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AntiqueFootball Artifact of the Month
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March 2020
1903 A.G. Spalding No. 70
Pneumatic Head Harness

My March 2020 Artifact of the Month, a 1903 Spalding No. 70 Pneumatic Head Harness, sold for $18,988.89 on eBay on February 26, 2020. One of the most sought after turn-of-the-century football head harnesses, the No. 70 owes its present day rarity to its design limitations.

Touted by Spalding as "one of the greatest improvements that has so far been invented in the way of equipment for foot ball," the pneumatic head harness was introduced in 1903 in response to the Intercollegiate Foot Ball Association's ban of sole leather and other "hard or unyielding material" in head protectors. The No. 70 was patented on April 7, 1903 by Julian Wheeler Curtis, whose design employed a circular inflatable donut ring on top of the helmet's crown which was intended to protect "against any ordinary blow; while at the same time...not...cause injury to any opponent of the wearer." Despite these claims, the head harness was susceptible to rupture upon impact and was discontinued by Spalding in 1904. In fact, of the six known surviving examples, only three, including this artifact, still have an intact leather crown. The deflated appearance of the crown is the result of the desiccation of the interior vulcanized rubber air bladder and the drying of the unsupported leather over the past 117 years.

For More on the Spalding No. 70, see:

This particular example appears to be complete, perhaps with the exception of the inflation tube which isn't visible in the eBay photos. Its condition issues include moderate cracking and spalling of the exterior leather, moderate deformation of the crown, creasing of the ear flaps where folded into the crown, and heavy soiling of the wool felt padding in the center of the crown. Nonetheless, given the rarity and age of the No. 70, it remains in remarkably good condition.

The eBay seller, Toyzintheattic, purchased this artifact at an auction house in south Georgia that was liquidating a plantation estate. According to the seller, the "helmet was in an old blue draw string duffel bag along with a WW1 M17 German helmet and a set of old WW1 military clothes. From what we know, these items had been inside of this bag, in a wooden storage chest for decades at this plantation." For a hobby that suffers from a dearth of new discoveries, this No. 70 is a welcome addition.
The Toyzintheattic No. 70 is branded with the same patent date as other examples of Spalding's Pneumatic Head Harness, but possesses several key differences. Most notably, the head harness lacks the ventilation holes, horizontal stitching, and batting exhibited in previous examples. It does, however, bear a greater resemblance to the No. 70 images in the 1903 and 1904 Spalding catalog. After consulting with several other collectors, I speculate that the Toyzintheattic No. 70 may be the original 1903 model which was subsequently upgraded in 1904 with ventilation holes and additional crown padding.

A New Variant?

No. 70, 1904 Spalding Fall & Winter Catalog Cover
No. 70 advertisement, 1904 Spalding Fall & Winter Catalog