Stephen Hawking’s prized possessions will go up for auction, including some of his most important papers, including his doctoral thesis, a copy of "A Brief History of Time" and the script for one of his appearances on "The Simpsons." As many as 22 lots will be up for auction between October 31 and November 8 in an online Christie's auction known as "On the Shoulders of Giants."
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The auction includes 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 pounds to 150,000 pounds.
Thomas Venning, head of books and manuscripts at Christie’s, said the papers “trace the development of his thought — this brilliant, electrifying intelligence.”
“You can see each advance as he produced it and introduced it to the scientific community,” Venning said.
Of course, Hawking’s fame rests only partly on his scientific status as the cosmologist who put black holes on the map.
Diagnosed with motor neuron disease at 22 and given just a few years to live, he survived for decades, dying in March at 76.
Venning said the thesis, signed by Hawking in handwriting made shaky by his illness, is both a key document in the physicist’s scientific evolution and a glimpse into his personal story.
“He was diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) just as he arrived in Cambridge to begin his Ph.D. studies,” Venning said. “He gave up his studies for a time because he was so despondent.
The thesis “was the fruit of him reapplying himself to his scientific work,” Venning said, and Hawking “kept it beside him for the rest of his life.”
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Venning said the wheelchair became a symbol not just of disability but of Hawking’s “puckish sense of humor.” He once ran over Prince Charles’ toes — and reportedly joked that he wished he had done the same to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher — and appeared in a Monty Python skit running down fellow physicist Brian Cox.
Venning said Hawking “very much thought of himself as a scientist first and a popular communicator second,” but accepted and even enjoyed his celebrity status. He appeared several times on animated comedy show The Simpsons and kept a figurine of himself from the show in his office.