WTF Fun Fact 13510 – Stephen Hawking’s Wheelchair

Stephen Hawking’s wheelchair was auctioned off for a staggering $387,000 in 2018.

In addition to his groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of the universe, Hawking’s name evokes an image of a man in a wheelchair, speaking through a voice synthesizer—a testament to his fierce determination and willpower in the face of a debilitating motor neuron disease.

Stephen Hawking and His Legacy

Before diving into the story of the iconic wheelchair, it’s essential to grasp the breadth of Hawking’s influence. Born in 1942, he made substantial contributions to cosmology, particularly in black hole dynamics and the nature of the universe.

His best-selling book, A Brief History of Time, made intricate cosmological concepts accessible to the general public, ensuring his place not just within the scientific community but also in popular culture.

Hawking’s motor neuron disease diagnosis at the age of 21 was a life-altering moment. Doctors predicted a short lifespan, but he surpassed all expectations by living till the age of 76.

As the disease progressed, mobility became a challenge, and the wheelchair became an integral part of his life. It wasn’t just a tool for movement; it became synonymous with his identity, symbolizing his resilience and the human spirit’s triumph over adversity.

Auctioning Stephen Hawking’s Wheelchair

In 2018, Christie’s auction house in London announced “On the Shoulders of Giants,” an auction featuring items belonging to several renowned scientists, including Hawking. The most poignant item was undoubtedly Hawking’s wheelchair, a piece of modern history.

The wheelchair, used by Hawking in the late 1980s and early 1990s, garnered significant attention. While it was an older model and not the high-tech version he used later in life, its historical and symbolic value was immense. The mere fact that such a personal item from a living legend was up for grabs drew significant global attention.

Hawking’s decision to auction his wheelchair was rooted in his commitment to giving back to the community. The proceeds from the sale were designated for two charitable causes close to his heart: The Stephen Hawking Foundation, which supports neurological research and promotes science education, and the Motor Neurone Disease Association, dedicated to supporting individuals like Hawking who face the challenges of this condition.

Bidding on History

The auction saw fervent bidding, with the wheelchair eventually selling for approximately $387,000 – a figure far surpassing initial estimates. The winning bid was not just for a mobility device but a piece of history. The buyer, whose identity remained anonymous, now owned a symbol of determination, brilliance, and the indomitable human spirit.

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Source: “Stephen Hawking’s Wheelchair and Thesis Fetch More Than $1 Million at Auction” — The New York Times

WTF Fun Fact 13456 – Old Coronation Chocolate

Who wants some Cadbury coronation chocolate? Ok, what if it’s 121 years old? Less appealing?

Coronation chocolate provides a taste of history

A piece of confectionery history is up for grabs as a 121-year-old tin of Cadbury chocolates heads to auction. These untouched sweets were crafted to celebrate the coronation of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra in 1902.

King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra’s coronation in 1902 was a monumental event, and Cadbury marked this royal milestone with a special batch of chocolates.

In a remarkable tale of preservation, the chocolates have remained untouched for over a century. The vanilla chocolates were a special gift to nine-year-old Mary Ann Blackmore, given to her at school during the year of the coronation. Rather than indulging in them, Mary Ann opted to keep the sweets as a keepsake of this historic event.

A sweet souvenir

Blackmore passed the prized chocolates down through her family over the years. Her granddaughter, Jean Thompson, aged 72, is the current custodian of this unique piece of heritage. She recently brought the tin to Hansons Auctioneers in Derby, setting the stage for the chocolates’ debut at auction.

Morven Fairlie, a representative of Hansons Auctioneers, highlighted the significance of this special gift. In the era the chocolates were made, children seldom had the chance to enjoy such treats. It’s easy to understand why Blackmore chose to treasure the chocolates rather than eat them.

The forthcoming auction at Hansons Auctioneers promises to attract bidders with a keen interest in royal memorabilia, history, and confectionery. Hanson’s estimates the tin of coronation chocolate will fetch between £100 and £150, but the final price could well exceed expectations if multiple bidders vie for this taste of history.

While the chocolates still emit a faint aroma of their original vanilla flavor, they are far beyond their use-by date. As Fairlie humorously added, “Nobody’s going to be eating it… but I wouldn’t want to risk it.”

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Source: “121-year-old Cadbury coronation chocolates to be sold at auction” — Sky News

WTF Fun Fact 12773 – Lord Hailey’s Vampire Hunting Kit

Does the buyer of an auctioned “vampire hunting kit” know something we don’t?

According to British auction house Hansons: “A mysterious vampire-slaying kit containing objects reputed to ward off the blood-thirsty monsters sparked an international bidding battle – and smashed its auction estimate to smithereens.”

Ok, we’ll, it didn’t sell for millions, which is probably the kind of money we would want to find a way to scrape together if we thought vampires were real.

How much should a vampire hunting kit cost?

On June 30, 2022, the kit was estimated to sell for £2,000-£3,000 ($2,400 – $2,600). But it quickly saw a five-figure price tag after the bidding began. When the hammer dropped, the final bid price was £13,000 ($15,638 and some change by the July 10th exchange rate).

It’s pretty impressive for something to sell for six times its estimated worth. You really have to want to own that particular vampire hunting kit to pay that kind of money.

But, why?

Why this vampire hunting kit?

Charles Hanson, the owner of Hansons Auctioneers, explained that the odd item inspired headlines around the world and that attention likely pushed up the price. But he was still shocked at the final value.

According to the Hansons website, part of its mystery and allure is the kit’s original owner: “It originally belonged to Lord Hailey, a British peer and former administrator of British India. Whether through fear or fascination, it’s interesting to know a member of the highest aristocratic social order, a man with a place in the House of Lords, acquired this item. It reminds us that the vampire myth affects people from all walks of life. I think the aristocratic connection made this object even more desirable and, perhaps, helped it on its way to a particularly strong result.”

Charles Hanson also added “William Malcolm Hailey, 1st Baron Hailey (1872-1969) was recognised for his intellect. He was educated at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. He was Governor of the Punjab from 1924 to 1928 and Governor of the United Provinces from 1928 to 1934. And yet, amid his illustrious career, he was drawn to this vampire-slaying kit. That’s understandable. These objects are both curious and intriguing.”

So, what’s in a vampire hunting kit?

The 19th-century kit comes in a lockable box with Lord Hailey’s initials and address. The tools inside include “holy objects to ward off vampires,” including “two brass crucifixes on the lid which act as a sliding secret locking device. Inside are more crucifixes, a matching pair of pistols, brass powder flask, holy water, Gothic Bible, wooden mallet, stake, brass candlesticks, rosary beads and Metropolitan police paperwork from the period.”

Very comprehensive!

Vampires have long been a character in European folklore and two books only made them seem more real – John Polidori’s The Vampyre (1819) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897).

“The task of killing a vampire was extremely serious and historical accounts suggested the need for particular methods and tools. Items of religious significance, such as crucifixes and Bibles, were said to repel these monsters, hence their presence in the kit,” Hanson said.

So, who bought it?

Sadly, we only know the new owner of the kit is from Derbyshire and they did not wish to be named.

The owner said: “I was stunned and delighted by the result. It’s a fascinating item, a conversation piece. I came across it in Southwell, Nottinghamshire, fairly recently. I liked it for its novelty and historical value. Interestingly, Lord Hailey has a memorial tablet in London’s Westminster Abbey which pays warm tribute to him.”

Maybe you will run across them if you walk around at night in Derbyshire – but you probably don’t want to run across someone so well-armed in the forest at night.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Mysterious vampire-slaying kit – owned by peer of the realm – stuns at auction” — Hansons