PARIS—A faded and cracked felt bicorne hat worn by Napoléon Bonaparte sold for $2.1 million at an auction on Sunday of the French emperor’s belongings. Yes, $2.1 million.
The signature broad, black hat—one of a handful still in existence that Napoléon wore when he ruled 19th-century France and waged war in Europe—was initially valued at €600,000 to €800,000 ($650,000 to 870,000). It was the centerpiece of Sunday’s auction in Fontainebleau of memorabilia collected by a French industrialist who died last year.
But the bidding quickly jumped higher and higher until Jean Pierre Osenat, president of the Osenat auction house, designated the winner.
‘’We are at €1.5 million for Napoleon’s hat…for this major symbol of the Napoleonic epoch,’’ he said, as applause rang out in the auction hall. The buyer, whose identity was not released, must pay 28.8 percent in commissions according to Osenat, bringing the overall cost to €1.9 million ($2.1 million).
While other officers customarily wore their bicorne hats with the wings facing front to back, Napoleon wore his with the ends pointing toward his shoulders. The style—known as “en bataille,” or in battle—made it easier for his troops to spot their leader in combat. The hat on sale was first recovered by Col. Pierre Baillon, a quartermaster under Napoléon, according to the auctioneers. The hat then passed through many hands before industrialist Jean-Louis Noisiez acquired it.
The entrepreneur spent more than a half-century assembling his collection of Napoleonic memorabilia, firearms, swords and coins before his death in 2022. The sale came days before the release of Ridley Scott’s film Napoleon with Joaquin Phoenix, which is rekindling interest in the controversial French ruler. AP