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Old mold auctioned for $14,617

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How much is an old, dried-out piece of mold worth? Apparently more than $14,600 if it was created by the doctor who discovered penicillin.

The nearly 90-year-old swatch of mold has a rather extraordinary history: It came from the laboratory of Dr. Alexander Fleming whose revolutionary discovery brought the world its first antibiotic, credited with saving millions of lives worldwide.

The patchy bit of mold from his niece’s collection was auctioned in London on Wednesday for 11,875 pounds ($14,617). The buyer was not identified.

The mold is preserved in a round glass case and features an inscription by Fleming on the back, describing it as “the mould that first made penicillin.”

That, however, may be a stretch. The Scottish-born doctor likely made at least dozens of such mold mementos, derived from his original sample of the fungus.

Fleming “sent these samples out to dignitaries and to people in the scientific world, almost as a kind of holy relic,” said Matthew Haley, director of books and manuscripts at the auction house Bonham’s.

He noted that other bits of mold were given to Pope Pius XII, Winston Churchill and Marlene Dietrich, perhaps in an effort to cement Fleming’s legacy as the discoverer of penicillin in 1928.