Upon his passing in March, Stephen Hawking bequeathed a scientific legacy that will descend to new researchers and theoreticians for generations to come. But it’s not the only kind of legacy the legendary physicist left behind, as a new auction of some of his most interesting personal effects is set to show.
Christie’s of London will open bidding on a trove of fascinating, historic, and just plain cool items from Hawking’s private collection, including recognizable pieces of his formative past that, for longtime followers and fans, have become as much a part of his identity as his groundbreaking work in quantum mechanics.
Among the items up for bid is an original script for Hawking’s 2010 appearance on the “Elementary School Musical” episode of The Simpsons, one of four guest stops Hawking made as himself — much to Lisa’s delight — in Springfield.
The motorized wheelchair that carried Hawking out of the 1980s and into his most high-profile period also is on the auction block, with Christie’s reportedly expecting it to fetch between $13,000 and $20,000.
“…[G]iven 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-travelled wheelchair in history,” notes the auction house, humorously observing that Hawking “was even renowned for being a rather wild driver.” Money raised from the sale of the wheelchair will benefit the Motor Neurone Disease Association and The Stephen Hawking Foundation.
Also on the block is a thumbprint-autographed original copy of the 1988 book that passed from Carl Sagan to Hawking the unofficial title of the world’s leading cosmic explainer. “It was in 1983 that Hawking first suggested the idea of a popular work on cosmology, which would explain modern physics and astronomy in non-specialist terms to a popular readership,” Christie’s states. A Brief History of Time would go on to sell more than 10 million copies, and each one came with Sagan’s full endorsement: he authored the book’s introduction.
Finally, Hawking’s best joke is also up for grabs: his famous “Reception for Time Travelers” invitation, which yielded no attendees thanks to its sensibly well-timed release after the event had already passed. “Hawking threw a lavish party on 28 June 2009 for the benefit of time travellers,” Christie’s observes, “with the invitation, logically enough, being issued after the party had been held…’I sat there a long time,’ reported Hawking, ‘but no one came.’”
Most of the Hawking items in the collection are part of a larger sale that includes artifacts belonging to other titans of western physics: Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, and Albert Einstein. Other notable objects included in the auction are Hawking’s Cambridge doctoral dissertation, an assortment of research papers, a black bomber jacket personalized for Hawking from iconic outwear provider Alpha Industries, and a curated selection from his huge assembly of medals and awards.
Christie’s "On the Shoulders of Giants: Newton, Darwin, Einstein, Hawking" opens for bidding on Halloween, and concludes on Nov. 8.