St. Albans: Fisher, Knight & Co., 1953.
First edition, in the rare offprint form, of one of the most important scientific papers of the twentieth century, which “records the discovery of the molecular structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the main component of chromosomes and the material that transfers genetic characteristics in all life forms. Publication of this paper initiated the science of molecular biology. Forty years after Watson and Crick’s discovery, so much of the basic understanding of medicine and disease has advanced to the molecular level that their paper may be considered the most significant single contribution to biology and medicine in the twentieth century” (One Hundred Books Famous in Medicine, p. 362). The double helix describing the molecular structure of DNA has not only reshaped biology, it has become a cultural icon, represented in sculpture, visual art, jewellery, and toys. In 1962, Watson, Crick, and Wilkins shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine “for their discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material.”
DNA was first isolated by the Swiss physician Friedrich Miescher in 1869, and over the succeeding years many researchers investigated its structure and function, with some arguing that it may be involved in genetic inheritance. By the early 1950s this had become one of the most important questions in biology. Maurice Wilkins of King's College London and his colleague Rosalind Franklin were both working on DNA, with Franklin producing X-ray diffraction images of its structure. Wilkins also introduced his friend Francis Crick to the subject, and Crick and his partner James Watson began their own investigation at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, focusing on building molecular models. After one failed attempt in which they postulated a triple-helix structure, they were banned by the Cavendish from spending any additional time on the subject. But a year later, after seeing new X-ray diffraction images taken by Franklin (notably the famous ‘Photo 51’, which is reproduced in the third paper), they resumed their work and soon announced that not only had they discovered the double-helix structure of DNA, but even more importantly, that “the specific pairing we have postulated immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism for the genetic material.”
“Although recognized today as one of the seminal scientific papers of the twentieth century, Watson and Crick’s original article in Nature was not frequently cited at first. Its true significance became apparent, and its circulation widened, only towards the end of the 1950s, when the structure of DNA they had proposed was shown to provide a mechanism for controlling protein synthesis, and when their conclusions were confirmed in the laboratory by Matthew Meselson, Arthur Kornberg, and others.
“Crick himself immediately understood the significance of his and Watson's discovery. As Watson recalled, after their conceptual breakthrough on February 28, 1953, Crick declared to the assembled lunch patrons at The Eagle that they had “found the secret of life.” Crick himself had no memory of such an announcement, but did recall telling his wife that evening “that we seemed to have made a big discovery.” He revealed that “years later she told me that she hadn't believed a word of it.” As he recounted her words, “You were always coming home and saying things like that, so naturally I thought nothing of it”” (Francis Crick Papers, National Library of Medicine, profiles.nlm.nih.gov/SC/Views/Exhibit/narrative/doublehelix.html)
“When Watson and Crick’s paper was submitted for publication in Nature, Sir Lawrence Bragg, the director of the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge, and Sir John Randall of King’s College agreed that the paper should be published simultaneously with those of two other groups of researches who had also prepared important papers on DNA: Maurice Wilkins, A.R. Stokes, and H.R. Wilson, authors of “Molecular Structure of Deoxypentose Nucleic Acids,” and Rosalind Franklin and Raymond Gosling, who submitted the paper “Molecular Configuration in Sodium Thymonucleate.” The three papers were published in Nature under the general title “The Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids” (ibid.).The offprint is printed from the same type as the journal printing. The article was set in a single column of monotype. The offprint was printed from that monotype, while the journal printing was made in double columns from stereotype plates taken from the monotype.
Grolier Club, One Hundred Books Famous in Medicine, 99; Dibner, Heralds of Science, 200. Garrison-Morton 256.3; Judson, Eighth Day of Creation, pp. 145-56.
Three papers in a single offprint from Nature, Vol. 171, No. 4356, April 25, 1953. 8vo (210 x 140 mm), pp. 7 with two diagrams (including the double helix) and two illustrations from photographs. Stapled in self-wrappers as issued. A very fine and fresh copy.