Its 50-year journey to the auction block began with Elvis's lifelong barber, Homer "Gill" Gilleland, putting it aside as a keepsake. At some point in the '60s, he gave it back to Elvis, who in turn gave it to his friend Gary Pepper, a young man with cerebral palsy who was president of the national Elvis fan club.
When Pepper died this year, his huge collection of Elvis memorabilia was auctioned--scarves, sunglasses, signed albums. But the hair was the jewel in the crown, so to speak.
If you're like me, you may have read this news item with some disbelief. $15,000? In this economy? But what's even more incredible is that it's part of a growing trend to collect the hair of dead celebrities. Sound macabre? In the past few years, auction houses such as Sotheby's and Christie's have sold hair from the heads of Beethoven and Charlotte Brontë.
But if you really want to immerse yourself in the down and dirty commerce of hair collecting--the street market of strands--then visit eBay. There you'll find sellers such as Historical Hair offering reasonable prices on single hairs from such notable heads as John Lennon, Marilyn Monroe, Mother Teresa, Charles Dickens, Abraham Lincoln and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Since there was a 1-800 number, I called to find out just how one comes into possession of Mozart's hair.
Louis Mushro, the owner of Historical Hair, is a longtime collector of autographs and manuscripts. He told me that he'd purchased the 1/8" piece of hair from a well-respected dealer and the accompanying thirty pages of provenance traced it back to the collection of Pauline Viardot, a 19th century opera singer who revered Mozart. But is it genuine? Mushro said he trusted the provenance. And if you're willing to part with $595 for a tiny fragment of Amadeus, you'd have to.
I learned some other interesting things from Mushro: In Ancient Egypt, pharaohs and queens exchanged locks of hair as love tokens. Napoleon's soldiers kept pieces of his hair post-mortem to make amulets for bravery and strength. In the Victorian age, it was fairly common to make hair jewelry--bracelets and rings--as mementos of a deceased lover or family member.
Mushro also humorously confided that he'd once dropped a piece of Abe Lincoln's hair and never was able to find it, and that his holy--or hairy--grail is Albert Einstein.
So what's really behind the hair collecting trend? I believe it can be summed up in one word: cloning. The possibility that the traces of DNA in a hair could someday repopulate the world with bygone musical genii. Making an investment of a few hundred bucks now could reap millions in the sci-fi future.
Mushro chuckled at my suggestion and said, "I'm no scientist, but who knows? Strange things can happen in this world."
Here's hoping I live long enough to see the rebirth of The King in 2056.
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