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General Robert E. Lee's Hair for Sale: Guess How Much?

Confederate general's hair, letter and knife, on display at Arlington House for 20 years, go on the auction block day after "Lee-Jackson Day" holiday.

A letter, lock of hair and knife once owned by Robert E. Lee will be auctioned Saturday in Falls Church. Screen shot from online catalog.
A letter, lock of hair and knife once owned by Robert E. Lee will be auctioned Saturday in Falls Church. Screen shot from online catalog.
FALLS CHURCH, Va. — A lock of hair, letter and pen knife that belonged to Confederate General Robert E. Lee will be auctioned off Saturday at a Falls Church auction house.

The letter has been on loan and display at Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial located at Arlington National Cemetery, for more than 20 years, according to a description of the item on liveauctioneers.com.

Quinn's Auction Galleries, 360 S. Washington St. in the City of Falls Church, will hold the auction Saturday at 11 a.m. The gallery is open Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The memorabilia is Lot #172, one of more than 600 items unrelated to Lee to be auctioned that morning.

Lee originally sent the letter, knife and lock of hair to a woman in Baltimore who requested the items to raise funds for an orphanage, according to a 1907 Baltimore Sun article that accompanies the items.

The sale takes place Saturday, one day after Lee-Jackson Day, a state holiday in Virginia that remembers Lee, commander of the Confederate Army in the Civil War, and Confederate Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. 

In its auction catalogue, the auctioneers estimate bids for Lee's lock of hair, letter and knife at between $20,000 to $30,000. A suggested starting bid on liveauctioneers.com is listed at $10,000.

Lee died at age 63 in 1870 in Lexington, where he is buried at Lee Chapel at Washington and Lee University. The anniversary of his birthday, Jan. 19, 1807, is Sunday. Lee was president of the institution from 1865 until his death, when it was called Washington College. 

Lee grew up in Virginia, including in Alexandria at 607 Oronoco St., now a private home, and at Ravensworth, a relative's plantation near Annandale in Fairfax County. After he married, he lived at Arlington House before the Civil War; the house is now a memorial to Lee operated by the National Park Service at Arlington National Cemetery.

The following is a description of the auction item:

The autographed letter is signed, dated January 28 1867, at Lexington, VA, with lock of hair: and autographed note initialed with pen knife. c.1867. Letter written on lined paper

Letter:

“Lexington, VA 28 Jan 1867 
Mrs. J. C. Thompson 
I recd today your letter if the 24th inst: and send the article you request.
Your generous efforts to relieve the wants of the infant orphans will I am sure be successful, for a cause so benevolent cannot fail to receive support in a city so distinguished for it’s charity & liberality as Baltimore. 

Very respty your obb svnt
RE Lee

Note:

“I must apologize for the condition of this knife by stating that it was my companion during the war. REL”

Lock of silver gray hair affixed to the letter, ivory pen knife inset at bottom of note with cut out.

Included in lot is a 1907 Baltimore Sun article about the relics and Lee’s life.

Judith Kenny January 13, 2014 at 04:24 PM
He was a nice man, regardless of what side he was on, He did his job and if the truth be told about why there really was a civil war so much bitterness and hate would go away. I hope the autcion brings in lots of money for the charities.
Mary Ann Barton (Editor) January 13, 2014 at 04:29 PM
Hi Judith, just to clarify, Lee sent the letter and lock of his hair in 1867 to help raise funds for a charity in Baltimore; I don't believe the sale this week in Falls Church, Va., is for charity; the auction house doesn't identify in its materials who the current owner is.
Wildermann January 19, 2014 at 11:10 AM
As a "nice man" he was complicit with maintaining the institution of slavery to the point that he took up arms against the United States of America resulting in countless deaths of loyal citizens. That's the truth denied by citizens of former Confederate States as they enacted a century of Jim Crow laws denying basic rights to former slave citizens and today manifest in efforts to deny basic voting rights to descendants of former slaves over nonexistent individual voter fraud nonsense. Just who should be bitter?
PutCreator1st January 19, 2014 at 12:25 PM
the north had slaves and indentured servants also martin tillet, and states rights were being usurped as they are today..with the threat of withholding federal funding. we were defending our rights over an oppressive, overbearing government. looks like nothing has changed or it is even worse now under the man with the pen in the oval orifice.
Wildermann January 20, 2014 at 09:47 AM
Two wrongs never make anything right and though it is true that indentured servants and slavery was once widespread in colonial and early America, it was outlawed in many northern states through dialogue and resolutions leading to laws making those practices unacceptable in those states without insurrection and bloodshed. A government seeking greater equality and freedom among its citizens is not overbearing and oppressive but merely living up to the ideals and principles of the Constitution, however a state or jurisdiction claiming states rights to subjugate people on the basis of race or to deny basic freedoms and rights is overbearing and oppressive by suggesting that they can operate outside of the constitution as they see fit. We are in danger of becoming not “from many, one”— e pluribus unum—but its opposite, “from one, many.” Now that works out real well in other parts of the world like the middle east, the balkans etc. Let's put science and reason first, not dogma and antiquated views based on racism.

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