Hair Today, Still Hair Tomorrow

Interesting Find: Goethe’s Hair at the Taylor Institution Library

As promised, here is a longer post all about this most unusual artefact!

If you may not know already, the Taylor Institution houses a vast array of collections on Modern Languages and Literatures. We also house some amazing special collections. Including a lock of Goethe’s hair! The hair even has its own shelfmark: MS.8º.G.26. The shelfmark is an octavo. Professor Henrike Lähnemann of the University’s Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages finds this amusing. This is because the octavo refers to the original German paper slip holding the hair. Lähnemann has said that the slip is like a secular counterpart to the authentication papers which comes with saint’s relics. In the Middle Ages, they were called cedulae, where the name of the saint was noted and then tied to the relic. This placement of slip and hair in a small envelope appears to indicate the treatment of Goethe’s hair as if it were the relic of a saint. Today, Goethe’s hair continues to fascinate visitors of the library. The hair is displayed in a frame alongside a pressed violet and a portrait of Goethe, with the German paper slip and a little, ‘English’ envelope. Why does the Taylor have such a mysterious artefact, and how did the library even attain it in the first place? All will be revealed.

Figure 1: Goethe’s hair, framed with sketched portrait and violet. The English envelope features on top.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) was considered to be the greatest German literary figure of the modern era. He was a statesman, and from 1775 joined the court of the Duke of Weimar. Goethe held several, responsible, administrative and advisory posts in the government. Yet, political duties got in the way of his writing. Eventually, Goethe left on a two year trip to Italy (without telling anyone!) in order to come to terms with his art. Upon returning to Germany, Goethe was no longer involved in public affairs. Instead, he cultivated his passions, including his plays, poems, and novels, but also his scientific studies. Goethe’s works include Faust (Part One and Two 1808 and 1832, respectively), Roman Elegies (1795), and The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774). Goethe also found the time to translate works into German, write an autobiography (Poetry and Truth, 1811-33), and also edit and publish several literary reviews!

Goethe died unexpectedly of heart failure, and left behind a vast legacy. He had a profound impact on later literary movements, including Romanticism and Expressionism. Goethe’s lifetime spanned some of the most monumental disruptions in modern history, and is often referred to as the Goethezeit or Age of Goethe.

Presumably, as was common place in western cultures, when a person was gravely ill or had died, locks of hair were shorn from Goethe’s head. The locks were then distributed to close family and friends. As creepy as it may seem to us in the 21st century, a lock of hair may have been comforting to the grieving and also act as a sign of prestige. By the end of his life, Goethe was highly celebrated, and to be seen to possess a lock of hair from the head of the man himself, certainly conveyed privilege. Those of you who are Goethe fans may have noticed this was in complete contrast to how his friend Eckermann viewed removing locks from Goethe’s head. In the final passage of Conversations with Goethe, Eckermann, upon seeing Goethe in his death bed, remembered how he ‘wished for a lock of his hair; but reverence prevented me from cutting it off’.

Clearly, the sheer, celestial monument of Goethe on his death bed, did not stop everyone from taking a small keepsake. There is no record whether Goethe gave his permission for a lock of his hair to be cut. Susan Halstead is a Social Sciences Subject Librarian at the British Library. According to her, Goethe’s reaction to such a request would have depended on who made it. Ottilie von Goethe, his daughter-in-law may have received a favourable response, as she cared for the elderly Goethe until his death. Whereas, Bettina von Arnim would have received a much dustier response. After all, her friendship with Goethe was ended, due to Bettina’s ‘insolent behaviour’ towards Goethe’s wife.

It is unclear how many people were able to obtain a lock of Goethe’s hair, but one person who did was Johannes Falk. Whilst there is no mention of Falk in any accounts of Goethe’s illness in 1823 and eventual passing, chronologies of the day were compiled by scholars collating diaries, letters and conversation in the 20th century. So, it was only people who were actually there at the time, who could have known that Goethe was convalescing. At the time, Goethe was recovering from a near fatal heart illness. It is possible that the lock of hair was cut, unbeknownst to Goethe, whilst he was enjoying a restorative sleep.

