Stephen Hawking’s Wheelchair, PhD Thesis and Simpsons Script Up for Sale

Stephen Hawking, one of the most celebrated physicists of all time, shaped our understanding of the universe through his ground-breaking discoveries. After a 55-year battle against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Stephen Hawking died on 14 March 2018. Some of the most prized possessions of the legendary physicist will be up for sale at an online auction, including a photostatic copy of his PhD thesis, a motorised wheelchair, a script for The Simpsons, and an invitation to time travellers.

The late Professor Stephen Hawking (1942-2018)

Of all 22 lots from the estate of the late Prof. Stephen Hawking, the centrepiece is a photostatic copy of his 1965 PhD thesis ‘Properties of Expanding Universes’, estimated between £100,000 and 150,000. After studying as an undergraduate at Oxford, Hawking moved to Trinity Hall, Cambridge for his graduate studies in October 1962. However, in his first post-graduate year at Cambridge, he was diagnosed with ALS and was initially given only two years to live. He abandoned his studies but resumed them after it became clear that the diagnosis that he had only two years to live was unfounded.

Hawking and his first wife Jane Wilde

His thesis is therefore in a sense his expression of renewed confidence in the future, and in many ways set the direction of his future work – particularly in his interest in singularity theorems. His work on his thesis also coincided with his engagement to Jane Wilde, and they married on 14 July 1965, almost exactly three months before the completion of his thesis. It was Jane who typed the work, adding the many scientific equations by hand.

In 2017, Cambridge University made the thesis publicly available to download on its website, it was viewed more than 60,000 times in the first 24 hours. The demand was so great that it crashed the website. The present copy is one of five thought to exist.

The earliest surviving example of a wheelchair will also be offered at the auction. Hawking relied upon a series of wheelchairs from the end of the 1960s until his death. The present example was used by Stephen Hawking from the end of the 1980s until the early years of the 1990s, before he became unable to use his hands to drive a wheelchair.

Hawking was even renowned for being a rather wild driver. Having run over Prince Charles’s toes during a meeting in 1977, he is said to have regretted not doing the same to the then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Stephen Hawking in the episode of 'Elementary School Musical' in The Simpsons

Stephen Hawking made four appearances in The Simpsons between 1999 and 2009, joking that ‘as many people know me through The Simpsons as for my science’. He once described the show as the best thing on American television.

The sale offers the original production script for Stephen Hawking’s final appearance on The Simpsons. Hawking makes an unexpected appearance as Lisa performs a song during her time at Expressions performing arts camp. The relevant text on page 22 that reads ‘Stephen Hawking (through voice box) Oh yeah. Break it down for me, fellas.’

Another highlight of the sale is Stephen Hawking’s Time Travellers Invitation. In 2009, Stephen Hawking threw a lavish party for time travellers. It was also an important experiment that he wanted to know whether time travel is possible. The invitation was issued after the party had been held (‘No RSVP required’). If any time travellers did ever see the invitation, they didn’t show up. ‘I sat there a long time,’ reported Hawking, ‘but no one came’.

Highlights from Stephen Hawking’s Estate to be Offered

Photostatic copy typescript of his PhD thesis, 'Properties of expanding universes'
15 October 1965. Corrected, signed (S.W. Hawking)

Lot no.: 31
117 pages, 25.4 x 20cm
Estimate: £100,000-150,000

A motorised wheelchair used by Stephen Hawking from the late 1980s to the mid 1990s

Lot no.: 52
Size: 127 x 58 x 72cm
Estimate: £10,000-15,000

A Brief History of Time. From the Big Bang to Black Holes. Signed with a thumbprint

Lot no.: 45
Estimate: £2,000-3,000

The original production script for Stephen Hawking’s final appearance on The Simpsons.

Lot no.:49
48 pages, 28 x 21.5 cm
Estimate: £2,000-3,000

A bomber jacket from the CuriosityStream documentary Stephen Hawking’s Favorite Places, 2016.

Lot no.: 51
Size: medium
Estimate: £100-150

Stephen Hawking’s Time Travellers Invitation. October 2013

Lot no.: 48
Size: 50.8 x 40.6 cm
Estimate: £100-150

Online auction details

Auction house: Christie’s
Sale: On the Shoulders of Giants: Newton, Darwin, Einstein, Hawking
Period: 31 October – 8 November