Stephen Hawking’s death on March 14 robbed the world of one of its greatest minds. His work broadened the horizons of our understanding. But for most people he’ll be remembered for his compassionate humanism and wicked sense of humour.
Hawking’s ashes are to be interred at Westminster Abbey, next to those other great British scientists Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. Two men whose artefacts are in huge demand today among collectors.
Demand for Hawking’s memorabilia also looks primed to rise in future.
Hawking occupies a unique place in history
For all his status as one of the greatest thinkers of recent times, Stephen Hawking never received the Nobel Prize. Physics is a broad church, filled with some extraordinarily intelligent people. Unlike Einstein, he didn’t rewrite the rulebook.
Stephen Hawking worked hard to continue his scientific career after his ALS diagnosis (Image: Flickr)
Hawking’s particular genius was in joining together different strands of physics into a unified theory. And his work has been enormously influential. But one of his greatest achievements was enhancing the approachability of science. Countless young people discovered their enthusiasm for the subject from reading A Brief History of Time (1988), the first book to make quantum physics (vaguely) accessible.
While Hawking often shied away from talking about his disability, his visibility offered hope for others living with impairments. He was respected rather than overlooked.
He was a rare icon in the world of science
Scientists very rarely become celebrities. For the most part they’re happy working away in cloistered university labs. That was never the case with Hawking, who genuinely seemed to enjoy the limelight.
Hawking was a popular public figure (Image: Wikimedia Commons)
He was a regular cameo on TV shows ranging from The Simpsons to Star Trek, where he hammed up his reputation as a genius and showed off a rapier sharp wit.
It was all done with kindness though, something that will ensure he remains warmly thought of in years to come.
In one 2015 appearance via hologram at the Sydney Opera House, he comforted a young One Direction fan devastated with singer Zayn Malik’s departure from the group with the words: "It would not be beyond the realms of possibility that somewhere outside of our own universe lies another, different universe. And in that universe, Zayn is still in One Direction."
His autograph is extremely rare
Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) in 1963. The average survival rate remains just three years. Hawking massively beat those odds. But by the end of the 1970s, he could no longer write. As a result, his written autograph is extremely rare.
Only a handful have ever come to auction, with one 1973 signed book achieving more than $50,000 in 2015.
Hawking signs a copy of a book for a colleague in 1973 (Image: Antiquarian Auctions)
In later years he’d occasionally sign books with a fingerprint dipped in ink.
In later years Hawking would switch to signing with a thumb print (Image: Alexander Historical Auctions)
These signatures are slightly more attainable and have typically sold for up to $4,000 in the past, although that price point will almost certainly increase significantly now.
Over the next few years we can expect a big rise in the amount of Stephen Hawking memorabilia at auction, as the many millions of people who loved him seek out a relic to remember him by.
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