Falk (1768-1826) was a German publisher and poet. Frequenting the literary circles of Schiller and Goethe, he became a close friend of Goethe. Therefore, Falk may have been one of Goethe’s visitors when he was taken ill. One inscription accompanying the hair was possibly penned by Falk himself (see Figure 2). The inscription is simply entitled Goethes Haar (Goethe’s hair) and reads as follows:

Diese Locke(n) wurden ihm 2ten März in den Tagen seiner Genesung von der Krankheit abgeschnitten. 

This lock was cut from him on the 2nd March in the days of his convalescence from illness

There is currently, no direct evidence that Falk was the true author of this inscription. To establish true authorship, handwriting analysis would have to be undertaken. Manuscripts penned by Johannes kept in the Falk Archive in Weimar, would need to be compared with the inscription. Despite this, there is still a high possibility that Johannes wrote it.

According to the testimony of John Falk, the living descendant of Johannes Falk, he passed on the hair to a daughter, who then proceeded to pass it onto John’s great grandfather. A second inscription also accompanies the artefact and seems to confirm this, with the heading of Goethe’s hair (see Figure 2). The text is in English and is as follows:

Given me by my Aunt, Mrs Gabriele Saeltzer, of Weimar, the only surviving child of my Father’s Uncle, Johannes Daniel Falk, the Satirist and Friend of Goethe.  Given me at Catsclough, Cheshire on Fri Aug. 19. 1881.  H. John Falk.

Figure 2: German slip (left) and English envelope (right)

The inscription is on the English little envelope in which the lock of hair was kept for 58 years. It is unclear if Gabriele Sältzer was visiting Catsclough or if she was a resident. It is very possible that she was one of Johannes’ daughters, as out of the ten children Johannes had with his wife Caroline Rosenfield, only two daughters survived. If Gabriela was Johannes’ youngest daughter, she would have been in her sixties in 1881. Therefore, she must have treasured the hair for most of her life. It may be natural to assume that she wanted to pass it and other small relics such as the portrait of Goethe and the pressed violet onto the next generation. Gabriele or Falk may have added these items, intending them to be accompanied with the hair wherever it went. Presumably in a similar act of veneration, H. John Falk may have framed the three little items (see Figure 1).

A violet seems to be an odd choice to accompany the hair. But the reason for this, as Lähnemann explained, is due to the popularity of Das Veilchen (The Violet), which is a poem by Goethe. The last stanza of the poem is:

Ach! aber ach! das Mädchen kam

Und nicht in Acht das Veilchen nahm,

Ertrat das arme Veilchen.

Es sank und starb und freut’ sich noch:

Und sterb’ ich denn, so sterb’ ich doch

Durch sie, durch sie,

Zu ihren Füßen doch.

Das arme Veilchen

Es war ein herzigs Veilchen!


But alas, alas, the girl drew near

And took no heed of the violet,

Trampled the poor violet.

It sank and died, yet still rejoiced:

And if I die, at least I die

Through her, through her

And at her feet.

The poor violet!

It was a dear sweet violet!

Goethe’s poem was composed as a song for voice and piano by Mozart in 1785. Mozart’s composition would have made Das Veilchen a staple piece to be enjoyed in the 19th century drawing room. The violet is a tad masochistic, but its addition is a romantic touch, alluding to the popular ‘crush’ on Goethe.

The sketched portrait has been observed to be similar to other portraits of Goethe. In particular, in Goethes aussere Erscheingung: literarische und kuenstlerische Dokumente seiner Zeitgenossen by Emil Schaeffer, we can see striking similarities between it and the porcelain painting by Ludwig Sebbers (1826) in Figures 3 and 4.

