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Stephen Hawking’s Wheelchair and Doctoral Thesis Sell in Multimillion Dollar Auction

A book signed with a thumb print by Stephen Hawking.
A book signed with a thumb print by Stephen Hawking.
Photo: Frank Augstein (AP)

A selection of work and belongings of the late theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking snatched hundreds of thousands of dollars per item at a recent Christie’s auction. Among the items sold were his motorized red leather wheelchair and a copy of his doctoral thesis Properties of Expanding Universes—one of five known copies—which sold for 296,750 pounds ($387,402) and 584,750 ($763,381) respectively.


The items were included in the Christie’s auction “On the Shoulders of Giants,” which ran Oct. 31 to Nov. 8 and included handwritten documents from fellow brainiacs Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, and some guy named Albert Einstein. Auction items belonging to Hawking also included a copy of his book A Brief History of Time signed with his thumbprint that sold for 68,750 pounds ($89,751), his Alpha Industries bomber jacket that sold for 40,000 pounds ($52,219), and a collection of medals and awards that sold for 296,750 pounds ($387,402).

In addition to Hawking’s personal documents and items, an original production script for Stephen Hawking’s final appearance on The Simpsons—in which he was portrayed as a disc jockey with gold chains and a Kangol hat—also sold 6,250 pounds ($8,157). An invitation to his famous Reception for Time Travellers snagged 11,250 pounds ($14,682).

Illustration for article titled Stephen Hawking’s Wheelchair and Doctoral Thesis Sell in Multimillion Dollar Auction
Photo: Frank Augstein (AP)

“Stephen Hawking was a huge personality worldwide,” Thomas Venning, head of the Books and Manuscripts department at Christie’s London, told Reuters. “He had this amazing ability to connect with people.”

Hawking’s red chair was among one of the earliest wheelchairs he used after he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). It was sold for nearly twenty times what it was expected to snatch at auction, and its sale will benefit both the Stephen Hawking Foundation and the Motor Neurone Disease Association.

According to the Guardian, the esteemed physicist’s daughter Lucy Hawking said the auction was an opportunity for his admirers to “acquire a memento of our father’s extraordinary life in the shape of a small selection of evocative and fascinating items.”


[Christie’s via Associated Press]

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I made a pigeonrat

Why are there only five copies of his thesis? At the university where I work every thesis, even the crappy ones, are printed in dozens of copies since you have to send them to the examinators, the library gets a few copies, the faculty archives gets one, my country’s central archive gets a copy and we send out theses to other university libraries. All supervisors I know save a copy of every thesis they supervised. When a thesis is extraordinary, it’s printed in even more copies just in case other libraries and institutions want it.