Golden leaf cut from Napoleon's crown goes under hammer in France

PARIS (Reuters) - A golden laurel leaf cut from the crown of French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte will be auctioned near Paris on Sunday.

Slideshow ( 4 images )

The small 10-gram decoration - worth less than $500 if melted down for its metal - is expected to reach around 300 times that, auctioneer Jean-Pierre Osenat said.

Its value “certainly isn’t based on the weight of the gold, but on the weight of history,” he added.

Napoleon famously crowned himself emperor at Notre Dame cathedral in 1804, placing the Roman-style laurel wreath on his own head, even though Pope Pius VII was there presiding over the coronation.

The man whose empire once stretched from Barcelona to Hamburg said he owed his authority to himself and not to God.

The leaf on sale on Sunday however never made it to the ceremony.

Before it started, Napoleon complained the crown was too heavy, leaving its creator Martin-Guillaume Biennais to remove six leaves.

Each of Biennais’ six daughters received a leaf. The one under auction has stayed in the family ever since.

The crown, inspired by the laurel wreath worn by Roman emperor Julius Caesar, contained more than fifty leaves and was melted down in 1819.

“This small leaf represents the grandeur of the story of Napoleon,” Osenat said.

He said the leaf was expected to fetch between 100,000 and 150,000 euros ($118,250 - $177,375) at the auction house that bears his name in Fontainebleau, outside Paris.

Bidders will also have a chance to buy a silk court waistcoat with gilded silver embroidery worn by the emperor and a powder box belonging to his wife Josephine.

Napoleon’s famous bicorne hat was sold at auction in 2014 to a South Korean bidder for 1.9 million euros, nearly five times the asking price.

($1 = 0.8457 euros)

Editing by Richard Lough and Andrew Heavens