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A Jane Austen memento. Pricey? Creepy?

June 23, 2008 |  2:15 pm

Janeaustenhair

This is more than just a lovely piece of 19th century jewelry. It's a memorial to Jane Austen — look closely to see the faint outline of a grave with her name on it at the lower right. And it's (probably) crafted (probably) of Jane Austen's own hair.

At an auction last week, the locket was bought by an anonymous bidder for $9,478.

The buyer could have been almost anyone — 191 years after her death, Austen has plenty of enthusiastic fans. The Jane Austen Society of North America counts 4,000 members; maybe it was one of them. Or perhaps it was someone with a high profile. An Austen blogger posits it might have been J.K. Rowling, who once said that Austen was her favorite writer. The author of the "Harry Potter" series certainly could drop 4,800 pounds on a trinket without denting her budget.

According to most accounts, hair jewelry was popularized during Queen Victoria's extended period of mourning. But the practice of weaving or twisting the hair of a loved one into complex designs, like the one above, goes back several hundred years (the 2004 book "Mourning and Art Jewelry" has all the details). It was not considered creepy to trim the hair from a corpse — as was done in Austen's case — in order to wear it close to one's heart.

At the same auction, a first edition of Austen's "Sense and Sensibility" sold for 30,000 pounds (almost $60,000). Six years ago, a "Pride and Prejudice" first edition sold for $62,000. The hair jewelry might have been a bargain after all.

Carolyn Kellogg

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