can begin to fix.’”
Mr. Muratov is considered the dean of Russia’s embattled independent press, and Novaya Gazeta has been lauded since its founding in 1993 for its investigative journalism and campaigns for children with rare diseases and families in distress. His words at the auction resonated with some in the crowd.
Polina Buchak, a 24-year-old Ukrainian filmmaker and activist who lives in New York, said some of her family members are refugees. She hopes the auction encourages the New York community and those around the world to not relent in their efforts to help Ukraine.
“We’re hearing the silence from everybody around us,” she said. “We get it. They’re tired, but so are we. It is in every interest of a human being that this victory comes soon.”