July 17, 2024

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The black beaver felt hat, sold at a record price, belonged to the ruler of the French empire in the 19th century.

A hat belonging to Napoleon Bonaparte when he was French emperor has sold for a record of nearly two million euros at a French auction.

The black beaver felt hat went for 1.932 million euros ($2.1 million) on Sunday at the Drouot auction house, breaking the previous record for a Napoleonic hat held by the same auction house: 1.884 million euros in 2014.

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 collectors “from the world over”, auctioneer Jeane-Pierre Osenat said, declining to give the identity or nationality of the eventual buyer.

The hat was last owned by businessman Jean-Louis Noisiez, who died last year.

The final price was more than double the estimate of 600,000 to 800,000 euros ($655,00 to $873,000), and nearly four times the reserve price, said the auction house based in Fontainebleau, south of Paris.

Napoleon is believed to have owned around 120 such hats in total, most of which are now lost.

“One million four hundred fifty thousand [euros] to my left, 1.5 million, we have 1.5 million in the room, 1.5 million for Napoleon’s hat. We’re leaving it at 1.5 million for this major Napoleon symbol, I’m selling for 1.5 million [before fees], no regrets, sold,” Osenat said as he brought down the hammer to applause.

Napoleon wore the felt hat towards the middle of his time as emperor, which lasted from 1808 to 1815, according to the auction house.

Unlike most other people 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 and 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 the emperor’s 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”.

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