This morning, Christies announced that it would be auctioning off 22 items from the life and work of renowned theoretical physicist, Stephen Hawking, who passed away earlier this year. Among the items up for auction will be one of Professor Hawking’s earlier motorised wheelchairs, which he relied on when his battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis left him almost completely paralysed. It’s an iconic piece that will hopefully end up in a museum, not a private collection.
The auction is part of a larger lot, On the Shoulders of Giants: Newton, Darwin, Einstein, Hawking, which includes papers and publications by several iconic scientific figures that will all be on display in London starting on October 30, with bids being accepted until November 8. But it’s the collection of Hawking memorabilia that will probably draw the most interest from both private collectors and museums.
In addition to Hawking’s electric wheelchair, which dates back to 1988 and is expected to fetch upwards of $US20,000 ($28,139) when it hits the block, the auction also includes a collection of medals and awards dating from 1975 to 1999, a copy of A Brief History of Time with a signed thumbprint, and a script from one of Hawking’s four appearances on The Simpsons. The lot also includes framed copies of the invitation the physicist made for “A Reception For Time Travellers,” an actual party Hawkings held in 2009 for anyone capable of navigating the fourth dimension. The invitation was only revealed after the party took place to ensure only those who could actually travel through time would be able to attend. (No one showed up.)
The most sought-after piece in the lot will likely be a copy of Hawking’s 1965 PhD thesis, Properties of Expanding Universes. There are only five known copies in existence, and this particular one is not only signed by Hawking but also includes a hand-drawn equation by the physicist. The thesis was completed after Hawking’s ALS diagnosis. At the time, he had to rely on his wife to type up the document and add all of the complicated mathematical equations by hand. It is expected to fetch from $US130,000 ($182,904) to $US200,000 ($281,391), according to the Associated Press.
Hopefully, the majority of these pieces will find their way into institutions where they’ll be made accessible for public viewings. It’s doubtful Hawking would have liked to see his work hidden away in the study of a private collector. Either way, the proceeds from some of the pieces, including Hawking’s wheelchair, will go to charities including The Stephen Hawking Foundation, which helps fund research into cosmology, astrophysics and particle physics, and the Motor Neurone Disease Association, which supports research but also care for those living with ALS.