Napoleon's hat sells for Ksh.320 million at auction
Published on: November 20, 2023 10:29 (EAT)
A black bicorne hat with red, white and blue cockade worn by the French Emperor Napoleon I (1769-1821), from the Collection Jean Louis Noisiez, is displayed before an auction sale at Osenat auction house in Paris on November 6, 2023. (Photo by Dimitar DILKOFF / AFP)
A hat belonging to Napoleon Bonaparte when he was French emperor sold for a record of nearly two million euros at a French auction on Sunday, the auction house said.
It went for 1.932 million euros ($2.1 million) -- breaking the previous record for a Napoleonic hat, held by the same auction house, of 1.884 million euros 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 colours, blue-white-red 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.
Other Napoleon memorabilia from the Noisiez collection also went on the block, 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 euros, and nearly four times the reserve price, the auction house based in Fontainebleau, south of Paris, 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 told AFP ahead of the sale.
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.
He 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.
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 his complex relationship with his wife Josephine.
Joaquin Phoenix, who plays Napoleon in the movie, said of the late emperor that he was "socially awkward", but also a "romantic".
Phoenix told AFP 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 movie 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 like how Napoleon ate and drank.