When America turned away a piece of Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens still has a huge following almost 150 years after his death. Fans pay thousands of dollars for his signature; his desk and chair were worth £780,000 or almost a million US dollars, two years ago. What would you pay for more intimate memorabilia, like his hair?

A half-inch strand of Dickens’ hair is available for £399 or $500. A whole lock of it would be worth considerably more.

One such specimen of the author’s hair sold for $200 in London more than a century ago, per a report in The Ocala Evening Star, published from Ocala, Florida, on January 12, 1914. That lock of hair made its way to the US, but could not stay as the Treasury Department refused to recognise it as an antiquity on the ground that, “although Dickens, if living, would be more than one hundred years old, it was clearly evident that the lock of hair could not lay claim to any such age.”

For an object to be recognised as an antiquity in the US, it has to be at least a century old. The importer can claim duty waiver on proving the antiquity of the object.

Unluckily for the lock of Dickens’ hair, its American importer thought it was not worth the duty payable, and so sent it back to England.

From The Ocala Evening Star of January 12, 1914

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