A military dress hat thought to have been worn by Napoleon Bonaparte at the fateful Battle of Waterloo went for €350,000 ($406,000) at auction Monday, on the anniversary of the decisive battle that brought an end to his reign.
The final price far exceeded the expected €30,000 to €40,000, highlighting the endless fascination for all things associated with the emperor. The identity of the buyer was not disclosed.
Napoleon wore the distinctive "bicorne" hatsideways, rather than with points at the front and back, so he could easily be spotted on the battlefield.
Historians believe this particular hat fell off Napoleon’s head at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. A Dutch captain is reported to have claimed it as a war trophy, passing it down through his family for generations. It was then sold to a French collector at the end of the 20th century.
Craze for Napoleon
“It is a rather simple hat, in felt, like all of Napoleon’s hats. We can see the traces of time and use. There are some characteristic traits like the fact that Napoleon couldn’t stand the interior band which is always removed. This hat has tiny defects. There are cracks – so it’s not in as good condition as the last hat sold,” Etienne de Baecque, the auctioneer leading the sale on the anniversary of the famed battle, told FRANCE 24.
Yet despite details that suggest the hat is one of about 120 the "Little Corsican" went through during his 15 years in power, there is no conclusive proof it belonged to him.
"As always with historical souvenirs, there's an element of fascination as well as doubt," De Baecque said.
Most of the hats were made by the French hatmakers Poupard in black felted beaver fur, though only a handful of confirmed examples still exist.
Monday's sale still fell short of the €1.9 million paid for a Napoleon bicorne four years ago -- part of a prestigious collection auctioned off by Monaco's royal family -- to the owner of the South Korean food and agriculture giant Harim.
Demand for all things Napoleon has often sent prices spiralling well above estimates.
"There's a sort of craze going on with historical souvenirs, in particular those from Napoleon," said De Baecque,
Last November a fragile gold laurel leaf from the crown made for Napoleon's coronation in 1804, weighing just 10 grams, was sold for €625,000.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)