Got R2.8m? Why not buy a copy of Stephen Hawking's thesis

31 October 2018 - 11:24 By AFP Relaxnews
Stephen Hawking, who died in March aged 76, spent a lifetime trying to unlock the secrets of the universe.
Stephen Hawking, who died in March aged 76, spent a lifetime trying to unlock the secrets of the universe.
Image: AFP/Justin Tallis

A copy of Stephen Hawking's doctorate thesis signed in a shaky hand was unveiled Tuesday as the highlight of a new auction of the British physicist's personal items in London.

One of Hawking's wheelchairs, an early edition of his bestselling book A Brief History of Time marked with a thumbprint, and a script from one of his appearances on the television series The Simpsons are also among the 22 lots on sale at Christie's auction house.

The collection highlights the brilliance, determination and sense of humour of Hawking, who died in March aged 76 after a lifetime spent trying to unlock the secrets of the universe.

Hawking published his thesis in 1965, two years after being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a form of motor-neurone disease that would eventually leave him paralysed.

His first wife Jane typed out the 117 pages but he added two hand-written signatures and the words "This dissertation is my original work" at the front, as well as several mathematical equations inside.

One of only five original copies of Stephen Hawking's thesis, 'Properties of expanding universes', is the top priced item in the auction .
One of only five original copies of Stephen Hawking's thesis, 'Properties of expanding universes', is the top priced item in the auction .
Image: AFP/Daniel Leal-Olivas

The copy, one of only five originals of the thesis entitled Properties of expanding universes, is the top priced item in the auction valued at £100k to £150k (about R1.9m to R2.8m).

When the document was made available online last year by Cambridge University, where Hawking spent his career, it was so popular that it crashed the website.

Another auction highlight is a red leather wheelchair which Hawking used from the late 1980s to the mid 1990s, driving himself using a joystick, priced at £10k to £15k (about R187k to R280k).

"Famously he was quite a dangerous driver. He ran over Prince Charles' feet when they met," said Thomas Venning, Christie's head of books and manuscripts.

TIME TRAVELLER PARTY

He noted that the items put on sale by the family revealed "the progression of his illness but also the way that he overcame it".

"They range from some of his really important science to some fun stuff that reflects his quirky personality," he said.

There are Hawking's own copies of some of his most important scientific articles, including his seminal 1974 work that predicted black holes would release radiation, estimated at £3k to £5k (about R56k to R93k).

But there is also an invitation he sent out to a party held several years previously, a light-hearted experiment to see if any time travellers would turn up. It is priced at £100 to £150 (about R1.9k to R2.8k).

Another auction highlight is a red leather wheelchair which Stephen Hawking used from the late 1980s to the mid 1990s, driving himself using a joystick.
Another auction highlight is a red leather wheelchair which Stephen Hawking used from the late 1980s to the mid 1990s, driving himself using a joystick.
Image: AFP/Daniel Leal-Olivas

As Hawking's health deteriorated, he could no longer write, and a 1988 copy of A Brief History of Time, priced at £2k to £3k (around R37k to R56k), is marked with a thumbprint on the inside page.

The auction also contains a 2009 production script for The Simpsons, the hit US show in which Hawking appeared several times, estimated at £2k to £3k (around R37k to R56k).

His lines, which he programmed into the computer he used to speak after losing his voice, are highlighted in yellow.

Venning said there had already been huge interest from around the world for the auction, which will take place online from October 31 to November 8.

"He was someone who people connected with across the world," he said.

"It will be a range of people (who bid) but what they will have in common is a passion for science, and there will be people who are inspired by Stephen Hawking's story."

Other items include medals and awards, and a bomber jacket Hawking wore in a 2016 documentary.

The items are only a small selection from Hawking's archive, which his family is donating to the nation in lieu of paying inheritance tax, although there are no details yet of where it will be stored.

The auction funds will go to the family although the money raised from selling the wheelchair will be donated to the Motor Neurone Disease Association and the Stephen Hawking Foundation.


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