Imagine asking a celebrity for a lock of their hair instead of an autograph?
While it may come off as an obscure hobby, collecting hair from political figures, musicians, entertainers and even animals is not as rare as some might think. From the hairs of George Washington (for $32,500) to John Lennon (for $35,000) and even a woolly mammoth (for $3,585), a chance to own a piece of history is drawing people from all walks of life to the hobby.
John Lennon – A Substantial Lock of His Hair
Trimmed in Preparation for Filming of How I Won the War along with a Signed Call Sheet and Period Provenance, Directly from His Hairdresser (Germany, 1966)
The market is growing and it’s growing rapidly. There is enough demand that some celebrities, like astronaut Neil Armstrong, have had their hair sold without their knowledge.
But most celebrity hair is sold and bought legitimately. Past Heritage Auctions sales also have included locks from the likes of Napoleon Bonaparte, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Ludwig van Beethoven, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Katharine Hepburn … as well as (racehorse) Man O’ War.
But Why Hair?
With origins dating back to the Victorian Era, people would collect hair as a way to remember loved ones who had passed. They would turn their hair into jewelry to stay connected and carry those they love close. Victorians wore bracelets, rings, watches, necklaces, brooches and buttons — all made from hair.
At funerals, the hair of the deceased would be presented in beautifully woven wreaths to be enjoyed to their loved ones. A mourning wreath also could be made of many family members hair collected over time. Many wreaths were shaped with braids and wire. Often the shape would resemble a horseshoe or large half circle with the open side pointing upward to represent the ascent to heaven.
Today, many collections center around people’s desire to get closer to famous people and collectors’ willingness to pay high sums for only a few strands. Elvis Presley’s famous locks hold the record selling at a whopping $115,000!
Autographs, photographs, articles of clothing or other possessions all offer a symbol of some level of connection with the celebrity, whether it is the memory of a long trek to a scheduled public appearance or a chance encounter in a restaurant. That memento can create a sense of familiarity, of kinship … even intimacy.
But hair — even a few strands of minimal length — can represent, to some collectors, an even closer link to the person on whom it once grew. It’s not something from a celebrity – it is a part of someone famous.
It turns out that hair collecting has even played a unique role in proving many historical facts — effectively shaping the stories that make up our human history. Many collectors can now provide access and new insight into the histories and lives of people from the past with DNA analysis.
Starting Your Collection
Hair collecting not only could be your next hobby — but also could be your next investment. Collecting and selling celebrity locks is easy to get into and many dealers buy and sell this type of memorabilia.
While the high-dollar signs of previous auctions may scare off newcomers to the hobby — you shouldn’t let that discourage you. There are definitely price points that attract a certain type of buyer. Getting in on your own area of interest is the best start to your journey in hair collection. If the Civil War is your curiosity, look for hair from soldiers and generals. The internet has opened up numerous possibilities for building your collection. Recent finds include a lock of Mother Teresa’s hair that sold for $400 and a few strands of Babe Ruth’s went for $1,000. Catching the market at the right time with the right historical figure seems to be your best chance at scoring a deal.
Heritage Auctions is home to quite a number of these lots. Browsing our archives allows you to look at past auctions so that you can form a baseline for your purchases. You can also look for upcoming auctions to see if anything piques your interest. The upcoming May 13th Americana & Political Auction will offer up locks of hair from Geronimo, John Adams and George and Martha Washington. There never has been a better opportunity to jump into hair collecting.
Written by: Steve Lansdale
If you see something you like or have something similar you'd like to sell then please inquire about it here.