No vintage football equipment collection is complete without a 4-strap head harness. Highly priced by collectors, 4-straps date to one of the most pivotal periods in American football. With injuries and deaths on the football field mounting, the use of padding and protection for the shoulders and head gradually gained acceptance by players. Prior to 1895, the use of protective gear was mostly limited to the protection of existing injuries, such as cauliflower ear. In 1894, Thomas Larwood of Cleveland, Ohio, invented the "head protector", consisting of two padded strips of strap leather laid across the crown of the head connected to a third strap around the head at the forehead. Larwood's design, adopted by A.G. Spalding & Bros. and A.J. Reach & Co. in 1896, was the forerunner of all future football helmet designs.
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4-Strap Head Harness
On June 21, 2015, a circa 1895-1900 4-strap sold on EBay for $3,053.00 after 32 bids were placed by 10 different bidders. The example, which bore no manufacturer's stamp, was likely made by a leathersmith or shoemaker in the late 1800's before mass-produced head harnesses were readily available throughout the country. According to the seller, the helmet was acquired in an estate sale on the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Hailing from Perham, Minnesota, a resort area in Northwest Minnesota, the original owner inscribed "PHS" on the helmet for Perham High School.
The offered example was constructed of strap leather and wool padding secured with metal rivets; a popular construction technique with shoemakers and saddlesmiths of the period. The helmet include a fabric strip looped between the earholes that could have been the original means of securing the helmet to the head, given that no chinstrap holes or stitching are present where a strap would have otherwise been secured.
About the 4-Strap Head Harness
Most surviving 4-strap examples reside in the collections of advanced collectors and museums. When they do surface for sale, they typically command substantial prices. In January, 2014, a near mint example of a 4-strap head harness sold in Hunt Auctions Annual SuperBowl auction for $9,400.00 including buyers premium.
Football Player with 4-Strap Head Harness, 1901
Other 4-Strap Helmet Examples
Between 1895 and 1900, the 4-strap head harness was the primary form of head protection worn by football players. Despite this fact, surviving 4-strap helmets are particularly rare, as fewer than 10% of players wore head protection during the 4-strap's heyday. With our estimate of fewer than 50 surviving examples estimate, the 4-strap ranks as #5 in our:
Circa 1898 4-Strap EBay Auction ended April, 2011
Circa 1898 4-Strap, Gennantonio Collection, www.sportantiques.com
Circa 1900 Hybrid 4-Strap/Princeton Head Harness AntiqueSportsShop.com, 2015
Circa 1898 4-Strap Head Harness
Circa 1896 Reach No. 35 Head Harness