On June 11 in London, a lock of Ludwig van Beethoven’s hair more than doubled its high estimate, selling for £35,000 at Sotheby’s Important Manuscripts, Continental Books and Music sale.
Estimated to fetch £12,000-15,000, this substantial lock of dark brown and grey hair was given by the German composer to his friend and pianist, Anton Halm, in 1826. After meeting in 1815, Halm (1789-1872) got to know Beethoven well, playing for him frequently. In 1826, Halm made an arrangement of Beethoven's Grosse Fuge op.133 for two pianos, and it was during this period that Beethoven gave him this hairy keepsake.
Dr Simon Maguire, Director, Senior Specialist, Books & Manuscripts, said:
This lock of Beethoven’s hair arguably has the best story behind it of any to appear at auction. According to Beethoven’s biographer A.W Thayer, Halm asked for a lock of Beethoven's hair for his wife Maria. The hairs arrived a few days later, supposedly Beethoven's, but had in fact been cut from a goat. When he had finished his arrangement, 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, declaring it to be genuine. During the intervening years, there were conflicting accounts of who was to blame for the original prank, one indeed implicating Beethoven himself, prompting Thayer to go to Vienna to “to hear the story straight from the horse's mouth.”
As well as being one of the best documented, this lock of Beethoven’s hair is unique in its origin - other locks that we have seen have generally been taken from the composer on his deathbed in 1827, rather than cut by the man himself.
Beethoven’s mane attraction was passed down from Halm to his pupil, Julius Epstein (1832-1926), and has remained in the same family since.