PARIS (AP) — Napoleon Bonaparte’s famous bicorn hat is up for auction and on display next to the chateau where the French general lived when he wasn’t leading troops into battle across Europe.
The black felt is a little weathered by age and use — though no one’s actually worn the hat since Napoleon’s cavalry veterinarian, who apparently received it from the leader as a gift.
Auctioneers are hoping to fetch 500,000 euros ($623,000) for it. The hat is part of a Napoleonic collection belonging to Monaco’s royal family, which is distantly related to him. In a note accompanying the catalog, Prince Albert II said the family decided to sell the items of the collection as part of the restoration of the palace “rather than see them remain in the shadows.”
Also for sale from the collection are dozens of medals, decorative keys, documents, a jeweled sword, a Russian caviar spoon and a bronze eagle that once perched atop a battle flag, complete with bullet holes.
“It’s the first time a veritable museum is going under the hammer,” said Jean-Pierre Osenat, head of the auction house in Fontainbleau.
Osenat said only 19 of Napoleon’s 120 hats have survived, and only two of those are in private hands. Prince Albert’s great-grandfather, Louis II, bought it directly from the vet’s descendants, Osenat said. The hat is famously depicted in paintings of Napoleon on the battlefield pitched to the side, and counter to the fashion of the day.
“He understood at that time that the symbol was powerful,” said Alexandre Giquello, who works at the auction house. “On the battlefields, his enemies called him ‘The Bat’ because he has that silhouette with this hat.”