Figure 3: Porcelain painting by Ludwig Sebbers.
Figure 4: Lithograph by Grevedon after the lost drawing by Kiprinsky (1823)

There are also noted similarities in a lithograph by Grevedon, a copy of a lost drawing by Orest Adamovitsch Kiprensky (1823) in Figure 4. In both portraits, we can see the same receding hairline. However, the Kiprensky portrait differs from the sketched portrait and Sebbers’ porcelain painting as Goethe’s facial expression is more severe. It is interesting to note that one these portraits, Goethe’s hair is depicted as being quite frizzy, whilst the actual lock of hair appears to be straight. Yet, in the chalk drawing by Karl Christian von Vogelstein (1824), Goethe is depicted with much straighter hair (see Figure 5). Vogelstein’s sketch of Goethe is not as flattering as Sebbers’ and Kiprensky’s portraits. Goethe is depicted with large, liquid eyes and a prominent nose. Depending on the artist, Goethe’s appearance will differ. Overall, considering the three portraits, there are features which do bear resemblance to the sketched portrait. Therefore, the unknown artist of the sketched portrait may have been inspired by other, contemporary portraits of Goethe.

Figure 5: Chalk drawing by Karl Christian Vogel von Vogelstein (1824) Schaeffer’s Goethes Aussere Erscheinung 1914: pl 60

At the start of this post, I mentioned Lahnemann’s observations regarding the hair as if it were a relic of a saint. Johannes Falk and his daughter may have intended the lock to be revered as something holy and immortal. This appears to be a sentiment that Taylor librarians have also shared. In 1953, John’s grandfather, Oswald, agreed to have the hair displayed at the Taylor. The librarian at the time, Donald Sutherland, promised Oswald that the hair would be kept in a show-case in one of the reading rooms. For nearly 70 years, the hair has been either on display or (at present!) kept in the rare book room at the library. It has never been taken out of its frame, nor separated from the crushed violet or sketched portrait.

Nick Hearn, French and Russian Subject Consultant at the Taylor, adds that in the lock of Goethe’s hair the comical and frivolous seem to combine with the eternal and the hagiographical.

Our obsession with Goethe continues.


I would like to thank my colleagues at the Taylor Katie Day, Emma Huber and Nick Hearn- for their assistance. Thank you for lending me notes and forwarding some very interesting email chains.

Thank you Professor Henrike Lahnemann and Susan Halstead for your intriguing interpretations surrounding the lock of hair.


Eckermann, Johann Peter. 1839. Conversations with Goethe in the last years of his life. Hilliard, Gray, and company: Boston. Translated from the German by Margaret Fuller.

Schaeffer, Emil. 1914. Goethes Aussere Erscheinung. Insel-Verlag: Leipzig

Reinventing Libraries- Part 2 of E Developments Graduate Trainee Session

On 20th November 2019, the graduate trainees attended a session on E Developments at the University of Oxford’s Libraries. The first talk was given by Sally Rumsey, Head of Scholarly Communication and Data Management. She covered open access regarding academic research, which was featured in a blog post last week. The second talk was given by Michael Popham, and was all about digital developments at the Bodleian libraries.

When I first told my family and friends that I had got a job as a trainee in an academic library for a year, most of them were very supportive and happy for me. Others, not so. The most frequent comments I received was…

‘Do we still need physical books when everything is online?’

As ignorant as that comment seems, the people that said it did have a point. If you have a browse on Solo or any other academic catalogue, many resources have been digitized and are available electronically. My former university’s library advertised its resources available online with posters describing how their collections of physical books was ‘only the tip of the iceberg’. Their E resources appeared to be vast and unlimited in comparison to their smaller, physical book collections.

The physical books are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to academic libraries!

Michael Popham, head of Digital Collections and Preservation, opened his talk discussing how digital libraries are the future. The Bodleian already has a Digital Library. At the moment, the library is purely online, where it pulls all digital collections into one discovery platform. However, Michael suggested how a digital library could become a physical space. It is interesting to think of how this space would look. Would a digital library be a place to study with a few more PCs than a regular library? Michael suggested that the word ‘digital’ implies that the library would be expected to be open 24/7. Anything digital, after all, should be instantly usable and accessible even on Christmas Day! A digital library would contain services and tools to support discovery, access, and reuse of digital content.

