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Stephen Hawking's most prized possessions go under the hammer

Some of the most prized and significant possessions of the brilliant British physicist Stephen Hawking are t...

Posted: Oct 22, 2018 2:10 PM
Updated: Oct 22, 2018 2:10 PM

Some of the most prized and significant possessions of the brilliant British physicist Stephen Hawking are to go under the hammer at Christie's in London later this month, including a copy of his PhD thesis, a script for the TV series "The Simpsons" and his earliest surviving wheelchair.

Hawking, who was also a cosmologist, astronomer, mathematician and a prolific author, died last March at age 76 having survived a debilitating disease that doctors said would kill him in his 20s. His landmark book a "A Brief History of Time," sold more than 10 million copies.

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Perhaps the most sought-after artifact in the auction will be one of five existing copies of Hawking's 1965 Cambridge University Ph.D. thesis, "Properties of Expanding Universes," which carries an estimated price of £100,000 to £150,000 ($130,000 to $195,000).

Handwritten on the front is a confirmation from Hawking that it was his original work.

A few months before Hawking died, his alma mater, the University of Cambridge put the thesis on its open access repository. Shortly after it went live, requests to view the research crashed the website, with almost 60,000 downloads in less than 24 hours.

Hawking suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a neurodegenerative disease also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, which is usually fatal within a few years. He was diagnosed in 1963, when he was 21, and doctors initially gave him only a few years to live.

The disease left Hawking paralyzed and using a wheelchair for mobility. He was able to move only a few fingers on one hand and was completely dependent on others or on technology for virtually everything -- bathing, dressing, eating, even speech.

Another key item to go on sale will be Hawking's first wheelchair, at an estimated price of between £10,000 and £15,000.

"Hawking initially resisted the idea of using a wheelchair in the late 1960s; by the late 1970s, he was using motorized models like the present example, and was even renowned for being a rather wild driver," said Christie's.

"By the late 1980s he was at the height of his fame, and given his extensive travels to conferences and public events, as well as the scope of his intellectual explorations of space-time, this is arguably both literally and metaphorically the most-traveled wheelchair in history. "

Proceeds from the wheelchair lot will go to the Stephen Hawking Foundation and the Motor Neurone Disease Association, Christie's said.

Other personal belongings of Hawkings to be auctioned include a bomber jacket and a collection of his medals.

Perhaps more surprising, among some of Hawkings most prized possessions was a script from an episode of "The Simpsons."

"Stephen Hawking made four appearances in The Simpsons over a period of 10 years, something he joked made him more famous than anything he had done in science," said Christie's on its website. " A small plastic model of his yellow Simpsons incarnation had pride of place in his house." This particular episode was aired on September 26, 2010.

Other Hawking items up for auction include a copy of "A Brief History of Time" signed with his thumb, expected to fetch between £2,000 and £3,000.

"We are very pleased to have the assistance of Christie's to help us with the important matter of managing our beloved father's archives and his unique and precious collection of personal and professional belongings, chronicling his life and work," said his daughter Lucy Hawking in a statement. She said the auction would give "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."

Hawking will be in good scientific company at the auction. The online sale "On the Shoulders of Giants" also features papers from Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein.

All pieces will be on display in London, and officially for sale Oct. 31 through Nov. 8.

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