Lock of Jane Austen’s hair

Object name: Lock of Jane Austen’s hair.

Object number: CHWJA:JAH28

Category: Objects

Description: Lock of Jane Austen’s hair in a later reeded circular brass frame with a ribbon bow crest, 1775 – 1817.

Made: 1817

Context: When Jane Austen died on 18th July 1817, following the usual practice of the time her sister Cassandra cut off several locks of Jane’s hair to give to family and friends as mementoes. Before the advent of photography, this was a tangible way to remember the deceased.

Cassandra had a lock set in a pearl ring for herself, and a niece Fanny had a brooch made.  The lock in the Museum’s collection was originally given to Harriet Palmer, who became the second wife of Jane’s youngest brother Charles.  The memento passed through the family until in the 1920’s, two of Charles’ granddaughters – Jane and Emma Florence Austen –  fell on hard times and sold many of their Austen artefacts, including this lock of hair, to an early collector of Austen material called Frederick Lovering.  Following his death, his collection was auctioned at Sotheby’s in 1948.  The lock of hair was bought by a wealthy American, Mrs Alberta Burke.

At the opening ceremony of Jane Austen’s House in July 1949, the Museum’s founder, Mr T. Edward Carpenter, gave a speech in which he lamented the loss of so many Austen artefacts to America.  Mrs Burke was present and jumped to her feet to say she was the purchaser of the hair and would present it to the Museum.

The hair was framed by London jeweller Hancock’s of Vigo Street in 1950.

Other objects you might like: