A Lock of Beethoven's Grey Hair Sold for £35,000

Who would have thought that a small lock of hair can cost £35,000? At Sotheby’s Important Manuscripts, Continental Books and Music sale in London, a lock of Beethoven's grey hair sold for £35,000, more than double its estimate price. 

The story of this lock of expensive hair began when the pianist and composer Anton Halm (1789-1872) became Beethoven's friend. Halm met Beethoven in 1815 and made an arrangement of Beethoven's Grosse Fuge op.133 for two pianos in 1826, a year before the great composer died. While at work on the Grosse Fuge in 1826, he asked Beethoven's friend Karl Holz to secure a lock of Beethoven's hair for his wife Maria.

The hair arrived a few days later, supposedly Beethoven's, but in fact cut from a goat. When he had finished his arrangement of the fugue, Halm brought the arrangement and the hair to Beethoven. The composer was furious that his friend had been deceived, and promptly snipped off some hair and gave it to him. “This is my hair!’ Beethoven declared.

Lock of Beethoven’s greying hair, with an autograph letter of presentation by Johann Andreas Stumpff, the composer’s friend

The bidding for the hair started at £10,000 and rose to £12,000 after two bids. After that, the price jumped to £22,000 and then quickly increased to £28,000 when the auctioneer put the hammer down. It realised £35,000 after premium. Mao Zedong's calligraphic autograph letter was also offered in the same sale and became the top lot after realising £519,000 . 

Snipping a lock from the recently deceased was quite the thing in the 18th and 19th centuries. Sotheby’s has sold deathbed relics from other composers, including Chopin and Mozart, along with snippets from the designer William Morris and the poet Lord Byron. In 2017, a lock of hair from Lord Horatio Nelson (1758-1805) was sold at auction for £13,750, exceeding its estimate of £3,000-5,000. The lot offered in this sale is even rarer as it was cut off from the composer's head when he was still alive. 

L. van Beethoven. A lock of the composer's grey hair given by him to Anton Halm in 1826, in a C19 frame

Lot no.: 40
Provenance: Anton Halm (1789-1872), friend, performer and arranger of Beethoven; Julius Epstein (1832-1926), pupil of Halm.
Estimate: £12,000 -15,000
Hammer price: £28,000
Price realised: £35,000

Auction summary

Auction house: Sotheby's Online
Sale: Important Manuscripts, Continental Books and Music
Lots offered: 231