Auction  November 26, 2023  Rebecca Schiffman

Napoleon's Hat Sells for $2.1 Million Signaling Renewed Interest in the French Emperor

Wikimedia Commons

Jacques-Louis David, Napoleon Crossing the Alps (1805), oil on canvas. Detail.

One of Napoleon Bonaparte's infamous black bicorne hats sold at an auction in Fontainebleau, France for €1.9 million ($2.1 million). The hat, which sold at Osenat auction house on November 19, is among just twenty others that are believed to exist of Napoleon’s two-cornered military dress hats. This hat was estimated to sell for between €600,000 and €800,000, but this salethe highest price ever paid for the emperor’s hatsignals a renewed interest in the late Emperor of France. 

The hat that sold last Sunday was part of French businessman Jean Louis Noisiez’s collection. Noisiez died last year, and his collection was rich with other Napoleon memorabilia including a Legion of Honor medal and a pair of silver spurs owned by Napoleon. 

Napoleon rose to prominence during the French Revolution and led successful campaigns during the Revolutionary Wars as a military leader. He became the First Consul in 1799 and then became the Emperor of France in 1804 and remained as such for ten years. His military success was due in part to his control of every detail on the battlefield, where he played up his enemy’s weaknesses, but he was also successful for his imposing presence and persona. Following Jacques-Louis David’s famous depiction of the Emperor in Napoleon Crossing the Alps (1805), Napoleon is frequently depicted in art in his colonel uniform and wearing a large bicorne hatwhich he wore sideways.

Napoleon’s hats were characterized by their unique bicorne shape, featuring two pointed ends that added to Napoleon’s imposing presence. Made from felt and adorned with a tricolor cockade, the hat conveyed a sense of military prowess, becoming an integral part of Napoleon’s persona. 

Napoleon’s letters and personal effects have long fascinated collectors since the 19th century. This was not the first of his hat collection to be sold at auction. In fact, in 2014, one of Napoleon’s hats sold for over $2 million, and in 2018, a faded and torn black hat sold at Osenat Auctions for more than $400,000.  

“Just by itself, this one hat symbolizes the whole of Napoleon’s history of fifteen years that revolutionized France and changed the world," said Mr. Jean-Pierre Osenat on the occasion of the sale of this hat at Osenat Auctions. "We can like or dislike Napoleon, but no one can argue about what happened during those years that changed a country like France. So this is it, it’s here, it’s that simple.”

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