An iconic black hat, believed to have been worn by Napoleon Bonaparte, has been sold for a staggering $2.1 million at an auction in France. This remarkable sale marks a record for Napoleon’s well-known two-cornered military dress hats, known as bicorns. Historians estimate that the French emperor possessed approximately 120 versions of this distinctive headpiece.
The auction, held by the esteemed Osenat auction house in Fontainebleau, showcased a collection from the renowned French industrialist Jean Louis Noisiez. Among these priceless artifacts, the black beaver felt hat, adorned with a tricolor cockade—a military rosette—caught the attention of passionate collectors and historical enthusiasts alike.
Only a handful of Napoleon’s hats, approximately 16, have survived over the years, with most being safeguarded in museums to preserve their historical significance and cultural value.
Constructed by a skilled furrier at the emperor’s palace, this particular hat, which far exceeded its original estimate, is believed to have adorned Napoleon’s head at the height of his reign. In 1815, upon his return to France from exile on the island of Elba, he affixed the cockade to the hat, solidifying it as a symbol of his power and authority.
“People recognized his hat everywhere,” remarked the auctioneer, Jean-Pierre Osenat, underscoring the significance of this iconic headpiece. It became a distinctive symbol of Napoleon’s presence, as he wore it effortlessly, whether in battle or in private. While most individuals of the time wore the hat with the corners facing front to back, Napoleon would deliberately align the corners with his shoulders—a subtle yet powerful statement of his leadership.
The sale of this noteworthy hat follows the 2018 auction in Lyon, France, where another version of Napoleon’s headpiece fetched over $400,000. Historical records indicate that he maintained a rotation of 12 hats, each with an expected lifespan of three years, reflecting his meticulous attention to detail in his appearance as a military leader and ruler of France.
Napoleon’s influence on French history cannot be overstated. He ascended to the role of emperor in 1804 and left an indelible mark on the nation through his military prowess and governance. During his tumultuous reign, he engaged in numerous wars against various European powers, shaping the course of history. However, his ambitions were ultimately curtailed by his defeat at the hands of the British in the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
Following this pivotal loss, Napoleon abdicated for the second time and was banished to the remote island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic. It was on this desolate island where he spent his remaining years until his death in 1821. Today, his legacy lives on through artifacts like this iconic hat, illuminating the enduring fascination with one of history’s most influential figures.
What is a bicorn hat? – A bicorn hat is a two-cornered military dress hat, known for its distinctive shape that resembles a crescent moon.
How many of Napoleon’s hats remain in existence? – It is estimated that approximately 16 of Napoleon’s hats have survived to this day.
What was the significance of Napoleon’s hat? – Napoleon’s hat served as a recognizable symbol of his authority and presence, accompanying him in both public and private spheres.
Where is Napoleon’s hat now? – The recent auction in France sold one of Napoleon’s hats to a private collector. The current whereabouts of the hat remain undisclosed.
What other items were featured in the auction? – The auction also showcased Napoleon’s vanity set, complete with a razor and toothbrush, as well as a handkerchief he used during his time of illness on St. Helena.