Collectible hair is a term used for samples of hair taken from the heads of celebrities or notable historical figures which are collected as items of memorabilia.
The practise of collecting hair has its roots in Victorian England, when hair from deceased loved ones was used to make mourning jewellery. Queen Victoria herself had several rings made from locks of the late Prince Albert’s hair which she wore continually during her mourning period. A famous figure was more likely to be asked for a lock of their hair than an autograph, and during the American Civil War notable men such as Robert E. Lee would often give a small sample to collectors.
One of the most famous collections of the time was that of the Romantic poet and essayist Leigh Hunt. Currently on display in the Harry Ransom Centre at the University of Texas, it contains hair from 21 notable figures including Charlotte Brontë, Marie Antoinette, Edgar Allan Poe, George Washington, John Milton and John Keats. Hunt also spoke of once owning a strand from Lucretia Borgia’s head, stolen from the Ambrosian Library in Milan for him by his friend Lord Byron.
Other collections include the collection of hair from U.S Presidents currently held by the Library of Congress, and samples from notable writers such as Mary Shelley at the New York Public Library.
Iconic silent film star Mary Pickford once auctioned a lock of her famous hair for $15,000 whilst raising money for the war effort by promoting Liberty Bonds.
Many samples of hair from these Victorian collections appear at auction today, along with those from 20th century icons such as Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and Michael Jackson. Often the hair is collected as part of a wider film memorabilia or music memorabilia collection, but there are many who focus purely on celebrity hair.
The most expensive lock of celebrity hair ever sold is that of Cuban revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara, which was taken from him by a CIA operative. It was sold in 2007 by Heritage Auction Galleries to Texas bookstore owner Bill Butler for $119,000.
The second most expensive hair ever sold belongs to Elvis Presley. The King's locks were sold by his personal barber, Homer "Gill" Gilleland, for $115,120 (including buyer's premium) to an anonymous buyer during an online auction held by MastroNet Inc., Oak Brook, Illinois, USA, on November 15, 2002.
Other notable sales include hair from John Lennon which sold for $48,000, Babe Ruth which sold for sold for $38,000 and a single hair from Elvis’s head which reached $1,750 at a British auction in 2009.
27 January 2010 saw the sale of the Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton locket at Woolley & Wallis for £44,000.
On 22 February 2011 Justin Bieber announced to his fans that he had cut his hair, losing his famous fringe. half the hair was given to Ellen Degeneres and was auctioned on ebay raising $44,000 for The Gentle Barn animal charity. The other half of the Bieber's hair was sold by Bieber's Charity Pencils of Promise to specialist dealer Paul Fraser Collectibles for a 'considerable donation which is to be used to build a school in a developing country'.
At a Juliens sale in Beverley Hills in May 2011, a bag of hair clippings taken from U.S president John F. Kennedy was sold for $4,160. The hair had been obtained just months before Kennedy's assassination in November 1963 by Harry Gelbart "Barber to the Stars," who cut the president's hair at the home of Peter Lawford and Kennedy's sister, Patricia Kennedy Lawford.