c. 1903 Spalding Improved Head Harness
Spalding's Double Crown Head Harness
In 1900, A.G. Spalding introduced the No. 60 Double Crown Head Harness in its Fall & Winter Athletic Catalog. Patented by a Spalding equipment designer named G. L. Pierce in 1902, the "Head Harness for Foot Ball Players" featured a combination inner and outer shell designed to act as a crude shock absorber. The design included a rigid, English oak-tanned, sole leather outer shell that protected the wearer from skull fracture and an inner, leather cap that allowed the head to decelerate during an impact, similar to the elastic suspension systems that would follow in the 1920's.
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Over the past 10 years, AntiqueFootball has acquired more than 120 vintage fall & winter athletic catalogs and collected information from dozens of others in an attempt to document all the varieties of football helmets offered by each sporting goods manufacturer during the early years of American football. For most manufacturers, there are significant holes in our collection and research, leading to the discovery of previously unidentified helmet models from time to time. Our knowledge of A.G. Spalding & Bros's offerings, however, is complete. Between fall & winter catalogs and Spalding Official Football Guides, we have historical Spalding data from every year between 1893 and 1940. This knowledge makes the discovery of our May 2017 Artifact of the Month, all the more perplexing.
During the May 2017 Brimfield Flea Market, an advanced collector discovered an unknown and unrecorded Spalding head harness that appears to be a rare variation of the Spalding No. 60 Double Crown Head Harness. This particular model included a felt doughnut ring on its crown that suggests it may have been produced just prior to the prohibition of sole leather by the Intercollegiate Football Association in 1903.
Following the Intercollegiate Foot Ball Association's decision to outlaw the use of sole leather in 1903, Spalding introduced a line of soft leather head harnesses, and the No. 70 pneumatic head harness, which featuerd an inflatable doughnut ring on the crown that was designed to protect the wearer and his opponent. Similarly, the Brimfield example incorporates a wool doughnut ring on the top of the crown that appears to have been factory manufactured and not an after-market add-on.
The ventilation hole pattern of the Brimfield head harness's inner crown is a similar, star shaped pattern, but does not match the No. 60 catalog image. However, it is consistent with the 25 ventilation hole pattern shown in the Pierce patent illustrations. The example also features "The Spalding" embossed on the top of the ear protector, a demarcation reserved for Spalding's top-of-the-line athletic products.
The Brimfield head harness does not appear in any Spalding catalogs, but anecdotal evidence suggests one of two possible explanations for its existence. First, given the fact that the inner ventilation hole pattern is more consistent with the 1901 patent illustration than the No. 60 catalog image, the helmet may have been a prototype developed before, or contemporaneously with, the No. 60 Double Crown Head Harness. The second possibility is that it was developed by Spalding as an improvement to the No. 60 in 1903, but was not mass-produced because sole leather was banned before full production began. Either way, the Brimfield harness is an incredibly rare improved head harness and the only known example of this unusual Spalding model.
A.G. Spalding Helmet Evolution Chart
Patent Illustration, G.L. Pierce, "Head Harness for
Foot Ball Players," July 9, 1901
No. 60 Advertisement, 1902 Spalding Official Intercollegiate
Foot Ball Guide