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The World's 4 Most Valuable Medals

Value is sometimes assigned to goods or services, but by and large, it tends to be governed by supply and demand. Just because someone slaps a price of ten dollars on a gallon of milk doesn't mean shoppers will pay it, especially if there's a competitor brand right next to it priced at five dollars. Often, the relative value of consumer goods and services is determined through a careful dance that involves market research, comparative pricing, and some amount of perceived value (added value through branding or additional features, for example).

Of course, this type of value negotiation tends to be associated with things that are readily available to the vast majority of consumers, or at least to targeted markets. Value becomes a completely different proposition when assigned to rare and collectible items. Items of historical significance, whether they have inherent value or not, can become extremely valuable to buyers for other reasons. In some cases, people are willing to pay enormous sums to own a piece of history, and what they're really buying is the story that goes along with the items. This is where value becomes a matter of who is willing to pay the most.

This is certainly the case when it comes to medals, which tend to be created and awarded to signify excellence. Some of the world's rarest and most collectible medals tend to be related to military service, athletic performance, and other great achievements, such as scientific discovery. For those of us who can't win these medals through sheer prowess, they can sometimes be bought. The question is: how much will you have to pay? Here are just a few of the world's most valuable medals and what they went for at auction.

1. James Watson's Nobel Peace Prize

Several Nobel prizes have come up for auction over the years, but the medal awarded to James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurine Wilkins in 1972 for their pioneering work in identifying the double helix structure of DNA was easily the most valuable, selling for an astonishing £2.6 million in 2014 (approximately $4 million USD at the time). When Watson put his medal up for auction, he became the first living recipient to do so.

Interestingly, Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov purchased the medal at auction with the intent of returning it to Watson, saying, "James Watson is one of the greatest biologists in the history of mankind and his award for the discovery of DNA structure must belong to him." He credits Watson's discovery with contributing immensely to research into cancer, the disease that killed his father. Usmanov asked Watson to keep the medal, but donate the proceeds of the auction to research institutions.

2. Jesse Owens's Olympic Gold Medal

One of the gold medals Jesse Owens won for track and field at the 1936 summer Olympics in Berlin sold at auction in 2013 for $1.47 million, but it's no surprise considering the historical importance of his win. Owens was hot off a record-breaking year in 1935, breaking three world records and tying a fourth at the at the Big Ten track meet in Michigan, when he was chosen to compete at the 1936 Olympic Games for Team USA.

He won four gold medals in track and field for the 100-meter sprint, the 200-meter sprint, the 4x100 relay, and the long jump. In addition to the significance of his win from a purely athletic perspective, there was the added weight of political tensions of the time to consider. Adolf Hitler had come into power and was pushing his agenda of white supremacy.

For a black man to dominate the Olympic Games in Germany was a major blow to the concept of Aryan supremacy, and one heard around the world. This was at a time when segregation was still the norm in America, but because of his achievements and the distinction he earned at the 1936 summer Olympics, Owens became a household name across the globe.

3. Jim Craig's "Miracle on Ice" Olympic Gold Medal

You may not know who Jim Craig is unless you're a hockey fan or you've seen the 2004 Disney movie 'Miracle on Ice', depicting the incredible upset in the 1980 winter Olympics at Lake Placid when the underdog U.S. men's hockey team beat the arguably far superior Soviet team and went on to win the gold medal, defying all odds. Jim Craig was the goalie of the U.S. team, and his phenomenal performance was the lynchpin of the team's ultimate success against the Russians.

We don't actually know how much Craig's "Miracle on Ice" Olympic medal is worth because when it came up for auction in June of 2017, nobody bid enough to purchase it and it went unsold. Auction house Lelands, which handled the sale of Craig's memorabilia, stated that the medal was "arguably, the most important gold medal ever to be publicly sold," with a value estimated at between $1 million and $1.5 million.

Among Craig's other memorabilia up for auction was the goalie mask he wore during the 1980 winter Olympics, which sold for $115,000. The most expensive "Miracle on Ice" gold medal to sell at auction to date belonged to teammate Mark Wells and went for $310,700 in 2010.

4. Captain Alfred Shout's Victoria Cross

The Victoria Cross (or VC) medal, awarded to members of the British armed forces (and less frequently to soldiers from Commonwealth countries) for valor in the face of the enemy, is not entirely uncommon. Hundreds were awarded from the mid-1800s on, with the vast majority bestowed on WWI and WWII soldiers.

The most valuable VC medal to come to auction belonged to Australian WWI Captain Alfred Shout for his participation in the battle at Gallipoli in 1915. Shout captured several trenches in this bloody battle before being fatally wounded, and became the most decorated Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) soldier of this infamous battle. His Victoria Cross medal went up for auction in Australia in 2006 and sold for nearly £500,000, the equivalent of about $750,000 USD at the time.

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