Brian talks with John Reznikoff, a historical artifact dealer with the largest collection of celebrity hair, about some memorable locks in his collection.
JOANNE: We just heard Helen Shoemaker describe how 19th century Americans treasured hair, making art or even sending their locks as a token of love or friendship. As a result, there is a lot of famous hair floating around out there. And even today, celebrity hair is a lucrative niche market, a market that collector John Reznikoff knows how to navigate.
JOHN REZNIKOFF: I own the record for the largest collection of historical and celebrity hair locks.
BRIAN: When we called up Reznikoff, he told us that his job is a little like the document scavenging movie, National Treasure.
JOHN REZNIKOFF: Similar to Nicolas Cage, only I don’t steal the Declaration of Independence, I buy it. So that’s what I do.
BRIAN: Through his collection, Reznikoff helped authenticate a clump of Elvis’s hair from his famous army haircut you heard about earlier. It sold for $15,000 in 2009. But that’s not the only relic from the King in Reznikoff’s collection.
JOHN REZNIKOFF: I have several different samples, but one of the samples I have is from his hairdresser, one of his hairdressers.
BRIAN: Is that the most famous bit of hair or bits of hair that you have in your collection?
JOHN REZNIKOFF: Well, I mean, it depends. I mean, if you’re an Elvis fan it is, but if you could care less about Elvis, I think there are other locks of hair that I have that are far more important historically and more desirable. For instance, I have the Lincoln lock of hair that was removed the night of the assassination to clear the wound.
JOHN REZNIKOFF: Yes.
BRIAN: What is the brief history of that lock of hair? How did it move from Lincoln’s head to your collection?
JOHN REZNIKOFF: Well, it’s interesting, and we have reams of documentation, but the surgeon that night was Charles Taft. And that surgeon passed on the hair to his son who sold it to a civil war general. Apparently also, several strands of that hair were purchased by Lincoln’s assistant, Secretary John Hay, who put it in a ring, and the night of Teddy Roosevelt’s inauguration presented that ring with hair in it to Teddy Roosevelt as a token of his esteem.
BRIAN: How did Roosevelt react to that?
JOHN REZNIKOFF: Well, I don’t know. I wasn’t there, but.
But I’ll tell you that this particular lock of hair, it’s probably my most valuable lock. And I’d say it’s somewhere between a 1/2 and 3/4 of a million dollars.
BRIAN: Wow. Wow. You know, I’m a host of a pretty popular podcast, should I sign a non-disclosure agreement with my barber?
JOHN REZNIKOFF: You know it’s– Again, an internet search will show how I was involved with buying Neil Armstrong’s hair when he was alive. It came from his barber, and he went crazy, absolutely crazy, and threatened to sue and it became kind of a little bit of a nightmare, but he never got his hair back. And those types of things are not unfathomable that it could happen.
BRIAN: So how long have you been collecting hair all together?
JOHN REZNIKOFF: I’m going to say about 25 years.
BRIAN: Has it changed the way you think about hair?
JOHN REZNIKOFF: It hasn’t changed how I think about hair, but the advances in DNA have really conceptually changed the way I think about the collection, because it’s just a matter of time until we get to a point where there is an accurate test by the hair that we have. And then you start thinking about that scientists are trying to decode what sickness John F Kennedy had or all these types of things that could be done with the DNA that exists in this collection that I have. And in essence, what I have is a card catalog of the DNA of many of the most famous people in history.
BRIAN: John Reznikoff is founder of University Archives, which deals in historical artifacts.