Spalding's Special New Head Harness, also referred to as the Improved Head Harness, first appeared in Spalding catalogs in 1898. In contrast to the strap helmets of the era, the No. 50 was the first headgear to provide complete coverage of the crown of the head. The Special New Head Harness initially featured a leather strap across the forehead attached to the ear pads with metal rivets, which helped reinforce the connection of the ear pads to the crown. The interior of the sole leather crown was lined with lamb's wool padding and contained 39 air ventilation holes arranged in a four-point star configuration.
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Circa 1900 Spalding No. 50 Improved Head Harness
Our August 2015 Artifact of the Month is a circa 1900 Spalding Improved Head Harness acquired by Robert Tibi during the 2015 National Sports Collector Convention in Chicago, Illinois. Indicative of a pre-1905 head harness, the example does not possess any padding or protection to the base of the neck. The No. 50 has bold Spalding logos stamped at the top of each ear pad and retains the original chin strap and felt ear padding.
About the Improved Head Harness
Other Improved Head Harness Examples
Like the 4-strap head harness, improved head harnesses are particularly rare, as less than 10% of players wore head protection during its dates of production (1898-1903). With our estimate of fewer than 30 surviving examples estimate, the 4-strap ranks as #4 in our:
No. 50 Ad, Spalding Official Football Guide for 1899
No. 50 Ad, Spalding's How to Play Football, 1902
Player wearing No. 50 (1898-1899 model)
Player with No. 50 (1900-1902 model)
By 1900, Spalding eliminated the leather forehead strap and the metal rivets from the No. 50, and replaced the ear pads with new "improved ear pads." Spalding continued to produce No. 50's until 1903, when the Intercollegiate Football Association outlawed the use of sole leather in football head harnesses.
Rule 1.(e) If head protector's are worn, no sole leather, papier mache, or other hard or unyielding material shall be used in their construction, and all other devices for protectors must be so arranged and padded as, in the judgment of the umpire, to be without danger to other players.
Several other Improved Head Harnesses have come to market over the past 10 years. Below are examples from our database.
Spalding No. 50, Legendary Auctions
Spalding No. 50, College Football Hall of Fame
Spalding No. 50 (1898-1899 model)