A mustache once belonging to the late Steve Prefontaine is expected to sell for $1.5 million next week, according to Sotheby’s Auction House, which is handling the sale.
Prefontaine, popularly known as “Pre,” smashed American middle- and long-distance records in the early 1970s before dying at age 24 in an automobile crash. The Oregon native was known for his brash, aggressive style of racing—and, at times, for his facial hair.
“We are honored to be handling such a prime specimen of 1970s-era hirsuteness,” said George Peppard, a Sotheby’s spokesman. “This is a unique item and a real, hairy piece of running history, and we expect the winning bid will reflect that.”
The mustache, owned since the mid-1970s by an anonymous private collector, is believed to date to 1972 and comes with a certificate of authenticity.
Such a sale is rare, experts said, but not exactly unique. Lasse Virén, a Finnish runner who once raced alongside Prefontaine, sold his ‘70s-era beard in 1989 to raise money for Finland’s Olympic team; a pair of sideburns from Frank Shorter’s 1972 Olympic Marathon victory went for $150,000 at a 2012 auction; and a Japanese businessman bought Bill Rodgers’ cowlick for $35,000 in 1998.
Such items can generate plenty of buzz among collectors of running memorabilia, experts said, but determining authenticity can be tricky.
“You really want to buy from a trusted seller and demand a notarized letter vouching for (the item’s) provenance,” said Buddy Ebsen, curator of the Smithsonian’s hair and nails division. “We all remember the Pheidippides incident.”
Ebsen was referring to the case of a Las Vegas man in 1992 who claimed to be selling a handful of “carefully preserved” pubic hairs from Pheidippides, the Greek figure of marathon legend. In fact, the hairs were from the seller himself.
“Just use caution,” Ebsen said. “There’s a fine line between owning a piece of history and being stuck with some scammer’s pubes.”