In a remarkable auction held on Sunday in Fontainebleau, a felt bicorne hat once worn by Napoléon Bonaparte secured an astonishing $2.1 million, exceeding its initial valuation of $650,000-$870,000. The auction, featuring memorabilia from the French emperor’s era, was a tribute to a collector’s passion, drawing global attention to a significant piece of Napoleonic history.
The bidding frenzy unfolded as the faded and cracked hat, one of the few remaining examples worn by Napoléon during his European campaigns, took center stage. Initially estimated at 600,000 to 800,000 euros, the hat’s value skyrocketed during the auction. Jean Pierre Osenat, president of the Osenat auction house, declared the winning bid at 1.9 million euros ($2.1 million), including a 28.8% commission.
The hat’s distinctive style, worn by Napoléon with the ends pointing toward his shoulders, was known as “en bataille” or “in battle.” This unique design facilitated easy identification of the emperor on the battlefield by his troops. The historical significance of the artifact was underscored by Osenat as he announced the winning bid, eliciting applause from those present in the auction hall.
Recovered by Col. Pierre Baillon, a quartermaster under Napoléon, the hat underwent a journey through time before landing in the possession of the late industrialist Jean-Louis Noisiez. Noisiez spent over 50 years amassing a collection of Napoleonic memorabilia, including firearms, swords, and coins, establishing the backdrop for the extraordinary auction.
The identity of the buyer remains undisclosed, adding an air of mystery to the acquisition of this prized piece of history. This landmark sale, occurring just days before the release of Ridley Scott’s film ‘Napoleon’ featuring Joaquin Phoenix, reflects a renewed global interest in the controversial French ruler and the artifacts that embody his legacy.