So if digital libraries are the future, will we now see less of the printed book? Maybe, but not at such a fast rate as one would expect. There are many issues with digitization and for the Bodleian Libraries, the main problem is that digitization lacks consistency. This is because the university currently relies on grants and funding, in order for projects to go ahead. Books which are earmarked for projects tend to be strongly visual in nature, as digital collections are driven by what the team receives funding for. According to Michael, the funding bodies and even the team behind the digitization process often have an agenda which affects how the digitized books are presented. There could be more of a focus to digitize certain aspects of manuscripts and subconsciously ignoring other areas of interest. These issues are difficult to address, as accessing funds is integral to enable a digitization project.

The Bodleian was the first outside of the US to join the Google Books Partner Scholarship. It was a huge project which aimed to digitize the library’s vast collection of non-copyright material. Google digitized books at an incredible rate. Overall, 300’000 works were digitized, including board games, binding designs, museum objects, CDs, and tapes! However, there were many cases of books which had not been moved or opened in over 150 years, being unable to fit on their previous shelves. During the digitization process, these books had expanded, leading to a huge pile up when it came to reshelving. Books involved in digitization projects are often older and rare manuscripts, so they require further special handling and conditions which affect the cost of projects. In order to digitise such material, the Bodleian uses special scanning machines. The cradle of these machines uses a vacuum which gently sucks the pages down. These machines are certainly cool, but are not without their high financial cost.  

Digitization isn’t just for old manuscripts either. The Bodleian Electronic Archives and Manuscripts (BEAM) is a digital repository service which manages born-digital archive and manuscripts. The service was established as the Bodleian was receiving an ever-increasing amount of digital material. This material can come in the form of whole computers, disks and other types of external media. This brings the future of digitization into a new light. How do we process information which is already digital? The files stored on devices may appear in older file formats with no equivalent paper form. BEAM’s existence is integral as it allows the Bodleian to adapt to the digital age. Electronic legal depositories are important as in 2003, the revised Copyright Act of 2003 recognised that much of the nation’s published output in digital form was being lost. The Legal Deposit Libraries (Non-print) Regulations 2013 was passed to address this. Any digital publication is covered under the Regulations including CD-Roms, works published online that are issued from a UK domain, and items on microfilm. The British Library and the National Libraries of Wales and Scotland collect the material on behalf of all Legal Deposit Libraries. Bodleian readers can access these resources using the British Library’s digital system. Restrictions do apply, as these resources will often display an amber dot next to it on Solo. This indicates that the digital resource can only be accessed on a Bodleian terminal. These restrictions are often annoying for readers who may have to patiently wait their turn to view a resource, as the system will only allow one viewing at a time. However, preservation of digital material is essential to prevent future loss.

Preserving digital material is essential

So is digital preservation the future for the Bodleian? It certainly seems so, but the scale of digitization is not as rapid as one may think. There are 13.2 million printed items at the Bodleian libraries, with only half a million digitized. Overall, that is only 3-4% of all collections. Rare manuscripts are being digitized, but that does not mean they are instantly thrown away! They are reshelved and preserved for future generations to enjoy. So, the printed book isn’t going anywhere. The digital age also poses new problems for digitization, in that digital resources can easily disappear if technology does not exist to access them. 

E Developments at the Bodleian appear to be concentrated on adapting to the rise of the internet, either by ensuring that good quality research is freely available and that manuscripts and digital records continue to be digitally preserved. One may say that the concept of libraries is being reinvented. Information does not need to exist physically in order for there to be a need to organise, maintain, and preserve it. Libraries are no longer necessarily physical spaces, they can be virtual ones which are easily and freely accessible. And that certainly makes for an exciting future. Many thanks to Michael Popham; this post is based on his original and fascinating talk.

