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An archivist surveying some of the collections of Union College’s library in upstate Schenectady made some “hair-raising” historic discovery when he found a shabby, leather-bound almanac from 1973 containing a lock of hair belonging to George Washington no less. The book belonged to Philip Schuyler, the son of Gen. Philip Schuyler, a wealthy New York senator who served in the Revolutionary War and was the father-in-law of Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton.
Washington’s iconic hairdo can be prominently seen on every $1 bill and quarter. The common notion that he wore a wig is not true. What is true is that Washington was a redhead growing up and only powdered his hair white, which happens to be a fashionable color in the 18th century. By the time Washington ascended to the presidency in 1789, his locks have faded to a grayish white.
The 1793 almanac contained several strands of America’s Founding Father’s white hair, held together by a delicate string. An envelope containing the hair strand reads: “Washington’s hair, L.S.S. & (scratched out) GBS from James A. Hamilton given him by his mother, Aug.10,1871. James A. Hamilton is the third son of Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler. The lock of Washington’s hair is likely a gift to the family. It wasn’t uncommon at that time for President Washington to give locks of his hair as a remembrance to colleagues and close friends.
John Reznikoff, a manuscripts, and documents dealer in Connecticut who is listed in Guinness World Records for having the “Largest Collection of Hair from Historical Figures” checked the college’s find and assessed the strands to be “100 percent authentic.” Reznikoff told college officials: “It’s not hugely valuable, maybe two to three thousand dollars for the strands you have, but it’s undoubtedly George Washington’s.”
Two of Washington’s locks went for a few thousand dollars at an auction in 2009. Hair from Lincoln’s head meanwhile sold for a whopping $38,837 at a 2012 auction in Dallas. It is not yet clear to Union College how the old almanac containing Washington’s hair ended up in their library collection. The college has then funded a survey of their library’s archival collections to discover more “hidden treasures” that may be just gathering dust.