| Antoine Froidefond |
PARIS (AFP) – One of Napoleon’s famous two-pointed hats was sold on Sunday to a South Korean collector for nearly 1.9 million euros ($2.2 million) at an auction outside Paris.
The black felted beaver fur “bicorne” hat is one of only 19 examples left of the unusual headwear sported by the French emperor, one of the country’s best known historical figures.
It sold for 1,884,000 euros, almost five times its estimated value, at a two-day auction of Napoleon memorabilia by Monaco’s royal family which raked in a total of 10 million euros, including fees, said French auctioneers Osenat, Binoche and Giquello.
The hat was bought by Lee Tae Kyun, the manager of Korean food industry giant Harim.
“I came for my boss, the head of the company. He wanted to buy it because we have a new building and the hat means something there, for the new generation,” said the bidder, requesting anonymity.
“We want to show this hat to make people come … and because the employees of our company are the same (as Napoleon). We are pioneers in Korea.”
During his reign as French emperor – from 1804-1814 and again in 1815 – Napoleon Bonaparte is said to have worn around 120 of the hats.
The bicorne, meaning two horizonal points, was a variation on the tricorne – or three-pointed hat – which was popular in the 17th century and favoured by American colonists around the time of the American revolution.
Made by French hatmakers Poupard, Napoleon wore them sideways – rather than with points at the front and back – so he could be easily spotted on the battlefield.
Only two or three of the remaining hats are in private hands with the rest scattered in museums across the world.
The headpiece went under the hammer at Fontainebleau along with some 1,000 pieces of Napoleon memorabilia that belonged to Prince Louis II of Monaco (1870-1949), the great-grandfather of current monarch Prince Albert.
The hat was acquired by Joseph Giraud, a vet in Napoleon’s household, and remained in his family until 1926 when it was sold to Prince Louis’ collection.
Other items sold include a pair of Napoleon’s stockings, a shirt and a red cotton scarf, which sold for 32,200 euros.
A massive bust of the former emperor sold for 700,000 euros and a painting by French artist Paul Delaroche went for 460,000.
Also under the hammer were trophies seized by Prussian troops at Waterloo, where Napoleon was defeated in battle, leading to the end of his rule as emperor. Among those items were embroidered shoes belonging to his infant son and an ivory watch.
Another notable item was a kitchen knife found on student Friedrich Staps who intended to use it to assassinate Napoleon in Austria in October 1809, a crime for which he was executed by firing squad.
The collection, which also includes letters and documents relating to Napoleon’s reign, military exploits and exile and imprisonment on Saint Helena, had been kept at the principality’s Napoleon Museum in Monte Carlo.
The Grimaldi family is selling a number of pieces having decided to pursue new museum projects.
“It’s a very well-known collection, the provenance of the pieces is incontestable,” Thierry Lentz, director of the Napoleon Foundation, told AFP.
Two hundred years after his reign, Napoleon remains a deeply popular historical figure. The main French association in his memory currently has around 4,000 members.