Robert E. Lee's Hair for Sale -- Guess How Much

A letter, lock of hair and knife once owned by Robert E. Lee will be auctioned Saturday in Falls Church, VA. 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, VA. Screen shot from online catalog.
By Mary Ann Barton

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


“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


“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.


Editor's note: This article originally was published by Falls Church Patch in Virginia.


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