Napoleon’s hat sells for record US$2.1 million at French auction


A hat belonging to Napoleon Bonaparte when he was French emperor sold for a record of nearly €2 million at a French auction on Sunday, the auction house said.

The hat went for €1.932 million (US$2.1 million) – breaking the previous record for a Napoleonic hat, held by the same auction house, of €1.884 million in 2014 shelled out by a South Korean businessman.

The hat, known as a bicorne, is in Napoleon’s trademark colours – black, with the French flag’s blue-white-red colours as insignia – and attracted interest from collectors “the world over”, auctioneers Osenat said, declining to give the identity or nationality of the eventual buyer.

It was last owned by businessman Jean-Louis Noisiez, who died last year.

One of the signature broad, black hats that Napoleon wore when he ruled 19th century France on display at Osenat’s auction house in Fontainebleau, south of Paris, France on Friday. Photo: AP

Other Napoleon memorabilia from the Noisiez collection also went on the block at the auction house in Fontainebleau, near Paris, including a Legion of Honour medal and a pair of silver spurs owned by Napoleon.

The final price for the hat, including all charges, was more than double the estimate of €600,000 to €800,000, and nearly four times the reserve price, the auction house said.

Napoleon is believed to have owned around 120 such hats in total over 15 years, most of which are now lost.

“The hat in itself represented the emperor’s image,” auction house expert Jean-Pierre Osenat said ahead of the sale.

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Napoleon wore this particular hat towards the middle of his time as emperor, according to the auction house.

Unlike most other officers at the time, Napoleon wore his hat sideways, which gave him a distinct silhouette easily recognised by his troops in battle.

Napoleon rose to prominence during the French Revolution, becoming a key figure in the revolutionary wars.

He served the republic as first consul, and had himself crowned as emperor in 1804.

Napoleon was exiled in 1815 after losing the battle against British and Prussian forces at Waterloo.

He died in 1821 on the island of Saint Helena in the Atlantic Ocean.

Joaquin Phoenix in a scene from Napoleon. Photo: Kevin Baker / Apple TV+ via AP

Sunday’s hat sale comes only days before a biopic on Napoleon reaches cinemas worldwide.

The film, by Ridley Scott, features massive-scale battles across Europe but also portrays Napoleon’s complex relationship with his wife Josephine.

Joaquin Phoenix, who plays Napoleon in the film, said of the late emperor that he was “socially awkward”, but also a “romantic”.

Phoenix told Agence France-Presse in an interview that there had been “something almost endearing” about Napoleon, except that he was “also responsible for the deaths of millions of people”.

Research for the film was complicated by the vastly different accounts that have come down through the centuries.

“It’s very hard to get a clear answer about many things,” said Phoenix, who said his interest was in finding “inspiration more than information”, through details such as how Napoleon ate and drank.


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