Elvis Locks May Fetch King's Ransom

By Jon Yates, Chicago TribuneNov 3, 2002
Deep in a safe, next to a box containing Wilson, the volleyball from the movie "Cast Away," and near Wally Schirra's sky-blue flight-training suit from Apollo 7, sits a hunka-hunka ball of hair that could soon spark a bidding war. The dyed-black glob, sealed in a glass jar, is purported to be clippings from the King himself. Gross? Perhaps. Expensive? For sure. Some predict the clippings, said to have been collected by Elvis Presley's personal barber, could fetch more than $100,000 in an online auction that started Monday and runs through Nov. 15. Oak Brook-based MastroNet Inc. (www.mastronet.com) is conducting the auction. The sale hits as Elvis' popularity is again soaring. In August fans commemorated the 25th anniversary of Presley's death with observances worldwide. In October, a new collection of his songs reached No. 1 on the Billboard charts. What that means for bidding on the hair no one knows. By Tuesday, the second day of the auction, only one person had offered a bid, at the opening price of $10,000. By Friday, bidding was up to $12,100. But interest is expected to build, from Elvis memorabilia collectors and those who fancy hair. "It will bring a king's ransom," said Louis Mushro, a celebrity hair collector from Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich. He said he has considered bidding on the hair but fears he will not have enough money to last in a bidding war. Mushro, who has sold strands of celebrities' hair on the online auction site eBay, said he received $811 for a strand of Abraham Lincoln's hair. His current eBay offering of a strand of Presley's hair stood at $143 Friday afternoon. "They're bringing in some good prices," Mushro said. "It's just the finest gift you can give someone. I find it fascinating that you can have a real part of a person whom you admire so much." Not everyone is impressed. Jerry Osborne, an Elvis memorabilia collector from Port Townsend, Wash., said he does not buy or sell Presley's hair because he does not believe it can be authenticated. Osborne, who has written 15 books on Elvis collectibles, said he once got a call from a man who claimed to be a doctor who helped perform Presley's autopsy. The caller wanted to sell the instruments he said were used in the autopsy. Osborne turned him down. "It's a whole different world," he said. "Unfortunately, it's the fringe-type collectibles that get the most attention." Officials at the MastroNet auction house said they have not conducted DNA testing on the hair because they have no Elvis DNA with which to match it. "Short of a DNA test, any relic associated with a famous person requires somewhat of a leap of faith," said John Reznikoff, a hair expert. "The question is, are you hopping over a crack or are you jumping over the Grand Canyon?" Reznikoff compared the hair with a sample he already owns - which he keeps with a picture in a blue-suede frame - and ruled it a match. "A lot of people say, `How do you know?'" he said of the MastroNet hair. "My confidence is so strong in it that I'm probably going to bid on it." Reznikoff, who works for University Archives, a private company based in Westport, Conn., owns hair said to be from about 100 celebrities, including Marilyn Monroe, Albert Einstein and Napoleon. He believes the predicted sale price for Presley's hair, $100,000, will prove low. "It is a very desirable piece," he said. "It sounds a little macabre, but it really isn't. People have been collecting hair for hundreds of years." Auction house officials said the hair up for bid was saved by Homer "Gill" Gilleland, Presley's barber for more than 20 years. Gilleland, who traveled with Presley to shows, would color the King's sandy-blond hair black, then cut it into a towel around Presley's neck. Friends of the barber say he would bundle the towel with the hair inside and take it home. There, he would put the hair in a plastic bread bag, where it stayed until Presley died in 1977. Shortly thereafter, Gilleland began selling strands of the hair in a souvenir shop across the street from Presley's Memphis home, Graceland, friends said. Before Gilleland died in 1995, he gave a bag of the hair to a friend, Tom Morgan. Morgan, a 61-year-old municipal employee for Memphis, decided to sell the hair this year to cash in for his retirement. "There's no question that it's the real deal," said John Heath, an Elvis expert who knows Morgan and was friends with Gilleland. "I've seen the hair and I know the history of the hair." MastroNet is selling the fuzzy black ball with letters of authentication from Heath, Morgan and Reznikoff. On its Web site and in its catalog, MastroNet describes the item as an "enormous quantity of hair from the head of the `King' - Elvis Presley - saved by his personal barber." Brian Marren, vice president of acquisitions for the auction company, said it will be up to the hair's buyer to find an Elvis sample and conduct a DNA test. The tests can be conducted for as little as $500 through Internet companies, although some companies charge considerably more. "For us to do that, we'd have to go to a relative (of Presley's), and we didn't want to get into that," Marren said. "We're very confident it will match up." Marren's company started as a sports memorabilia auction house but branched into other collectibles last year. One of the first items MastroNet sold was the Montgomery, Ala., bus on which Rosa Parks helped spark the civil rights movement. The 53-year-old General Motors bus was sold last year for $492,000 to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich. In previous auctions, MastroNet has sold single strands of hair said to be from John F. Kennedy and Lincoln for about $3,000 each, a rare Honus Wagner baseball card for more than $1.2 million, and a Babe Ruth signed baseball for $53,000. "We do a few offbeat items every auction," Marren said. "I think there will be quite a bit of action on it." Marren said he has received calls from collectors about the hair. He can also envision a home shopping television show buying the hair, then reselling individual strands or small batches to viewers. MastroNet also is selling portions of Elvis and Priscilla Presley's divorce papers, complete with the couple's signatures. Bidding starts at $5,000. The papers include the 1972 property settlement agreement and the 1974 stipulation modifying marital termination agreements and order. Todd Morgan, a Graceland spokesman, and no relation of Tom Morgan, said he has heard about the hair auction but offers no official stance on the sale. Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc., which runs Graceland, has never been asked for DNA samples to authenticate Elvis memorabilia, Morgan said. "That would take a lot of discussion," he said. "There just hasn't been a reason to explore that."
Elvis Presley on: eBay, Amazon

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