CRAIG BROWN: Now get your celebrity fix

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CRAIG BROWN: Now get your celebrity fix



On Sunday’s Antiques Roadshow, a mild-mannered man brought along a miniature portrait of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and four tiny pieces of old paper that had been folded over into envelopes.

These envelopes were marked with the names of three Romantic poets — William Wordsworth, Robert Southey and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Tucked into each envelope were a few wisps of the poet’s hair: keepsakes handed down from generation to generation. 

There were two envelopes marked S. T. Coleridge — the first containing dark hair from his youth, the second containing snowy-white hair, snipped from his scalp at his death.

‘Think about that being cut from the poet’s hair on his deathbed’ said the antiques expert, Justin Croft. ‘It’s incredibly moving, isn’t it?’

CRAIG BROWN: On Sunday’s Antiques Roadshow, a mild-mannered man brought along a miniature portrait of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and four tiny pieces of old paper that had been folded over into envelopes (expert Justin Croft pictured)
CRAIG BROWN: Tucked into each envelope were a few wisps of the poet’s hair: keepsakes handed down from generation to generation

In his youth, Coleridge’s hair had been a great mass, rough and thick and long — ‘black and glossy as a raven’s’ in the words of his fan William Hazlitt.

These two little locks — the one from his youth, the other from his deathbed — are relics of this great whirlwind of intellectual and physical energy. In his youth, he would happily walk 40 miles in a single day.

Of course, the Antiques Roadshow always thrives on the tension surrounding the valuation at the end.

‘If we want to talk value, with the picture and locks of hair’, said Justin Croft, ‘without a doubt we’re looking at £30,000 to £40,000.’

Financially speaking, this puts the hair of these three Romantic poets on a par with the last autograph signed by President J.F. Kennedy ($39,000), the fibreglass ‘stone tablets’ carried by Charlton Heston as Moses in the 1956 Cecil B. deMille film The Ten Commandments ($80,000) and the nine pill bottles prescribed to Elvis Presley the day before his death ($46,000).

However, they are all soundly beaten by the see-through dress worn by Kate Middleton at a university fashion-show when she first caught the eye of Prince William, which went for £78,000 at auction back in 2010.

CRAIG BROWN: In his youth, Coleridge’s (pictured circa aged 43) hair had been a great mass, rough and thick and long ¿ ‘black and glossy as a raven’s’ in the words of his fan William Hazlitt
CRAIG BROWN: These envelopes were marked with the names of three Romantic poets ¿ William Wordsworth (pictured), Robert Southey and Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Robert Southey’s (pictured) envelope also included some of his hair

When told the value of the objects they have brought in, it has become obligatory on the Antiques Roadshow for their owners to say, ‘Oh, but of course, I’d never think of selling it’, even though you can tell from the glint in their eyes that they’ll be phoning Sotheby’s the second the cameras stop filming.

But the man who brought these strands of poetic hair along to the Antiques Roadshow seemed genuinely ungrabby, simply saying that in future he’d have to look after them a bit more carefully.

Nonetheless, if ever times grow hard, he might care to follow the example set by the owner of clippings of John Lennon’s hair.

In 1966, Lennon was given a severe short-back and sides in preparation for his role as a soldier in the film How I Won The War.

The Beatles’ cautious manager, Brian Epstein, was so determined that Lennon’s hair clippings wouldn’t end up in the wrong hands that he asked his right-hand man, Neil Aspinall, to supervise their incineration.

But, when Aspinall wasn’t looking, the barber, Klaus Baruch, managed to pocket a few clippings. Fifty years later, they were sold at an auction in Dallas for $35,000, three times the estimate.

The purchaser, Paul Fraser of Bristol, had the crafty idea of separating them out, cutting each hair into a half-inch strand, and then placing it on a display sheet ‘ready for framing’. He is currently selling each tiny half-inch hair for £399.

Whopping sum: The guests (pictured) were stunned to learn the collection, including the hair, was worth £30,000 – £40,000

Of course, there is always a danger that famous hairs might have been mixed with others from more obscure heads.

Nine years ago, Channel 4 spent £3,000 on buying a lock of Hitler’s hair from the eccentric World War II historian David Irving. Irving claimed that the black hair had been collected by Hitler’s barber, using sticky-tape attached to the soles of his shoes.

Unfortunately, when Channel 4 subjected it to DNA tests, they discovered it was not Hitler’s after all. ‘It was found to be non-European,’ said a spokesman.

Irving was furious. ‘I know it was Hitler’s because it came from his barber, with a signed letter of authentication,’ he said.

Better, perhaps, to let all these various hairs remain cosy in their bottom drawers, happy to be whatever one wants them to be.

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