For More Information:

To see the Digital Bodleian for yourself:

For more information on BEAM:

Picture Credits:

Iceberg, Rita Willaert,

Memory stick, Sh4rp-i,


Reinventing Libraries- Part 1 of E Developments Graduate Trainee Session

On 20th November 2019, the graduate trainees attended a session on E Developments at the University of Oxford’s Libraries. The first talk was given by Sally Rumsey, Head of Scholarly Communication and Data Management. She covered open access regarding academic research.

The Oxford Research Archive (ORA) was established in 2007 and aimed to provide open access research to researchers. Its establishment was viewed as important after the research charity Wellcome Trust released a position statement in 2005 in support of open and unrestricted access to published research. They would fund research, but it had to be made freely available.

Before 2012, it was only Sally and one assistant who were the main team behind ORA. The digital repository was established in 2007 and had been plodding along with a mere 100 research articles to process each year. Then 2012 hit and in Sally’s words ‘all hell broke loose’. Suddenly, the team were receiving over 1200 articles to process into ORA, as well as their first budget of £800,000!

So what happened to cause such a barrage of  information? The 2012 Finch report was published by the UK government which recommended that all funded research had to be made freely available. The rise of the Internet since the early 1990s appears to have been underpinned by a desire to provide easily accessible information and research. At the time, Tim Berners Lee was honoured at the Olympic Games in London as the inventor of the World Wide Web, where as part of the ceremony he tweeted ‘This is for everyone’.

Was online academic research for everyone? If you tried to access articles on publisher’s sites, they would generally attempt to seduce you into signing up for a subscription fee (and this still happens!). The average cost for a subscription is certainly not cheap as chips. Needless to say, this did not provide an incentive for the public to want to gain reliable and good quality information. The Finch report highlighted this issue and recommended that everyone should be entitled to gain access to information. It was clearly time to tear those paywalls down.

In 2014, the big cheese, the Research Excellence Framework announced a policy which required researchers to deposit publications into their institutional repository within three months of acceptance. This led to ORA beginning to request academics to Act on Acceptance in 2016. This means that when an academic has a paper accepted for publication, they must deposit the final peer-reviewed version into ORA within three months of acceptance.

As you may imagine, publishers have had to slowly come around to the idea of open access. The author pays model as highlighted in the Finch Report is becoming increasingly popular. The author or institute pays a fee to the publisher in order for their research to be published. This enables the research to be freely accessed. According to Sally, you can have a fully open access journal where all contributors are paying to publish. But then, there are hybrid journals which have an author pays model but also a subscription fee for readers. This has been labelled by critics as ‘double dipping’ as the publisher benefits twice.

And it’s not just money that’s another issue with publishers and open access.  Academics may end up forfeiting their rights to their own work if they are not too careful. Sally said that publishers started to put restrictions on what could and could not be used when researchers wished to use their work elsewhere. SHERPA/RoMEO is a handy online database which has records researchers can assess, so they can find out what exactly they are permitted to do with work published in various journals. Although SHERPA/RoMEO is undoubtedly a useful source, the publisher’s policies can be so confusing that Sally’s team often have to decipher the terms in order to work out what the researcher can actually do.

Wherefore art thou…a right to own my work?!

This can mean that if a researcher innocently posts their work on sites like and ResearchGate, a publisher may take action since they are seen as going against the copyright agreement. The savvy academic will get around this by choosing to remove the terms they don’t like from the agreement with a black marker before signing it. We may assume that this would incite the publisher to come after the badly behaved academic with an iron fist, yet Sally says that often publishers will merely shrug. The Creative Commons, a non-profit organisation, also allows academics to retain control of their research since it enables users to choose a free copyright licence in order to share their work. ORCID is also another way of being able to share research without infringing copyright law. Researchers can apply for a unique identifier which they can use to get credit for their own work.

