Hat worn by Napoleon fetches record €1.9m at Paris auction | France

A two-cornered hat worn by Napoleon Bonaparte during his reign as French emperor has fetched a record €1.932m (£1.69m) at an auction in Paris.

The black bicorne beaver felt hat was initially estimated at €600,000-800,000. The price reached surpassed the €1.884m paid for another of Napoleon’s hats in 2014, also sold by the Drouot auction house, a spokesperson for the company said.

The hat is one of 20 remaining out of 120 the French military commander is believed to have owned in his lifetime.

The sale price is thought to have been inflated by the hype surrounding the release this month of Ridley Scott’s Napoleon biopic starring Joaquin Phoenix.

Napoleon wore his hats sideways to ensure he was distinguishable on the battlefield – and thus created one of the most recognisable brands in history, which has endured since his death more than 200 years ago.

The points or “corns” were placed parallel to his shoulders, a style referred to as “en bataille”, in contrast to the majority of his officers, who wore theirs at right angles to their shoulders.

Pierre Osenat, of the the Drouot auction house, said the hat was distinguishable by a “cockade” – a cluster of ribbons of distinctive colours that Napoleon reportedly added himself in 1815 when he was travelling across the Mediterranean to Antibes from his exile in Elba, leading to a temporary return to power before his eventual defeat at Waterloo.

Most of the remaining Napoleonic bicornes still in existence are held in museums, and about five are in private collections, Osenat said.

The bicorne hat’s excellent provenance was due to it remaining in the possession of the same family throughout the 19th century, the descendants of the quartermaster Jean-Louis Noisiez who had worked at Napoleon’s palace, Osenat said.

Osenat told French media before the auction: “This hat was discernible by everyone. When they saw it in battle. they knew without a doubt that Napoleon was present.

“In private, he’d either have it on his head or in his hand, sometimes throwing it on the ground. It was the emperor’s hallmark.”

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A visitor views one of the signature broad, black hats that Napoleon wore when he ruled 19th-century France. Photograph: Christophe Ena/AP

The hat was the star item in the sale of the collection of the French industrialist Col Pierre Baillon, who died last year.

It was auctioned alongside: a nightshirt worn by Napoleon on the isle of St Helena, where he was exiled for the last time and where he died in 1821; a silver dinner plate stolen from his carriage following his defeat at Waterloo in 1815; and a mahogany vanity case, containing a well-preserved sterling silver toothbrush, razors, scissors and other items he used, which fetched up to €60,000. Other items in the sale included firearms, swords and coins.

In 2014, a South Korean buyer paid just under €1.9 m for a bicorne Napoleon had worn during the Battle of Marengo in 1800. The item was put up for sale by the royal family of Monaco along with hundreds of other artefacts.


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