A Lock of Beethoven Grey Hair Goes up for Auction for £12,000

Symphony No.9, Symphony No.5 and Piano Sonata No. 14 are some of the popular compositions that Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) left to the world. Little did we know, the great composer also left something more than just beautiful music – something quite peculiar – a lock of granite-toned hair. This cherished lock of hair will be offered at Sotheby’s Important Manuscripts, Continental Books and Music sale on 11 June with an estimated price of £12,000-15,000.

The lock of hair was given by the musician to his contemporary Anton Halm in 1826, a year before Beethoven died. The pianist and composer Anton Halm (1789-1872) got to know Beethoven well, after meeting him in 1815 and playing for him frequently. In 1826 Halm made an arrangement of Beethoven's Grosse Fuge op.133 for two pianos.

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 it 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.

Karl Joseph Stieler, Portrait of Ludwig Van Beethoven When Composing the Missa Solemnis, 1820.

And so, Maria got her memento. It remained in the Halm family’s possession for many years, before passing to one of the pianist’s pupils.

According to the auction house, this is one of the best documented of locks of Beethoven's hair ever appeared on the market, whereas other locks have invariably been taken from the composer on his deathbed in 1827.

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

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.

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

Auction details
Auction house: Sotheby’s London
Sale: Important Manuscripts, Continental Books and Music
Session 1: 11 June 2019 | 10:30 am| Lots 1-97
Session 2: 11 June 2019 | 02:00 pm| Lots 98-232