On Monday, auction house Bonhams in Hong Kong previewed a newly discovered hat that had DNA evidence proving it belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte, the legendary European statesman and general. Bonhams describes it as the ‘first hat with the Emperor’s DNA’, which is currently on display in Hongkong before moving it to Paris and then London, where it will be auctioned on Oct 27. It is one of the iconic bicornes seen in many depictions of Napoleon on the battlefield, and its present owner purchased it at a small German auction house which was unaware that it belonged to the emperor. Bonhams Europe’s managing director Simon Cottle said it was a coincidence.
The buyer was intrigued when he noticed the inscriptions and other characteristics that implied it might have belonged to Napoleon, Cottle said, adding that an initial investigation suggested it fit the dimensions and age of Napoleon’s bicornes. Different methods, such as microscopy, were used to test the hat in depth. ‘Five hairs were found when the contents of the hat were examined closely. There were then two more hairs found, and they were marked by Napoleon’s DNA’, Cottle said.
The story of this hat is very different from other Napoleonic bicornes that have been offered on the market, according to Cottle. Most of them had been passed down from noble families to the emperor, or from soldiers who picked them up in battle. According to Cottle, the estimated price of the hat – between 100,000 pounds ($138,550) and 150,000 pounds – was conservative, since the hat has only recently been proven to have belonged to an emperor. In other auctions, other hats from the Napoleonic era have fetched more than $2.5 million.