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Theft probe into historic 'mould'

PUBLISHED: 15:43 29 May 2003 | UPDATED: 13:56 03 March 2010

A SAMPLE of mould which led to discovery of penicillin in 1928 and was later given as a gift to a businessman has been withdrawn from auction over fears it might have been stolen.

A SAMPLE of mould which led to discovery of penicillin in 1928 and was later given as a gift to a businessman has been withdrawn from auction over fears it might have been stolen.

The mould grown from the original spores which led Sir Alexander Fleming to develop the antibiotic was expected to fetch £10,000 at a Sotheby's auction yesterday .

The Nobel Prize-winning scientist lived at Barton Mills, near Mildenhall, for more than 30 years and made his groundbreaking discovery while working at St Mary's Hospital, Paddington, west London.

The item, mounted on a gold stand and signed by Fleming, was given to Edgar Lawley on January 7, 1952.

The mould was passed on to Lawley's daughter after his death in 1977, but went missing, presumed stolen, from her West Midlands home about 16 years ago.

The family alerted Sotheby's which launched an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the sale.

The auctioneers have withdrawn the item, which has now been bought back by Mr Lawley's daughter.

The 92-year-old is planning to donate it to the Alexander Fleming Laboratory Museum at St Mary's Hospital.

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