In a historic auction that captivated enthusiasts and collectors alike, a faded and cracked bicorne hat worn by the legendary French emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, has set a new record, fetching a staggering Ksh 320 million at the Osenat auction house on Sunday.
The signature black hat, one of the few remaining from the 19th-century era of Napoleon, surpassed initial estimates of Ksh 100 Million to Ksh 133.6 Millions, creating a bidding craziness that culminated in an unprecedented final price.
Jean Pierre Osenat, president of the auction house, announced the winning bid, saying, “We are at 1.5 million (euros) for Napoleon’s hat … for this major symbol of the Napoleonic epoch.”
The bicorne hat, made of black beaver felt, is one of approximately 120 hats owned by Napoleon during his reign. A distinctive feature of Napoleon’s attire was wearing the hat sideways, a style known as “en bataille” or in battle, making it easier for his troops to spot their leader in combat.
“People recognized this hat everywhere. When they saw it on the battlefields, they knew Napoleon was there,” remarked Jean-Pierre Osenat. “And when in private, he always had it on his head or he had it in his hand, and sometimes he threw it on the ground. That was the image — the symbol of the emperor.”
The hat’s journey to the auction block is a tale that spans centuries. Recovered by Col. Pierre Baillon, a quartermaster under Napoleon, the hat exchanged hands through various owners before ultimately being acquired by French industrialist Jean-Louis Noisiez. Noisiez, who spent over 50 years amassing a remarkable collection of Napoleonic memorabilia, firearms, swords, and coins, passed away in 2022.
“For people who are fans of Napoleon, it’s the holy grail to have a hat,” Osenat emphasized. “There’s about 20 left that are authentic, and about 15 of them are kept in museums, so there’s about 4 or 5 that are in collectors’ hands.”
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The identity of the winning bidder remains undisclosed, adding an air of mystery to the acquisition. The final cost, including commissions, totaled 1.9 million euros, breaking the previous record of 1.884 million euros set by a South Korean collector in 2014.
The auction coincided with the upcoming release of Ridley Scott’s film ‘Napoleon,’ starring Joaquin Phoenix in the lead role, set to hit theaters on November 22. The film’s imminent release has sparked renewed interest in the controversial French ruler, contributing to the fervor surrounding the auction.