Newly discovered in Hong Kong Napoleon hat with DNA set for auction

13:36, 06 September 2021
Newly discovered in Hong Kong Napoleon hat with DNA set for auction Photo: The National Maritime Museum/public domain/

A hat with DNA evidence belonged to French general Napoleon Bonaparte was discovered and placed by auction house Bonhams in Hong Kong on Monday.

According to the auction firm, this is the "first hat to bear the Emperor's DNA." After a display in Hong Kong September 6-10, it will travel to Paris and London, where it will be put on sale on October 27.

"An Imperial black beaver felt and silk bicorne winter campaign hat, possibly worn at the battles of Jena and Auerstadt, 1806, attributed to Poupart & Co.; with two pierced bayonet holes to the crown, the silk braid detached, circumference 59cm, width 47.5cm, height 24.5cm printed marks for Leopold Verch, Charlottenburg, Berlin," the lot description says.

The current owner of the hat from the early 19th century, French collector Bruno Ledoux bought the item at a small German military auction house in December 2017 when it wasn't clear that it had belonged to the Emperor.

"It was purely a chance encounter," said managing director for Bonhams Europe Simon Cottle. The investigation revealed it matched the dimensions and age of Napoleon's bicornes.

Such a hat has become the classic image associated with Napoleon Bonaparte. He wore the same model throughout the 15 years of the Empire. From 1800 to 1812 Napoleon was supplied with 120 hats. 

"Fondly known as his Petit Chapeau, unlike his Marshals and other General officers whose bicornes were adorned with plumages of ostrich over gold and silver lacework, Napoleon's bicornes bore only a small circular tricolour of red, white and blue, superimposed with a black ribbon in 'V' formation held in place by a small black cloth button," the auction house says. 

The DNA marker of Napoleon Bonaparte was discovered by Professor Gerard Lucotte, the Paris-based molecular geneticist who used electronic microscopy, testing, and research on two of Napoleon's head hairs and three beard hairs conserved in the museum.

Now, between 20 and 30 bicornes have been authenticated held in museums and private collections. The earliest is that from the Battle of Marengo, 1800.

The estimated price for the hat is £ 100,000 - 150,000. Other Napoleonic hats were sold for around $2.5 million dollars.