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1930-1935 Spalding ZHN "Executioner" Helmet
On April 15, Robert Crouse, owner of NorCal Online Auctions listed a Spalding ZHN "executioner" helmet on EBay for a buy-it-now price of $12,000.00. The helmet was discovered by Robert, "buried deep in a closet of a northern California estate." Considered by many as one of the "holy grails" of vintage football helmets, variations of executioner style helmets were manufactured by Spalding, Rawlings, Lowe & Campbell, Draper & Maynard, and Goldsmith between 1925 and 1935. Spalding manufactured both a half-mask and a full-mask model of the executioner mask. The offered example is a Model ZHN, which is the full-mask model, and is based off of the ZH Grange style helmet manufactured by Spalding during this same timeframe.
The Spalding executioner helmet was based on U.S. Patent 1,637,692, issued to Keene Fitzpatrick of Princeton, New Jersey on August 2, 1927. Fitzpatrick assigned the patent to A.G. Spalding & Bros. at the time of issuance. The offered example has the patent number embossed on the rear of the helmet, along with "Patent Applied For." This second patent reference could be for an adaptation to the Fitzpatrick design, such as the extension of the face guard for the full-mask configuration, or perhaps for the lace-up rear of the helmet. According to the Fitzpatrick patent, the new design incorporates:
....a unitary stiff leather guard of general cylindrical form affording protection to the wearer's face above the mouth, ears and the back of the head down to the nape of the neck which is permanently secured to a helmet of conventional lines with provision for a degree of relative movement therebetween and displacement of the guard under conditions of rough usage is prevented by means such as elastic straps, about the throat and neck.
EBay Photo #2
EBay Photo #1
EBay Photo #4
EBay Photo #3
Patent Illustration, Keene Fitzpatrick "Helmet" submitted June 18, 1926
Goldsmith Executioner Advertisement, 1925
Marketed as "a good helmet for linesmen" by each of the 5 known manufacturers, the executioner helmet was unpopular with most players due to the fact that they severely limited the visibility of the wearer. However, the executioner filled a niche as a protective device for players with or susceptible to nose injuries. For those players, the executioner was likely a more comfortable alternative to the rubber nosemask. Between 1925 and 1935 the executioner was the only football helmet available that provided integrated face and nose protection. They continued to be manufactured until the late 1930's when the first rubber covered metal facemasks were introduced.
Based on the photos provided by Robert Crouse, the offered helmet appears to be in the best condition of any the six Spalding full mask executioners to surface to date. Other than the athletic tape on the nose of the mask added by the original owner, a college student in the 1920's, the helmet provides a rare glimpse of an executioner when new.
I gave the executioner "honorable mention" because it was just outside the date range of my study, 1894-1925. Out of curiosity, I compiled a list of each of the executioner helmets to have sold, or that I had been made aware of, over the past 13 years. That list reveals a total of 24 executioners since 2002, a number that I estimate is probably over 50% of the total number of surviving examples. This figure would rank the executioner somewhere between the #4 and #5 rarest head harness style in my rankings.
In his 2006 Mears Online article, "Singing the Praises of One of the Hobby's Rarest Leather Football Helmets," Dave Bushing listed the executioner helmet as the second rarest vintage football helmet in existence behind only the Spalding pneumatic head harness. In my:
"Executioner" Helmet Rarity