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Lock of Beethoven’s hair up for grabs

By: Paige Hubbard

A lock of Ludwig van Beethoven’s hair goes under the hammer in London on Tuesday (June 11).

This is the second time Sotheby’s is auctioning off a lock of the German composer’s hair, but the first “substantial” lock cut off by Beethoven himself, Sotheby’s Director of Books and Manuscripts, Simon Maguire, told Reuters on the eve of the auction.

Maguire said Austrian pianist Anton Halm, a collaborator of Beethoven’s, had asked the composer for a lock of his hair to give to his wife. According to legend, Beethoven’s servants instead sent Halm a lock of hair cut from a goat.

“This man, Anton Halm, was doing some work arranging one of Beethoven’s pieces and when he’d finished it he took the manuscript and the lock of hair for Beethoven to see and Beethoven was outraged because he knew that this hair wasn’t from him,” Maguire said.

“And he then gave him, in a piece of paper, a lock of hair that he had just himself cut from the back of his head, a substantial lock. And he said this one at least you can be sure is genuine,” Maguire said, adding the story – and the authenticity of the lock of hair – had been confirmed by Alexander Wheelock Thayer, the author of the first scholarly biography of Beethoven.

According to Maguire, Halm later gave the lock to a pupil called Julius Epstein who was a professor of piano at the Vienna Conservatory.

In addition to the unusual story of its origin, scientific tests were carried out on the lock of hair some ten years ago, Maguire said.

The tests indicated that it came from the same time period as the other lock of Beethoven’s hair which was taken at his deathbed and sold some twenty years ago, Maguire said.

The auction house has sold locks of hair of Lord Nelson, Chopin, and Mozart but what’s sets this lot apart is its size.

Locks of famous people’s hairs, a common collectors’ item back in the day, were often divided into a few strands as they got handed down, Maguire explained. The lock going for sale on Tuesday not only has a “substantial early story”, but it also is “quite a substantial lock”, Maguire said.

The lot is estimated at 12,000-15,000 pounds sterling but Maguire is confident the price will rise on Tuesday.

“Well there’s already been quite a lot of interest,” he said.

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