A Lock of Beethoven’s Hair Will Soon Be up for Grabs

A Lock of Beethoven’s Hair Will Soon Be up for Grabs
Ludwig van Beethoven is widely regarded for his musical compositions, but he's also known for his signature gray waves. (Getty Images via CNN)

Ludwig van Beethoven is widely regarded for his musical compositions, but he’s also known for his signature gray waves.

And you could soon be the proud owner of a lock of the legendary German composer’s hair.

The collectible is going up for auction on June 11, with its worth estimated at between about $15,000 and $19,000. The hair is part of Sotheby’s Important Manuscripts, Continental Books and Music sale.

The lock of hair, which Sotheby’s says is “indisputably human,” is secured with a silk thread and comes in a 19th-century glazed oval frame.

NTD Photo
Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827), German composer, regarded as one of the greatest Romantic composers. (Rischgitz/Getty Images)

The Backstory

Snipping off a few strands of hair to give to someone was not an unusual practice during the 18th and 19th centuries.

However, when Beethoven’s contemporary Anton Halm requested some of the composer’s hair in 1826 to give as a gift to his wife, he didn’t get the real deal at first, according to Sotheby’s.

Halm had asked a mutual friend, violinist Karl Holz, to retrieve Beethoven’s hair. But Holz came back with some goat hair instead.

portrait beethoven
German composer Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). (Rischgitz/Getty Images)

When Beethoven learned of this, he chopped off some of his luscious locks and gave them to Halm himself. The strands were kept in the Halm family for years and eventually given to a pupil of Halm, a pianist and composer who met Beethoven in 1815 and played for him frequently, Sotheby’s said.

This isn’t the first time Beethoven’s hair has been up for sale.

Sotheby’s auctioned off another lock in 1994 to two Beethoven enthusiasts who later conducted forensic tests to determine why Beethoven had chronically bad health.

Another Lock of Hair of Beethoven Auctioned in 1994

The lock of hair auctioned in 1994, according to Beethoven Center of San Jose State University, was originally cut off on the day when Beethoven died in 1827:

“The original provenance of the lock of hair is clear from an inscription written on the back of the frame of the locket: ‘This hair was cut off of Beethoven’s corpse by my father, Dr. Ferdinand v. Hiller, on the day after Ludwig van Beethoven’s death, that is, on March 27, 1827, and was given to me as a birthday present in Cologne on May 1, 1883. Paul Hiller [English translation].’

“Ferdinand Hiller was a German conductor and teacher who traveled to Vienna in 1827 at the age of 15 to visit the dying Beethoven. Hiller later wrote down details of two of his visits (March 13 and 20), including the fact that during the March 20 visit Beethoven whispered, ‘I rather think I shall soon be setting out on the upward journey.’

A rare portrait of famous composer Ludwig van Beet
A rare portrait of famous composer Ludwig van Beethoven, one of the very few contemporary portraits of the musician, is prepared for auction at Sotheby’s auctioneers in London in a file photo. (Johnny Eggitt/AFP/Getty Images)

“The lock of hair stayed in the Hiller family until sometime in the 20th century. It next surfaced in 1943 when it was given to a Danish doctor named Kay Alexander Fremming as payment for providing medical treatment for Jews trying to escape from the Nazis.

San Jose University’s Beethoven Center said on its website: “When the frame was opened in 1995, a fragment of paper with writing on one side, backed by a French newspaper, was discovered. We believe this to be a piece of the original authentication document, possibly in the hand of Ferdinand Hiller. Although not much of the text remains, you can make out the words “Beethovens” and ‘abgeschnitten’ (‘cut off’).”

“Also found inside was this statement by Hermann Grosshennig, a restorer of art objects in Cologne, who in 1911 examined and reframed the hair. He notes that the hair was newly sealed to keep it dust free (‘neu beklebt damit staubfrei’) and maintained in its original state (‘Urzustand erhalten’). On the back of his document is a pencil drawing of how the hair was to be coiled inside the frame.”

Film About Beethoven’s Hair

There is a film in 2005 about Beethoven’s hair, produced for Canadian television by Rhombus Media.

According to Rhombus International’s summary of this film: “the film begins in modern times, when a pair of Beethoven enthusiasts purchase the hair at a Sotheby’s auction. The story then looks at the lock’s previous owners and culminates in the science that reveals Beethoven’s ‘medical secret.’ Set to a lush score of some of Beethoven’s most glorious music, the film explores the world of forensic testing in sharp relief against the romance of 19th-century Vienna and the horrors of 20th-century Nazi Germany.”

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