So what is the future for open access when it concerns academic research? Research Data Oxford (RDO) is a data management plan which provides guidance for each stage of the research process. RDO is a multi-disciplinary effort, involving various teams across the university including Sally’s, but also legal and ethical teams. In this way, researchers can be guided through the minefield that is online publishing.

The Reproducible Research Oxford (RRO) initiative will also come into play in January 2020. This is managed by a group of academics who believe in ensuring that research is bullet proof and good quality- which means that the methods academics use in their research should be made freely available too! Through this, RRO aims to lay the groundwork of a culture of research reproducibility at the University.

Finally, there is the Plan S  initiative. Plan S requires that by 2021, scientific publications which result from research funded by public grants must be published in compliant Open Access journals or platforms. This may sound like a policy but it isn’t. Plan S is guidelines funders may choose to use, but don’t be fooled that it’s entirely optional. Supporting funders include The Wellcome Trust, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Health Organisation and the European Union.

Hopefully, with more policies and initiatives like the ones discussed in this post, the world of academia will be able to continue to adapt to the idea of open access and digitized research. Many thanks to Sally Rumsey who gave the original, interesting talk on which this post is based on. Next week will feature the second talk given by Matthew Popham. It will be all about Digital Developments at the Bodleian Libraries, so stay tuned! Also coming up very soon is a post about the Copyright Training staff can receive.

Useful Links:

For a general history of open access in academic research

To read the Finch report

For more on the double-dipping phenomenon

To check out SHERPA/RoMEO

Follow the link if you are interested in obtaining an ORCID

To find out more about Research Data Oxford

For more information on Reproducible Research Oxford

To find out more about Plan S

Picture Credits:

‘This is for Everyone’- Tama Leaver image was cropped and resized

‘SHERPA/RoMEO’- Dasapta Erwin Irawan image was unaltered



Chloe Bolsover- Taylor Institution


I’m Chloe, and I am currently working as one of the two trainees at the Taylor Institution Library, this year. In the past two weeks, I have been mainly working on the enquiries desk, helping readers find their away around the labyrinth that is the Taylor! Other duties include processing books coming from and returning to the Book Storage Facility in Swindon, shelving, and responding to readers over email and telephone. I am also involved in one of the Navigation and Wayfinding projects taking place this year, where as a team I will be helping to improve reader experience of navigating the Taylor and Sackler Libraries. A challenge, I am sure you will agree, if you have ever been to the Taylor or the Sackler! Alongside Evie, I will be helping to manage the trainee blog, so am welcoming any suggestions and volunteers for blog posts from current trainees.

Myself and the Taylorian

Before the Taylor…

I have had a bit of a career change, as I was working as an archaeologist before. I worked on numerous sites, many rural and a few urban in Oxfordshire and Lincolnshire. I would say my best find was a fully articulated horse skeleton, which had a human skeleton right next to it! I got very excited, believing it to be a horse and rider burial. As I investigated, though, I realised that the burials were actually separate events, with the horse having been buried before. Such is the life of an archaeologist, as coin hoards and treasure troves are very rare finds, not what Time Team would have you believe!

You may have to really look to see it, but the human skeleton is just below the horse and the small stripey bar.

Before that, I was doing an MA in Classics and Ancient History, as well as volunteering for Exeter Cathedral. There, I assisted with rooftop tours and stewarding. I enjoyed doing extensive research on the cathedral, as it was so useful when dealing with public enquiries about the history of the building. My BA was in Archaeology and Ancient History, and at the end of my degree, I worked full time as a laboratory assistant for my local archaeological unit. I cleaned archaeological finds from a huge Roman site and prepared them for museum storage. The best part of that role was cleaning and preserving Roman painted wall plaster, as uncovering the colours and pigments of the plaster was amazing!


I am very happy to be back in Oxford, as it truly is a great city to live in. I do have a lifetime love of libraries, so cannot believe my luck that I get to work in a beautiful, 19th century library for a year! I am excited to learn new skills, improve my employability in more fields, and just to see where this year will take me.