Michael Morgan on Wellcome Trust's Acquistion of the Francis Crick Papers
  Michael Morgan     Biography    
Recorded: 08 May 2008

So that the contact regarding the Wellcome Trust is that Henry Wellcome himself was one of the world’s greatest collectors. He was what you could only describe as an eclectic collector. He collected everything. He had people going around the world looking at lots that came up for auction if it had any item with any interest to medical history. He would buy the whole thing. So when he died there were warehouses all around the U.K. stuffed with stuff – the first job of the initial trustee was to get rid of a lot of this stuff. A lot of this stuff should not have been got rid of, by the way. But that’s what happened.

So by the time the incident with the Crick papers unfolded– the Trust had already established the largest library for the history of medicine outside of North America and had an academic program in the history of medicine. But as far as I know they had never ever ventured into buying anything that cost a lot of money. So I got the phone call from Jim telling me about this guy Norman and the potential of selling off individual manuscripts and I think he probably told me that if I had a manuscript it of the script of the 1953 paper signed by him and Francis it was probably worth $ 100,000 dollars. So we are talking real money, it wasn’t peanuts. So he asked whether or not the Trust might – well, he Francis said the Trust had to, of course, he would never say might - the Trust had to do something about this and buy the Crick collection. And I don’t think either one of us had any real idea as to how to go about this because I think there was some notion that Norman or somebody associated with Norman had already sewn up a deal with Francis.

And so I can’t remember all of what happened, but I obviously talked to the director of the Wellcome Trust about whether or not this might be something we might be interested in. And, of course, the librarian had to be involved and there was a bit of sucking of teeth – as one might imagine. As I said we had never done anything quite like this I said we had never done something like this. It was agreed that we would approach Francis. So I phoned him and I talked to him. And as I say, my impression still is that he was very uncomfortable because I think he had essentially already agreed to sell the collection. So, no doubt Jim talked to him. No doubt pressure was brought to bear. He also made certain promises to the University of California so I if you like made the introduction to the Wellcome Trust then obviously involved serious negotiations with lawyers and all the rest of it. But, as you know, the Trust ended up buying it – I do not believe it was the complete collection. I think there were some bits that Francis was going to leave to the family or was going to leave to the university. The bulk possibly. But it’s been a rich source of stuff. It’s been on exhibition. The Trust is very proud to have it. But I’m sure, of course, that Jim would much rather have it here.

Michael Morgan, currently professor emeritus of biology, specialized in plant ecology and bioclimatology. He earned his BA from Butler University, MS and Ph.D form University of Illinois. He received the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Founders's Association Award for Excellence in Teaching and Sabbatical during the 1991-92 academic year with the Conservation Research Group, School of Forestry, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand.

Michael Morgan is a member of American Association for the Advancement of Science, Ecological Society of America, American Institute of Biological Sciences, Society for Conservation Biology and Natural Areas Association.

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