Ludwig van Beethoven’s hair
‘A substantial lock’ of Ludwig van Beethoven’s hair – £28,000 at Sotheby’s.

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Described in the catalogue as “a substantial lock of the composer's grey and dark brown hair”, it was estimated at £12,000-15,000. The auctioneers would not reveal any details about the buyer.

In 1826, Halm was making an arrangement of Beethoven's Grosse Fuge op.133 for two pianos and requested a lock of his hair for his wife. It was arranged through the violinist and Beethoven copyist Karl Holz but, when the supposed lock arrived a few days later, it was soon realised that it had in fact been cut from a goat.

When Halm finished his arrangement of the fugue, he bought it to show Beethoven who, according to the catalogue, was furious that his friend had been deceived and promptly snipped off some hair and gave it to him.

The lock, which was secured with a silk thread and kept in a 19th century glazed oval frame, remained in the Halm family for many years, before passing to one of the pianist’s pupils, Julius Epstein.

While indisputably a lock of human hair, this example was claimed by Sotheby's to be one of the best documented in terms of its connection to Beethoven – other supposed locks of hair from the maestro invariably are claimed to have been taken on his deathbed in 1827.

Sotheby’s has some track record in terms of selling hair from historical figures. Interestingly a lock of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s hair made the same £28,000 hammer price at Sotheby’s in 2015, while a few strands of Horatio Lord Nelson’s hairs sold for £11,000 at the auction house in 2017.

The buyer’s premium was 25/20/13.9%.