10 June 2024

The mystery with the golden box

Foto på dosa och brev

At the Gothenburg City Museum, there’s a peculiar gold and enamel box. It’s a beautiful box, with hair set behind glass. Inside the box, there’s a handwritten note saying that the item belonged to Axel von Fersen and that the hair comes from one of history’s most famous people, Marie Antoinette. But could this really be true? As the box is now being displayed in the museum’s 18th-century exhibition, the museum staff have taken on the hair-raising story.

For over two hundred years, people have gossiped about the Swedish Count Axel von Fersen and the French Queen Marie Antoinette. Were they friends or lovers? We do not have the answer. But it’s certain that they spent a lot of time together during parts of the 1770s and 80s, and that it was common at that time to give locks of hair to loved ones.

The museum’s little gold box is barely ten centimeters, but the note inside hints at big secrets. In curly handwriting, it says that a Mr. Feron bought the box from Countess August Gyldenstople, who inherited it from his uncle Axel Fersen – and that the hair is a gift from Marie Antoinette. The quality stamp on the box shows that it was made in Paris in 1777-78, around the same time Axel von Fersen and Marie Antoinette got to know each other.

However, some facts are puzzling and contradict the note in the box. For example, the hair’s texture is coarser than usual human hair. If researchers could secure Marie Antoinette’s DNA profile, they could compare it with the hair in the box. But – it’s impossible to access the hair in the box without breaking the glass.

The box is displayed at the Gothenburg City Museum as part of the permanent 18th-century exhibition.