World Coins

Royal Mint honors Stephen Hawking on coins

The Royal Mint honors scientist Stephen Hawking on new 50-penny coins designed by Edwina Ellis, left. Hawking’s son and daughter Tim and Lucy Hawking visited the Royal Mint to strike the new coin.The silver piedfort version appears here.

Images courtesy of the Pobjoy Mint.

Stephen Hawking might be the most famous scientist of the last 75 years, and now his life is being honored on British coins.

The Royal Mint has issued commemorative 50-penny coins to celebrate his achievements. The design is inspired by a “playful” lecture he gave on black holes and is available on four coins, including a Brilliant Uncirculated copper-nickel example.

In addition, three Proof coins carry the design: a silver piece, a silver piedfort and a gold piece. A piedfort is a coin that is generally twice the thickness (and usually twice the weight also) of the standard version.

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Hawking’s pioneering work on black holes used a tentative unification of Einstein’s theory of general relativity with quantum mechanics. Hawking reported that black holes should not be completely black, instead emitting radiation, meaning they evaporate and eventually disappear. Termed “Hawking Radiation,” this was an unexpected but highly influential development. 

Hawking also theorized, using a mathematical construct known as imaginary time, that the universe has no edge or boundary. 

This would imply that the way the universe began was completely determined by the laws of science. These theories and phenomena are explained in his most famous work, A Brief History of Time

As he said in his own words in an interview for the BBC: “I think my greatest achievement will be my discovery that black holes are not entirely black.”

Hawking is one of an elite group of scientists to have been honored on coinage of the United Kingdom, joining the likes of Sir Isaac Newton in 2017 and Charles Darwin in 2009. 

In recent years Hawking has been the subject of a biopic and has had a recording of his voice beamed into a black hole. 

Tim and Lucy Hawking, son and daughter of Hawking visited the Royal Mint to strike the new coin of the series. Lucy commented: “It is a great privilege to be featured on a coin and I hope my father would be pleased to be alongside Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin as scientists who have made it onto money!”

A genius, by design

Edwina Ellis, who designed the coin said: “Stephen Hawking made difficult subjects accessible, engaging and relatable and this is what I wanted to portray in my design, which is inspired by a lecture he gave in Chile in 2008. Hawking, at his playful best, invites the audience to contemplate peering into a black hole before diving in. I wanted to fit a big black hole on the tiny coin and wish he was still here chortling at the thought.”

The Hawking 50-penny coins are the first in a new series celebrating innovation in British Science.

The obverse of all the Hawking coins carries the Jody Clark effigy of Queen Elizabeth II. 

Prices for the coins range from £10 for the BU base metal version, which has unlimited mintage and comes in a colorful display card, to £795 for the gold version, which has a mintage limit of 400 pieces. 

Full specifications for the coins are available at the Royal Mint website

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