Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Hair Force One

Currier Print of Franklin Pierce

The hair of Abraham Lincoln is so desirable to collectors that a 1/16-inch-long piece of a single hair, allegedly cut from the Great Emancipator's head on his deathbed, is listed on eBay at $1900. One-sixteenth of an inch!

Consider then, the value of this lock of Franklin Pierce's hair from the New Hampshire Historical Society collection.

To me, it looks like something a cat coughed up. That, plus Pierce's sullied reputation as an ineffective President, tells me that his tresses probably wouldn't fetch a high price in the booming deceased celebrity hair market. But I may be wrong. Maybe there are enough Pierce aficianados out there to bid up the price.

Apparently, Pierce's tonsorial splendor was one reason behind his nickname, Handsome Frank. Today, there is some question among Pierce commentators (don't look for them on CNN or MSNBC) about whether Franklin Pierce's hairdo was a result of careless indifference, or thoughtfully planned coiffure. The experts seem to come down on the side of thoughtful planning. Writing in the blog Mental Floss, David Holzel lists as number five of his "Five Amazing Facts About Franklin Pierce (In Honor of His 203rd Birthday)" the tantalizing possibility that Franklin Pierce perfected the combover. He cites as evidence a photo from 1862 which supposedly shows Pierce's hair on two levels--"above, the hair combed on a deep slant, and below, a small patch at the front and center of his wide forehead." Alas, the photo is not included in the article so that astute readers might judge for themselves. I haven't been able to locate the said photo, even in an extensive gallery of Pierce's hairstyles at the website of the New Hampshire Historical Society. The NHHS e-newsletter of February 15, 2008 focuses on a bit of evidence in the great hair, or should I say big hair, debate. The Society purchased a letter written by Franklin's wife, Jane, at auction. The letter, written to her sister in 1857, contains the passage, “Today, Mr. Pierce has met the citizens of Norfolk and after the fatigue is quietly lying on the sofa by a bright fire with Miriam brushing his hair soporifically.” Miriam was Mrs. Pierce's maid. I'm not sure if the phrase means that Mr. Pierce found the hair-brushing so relaxing he was falling asleep, or the maid found the task so boring that she was nodding off. In any case, one might conclude from this little vignette that Pierce was interested in the appearance of his hair. In the newsletter, Peter Wallner, director of the NHHS library and author of two volumes of Franklin Pierce biograpy, states, “While the evidence is not conclusive, the letter leads one to suspect that the vanity Pierce showed for his appearance extended to his hair as well.”

The other mention of President Pierce's hair I have found in my exhaustive research comes from the newspaper description of his lying in state at the New Hampshire State House in Concord, where mourners commented on “his mass of curly black hair, somewhat tinged by age, but which was still combed on a deep slant over his wide forehead.” [New Hampshire Daily Patriot, October 11, 1869]. Deep slant or combover? You be the judge. As David Holzel says at the conclusion of his Mental Floss article, "Pierce’s hair unquestionably is a subject for future historians to wrestle with." Let's just hope they don't have to wrestle with that hairball at the NHHS Museum.


David H. said...

Hello David C. --
I wish I could to point you to an online photo of Pierce with his possible comb over. The fact is, I saw it in a book -- "Franklin Pierce -- Martyr for the Union," by Peter Wallner. The photo in question is on the last of the photo insert pages. The caption is, "Franklin Pierce, ca., 1861." Whether it is a comb over is probably for actual historians to decide, not ersatz ones like me. However, if you ever get a copy of the book, I'm sure your opinion will be just as definitive.

All the best,
David H.

David C. said...

Thanks for the info, David. One of these days I'm sure I'll be buying Mr. Wallner's books so I can check out the photos for myself. Keep up the good work!

Dan said...

Would have also accepted "Hair to the Chief"


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