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Stephen Hawking artefacts raise over £1.8m

The late physicist's first thesis and wheelchair are among over 20 items sold at Christie's, reports Arun Kakar

Items including a PhD thesis, a script from the Simpsons and a motorised wheelchair were auctioned off at Christie's in a sale of 22 objects from the estate of British cosmologist Professor Stephen Hawking. The online sale titled  ‘On the Shoulders of Giants’ ran between between 31 October and 8 November.

The sale of what is hailed as ‘a unique collection of artefacts’ by the auction house was a soaring success. All items have been sold, with Hawking’s 1965 PhD thesis 'Properties of expanding universes' leading at £584,750.

Signed twice by Hawking, the thesis handily beat its £150,000 estimate. The manuscript was written as Hawking was suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Typed out by his then wife Jane, who added the mathematical equations by hand, Hawking signed the document with the statement: ‘This dissertation is my original work. S.W. Hawking’.

‘His renewed work on his thesis, coinciding with his marriage to Jane Wilde, was effectively his declaration of confidence in the future,’ said Christie's of the landmark thesis.

The figure was followed by £296,750 for a motorised wheelchair and a collection of Hawking’s medals and awards respectively. The wheelchair – the earliest surviving – is dated from 1988 and also exceeded its £10-15,000 estimate. Hawking reportedly resisted using a wheelchair in the late 1960s, and had started using motorised models by the 1970s. ‘This is arguably both literally and metaphorically the most-travelled wheelchair in history,’ said the auction house, noting that Hawking was at the height of his fame and intellectual investigations at around the same time. The proceeds from its sale will be donated to the Motor Neurone Disease Association and the Stephen Hawking Foundation.

The collection of seven medals and awards dates from 1975, when Hawking was awarded the Eddington Medal by the Royal Astronomical Society to 1999, when he was given the Medal of the Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.

Other notable items included a television script from an episode of The Simpsons aired in 2010 that sold for £6,250. Hawking, who appeared on the programme four times, reportedly kept a small model of his Simpsons incarnation in his house. An invitation to a time traveller’s reception in 2009 was also sold for £11,250. According to Hawking, no time travellers came.

‘We hope to be able to offer our father’s archive to the nation through the Acceptance in Lieu process as we feel it is a huge part of his legacy but also of the history of science in this country,’ said Hawking’s daughter Lucy prior to the sale. ‘We are also giving admirers of his work the chance to acquire a memento of our father’s extraordinary life in the shape of a small selection of evocative and fascinating items.’

Arun Kakar writes for Spear's

Image credit: NASA/Paul Alers