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Rare Early Head Harnesses Discovered in a Vintage Team Photo

Chris Hornung
December 21, 2015
I recently acquired an unidentified team photo from EBay that shows two unique turn-of-the-century head harnesses. The ball in the center of the photo is dated '99, and the nose masks and uniforms are consistent with 1899 as well. With help from a high-resolution scanner and computer animation software, I've attempted to identify the two rare harness styles in the simulations below.
Harness #1 is a strap-style head protector laid flat across a players right knee. The straps have no padding while the ear pads are oversized, thick, and of a corrugated texture. The strap running front to back is twice as wide as the strap running from ear to ear. Based upon my experience studying vintage football head harnesses, I identify this example as a Spalding No. 25 Ear Protector.

Harness #1

Harness #2

Harness #2 appears to be a sole leather improved head harness similar to a Spalding No. 50 but with extra wide ear protector flaps. The elongated portion of the ear flaps extended towards the rear of the head based on the presence of a connecting strap that would have obscured the player's vision if it were located at the front of the head harness. The rendering below depicts a previously unknown improved head harness variant from an unknown manufacturer.

Harness #1

Harness #2

For more on the Spalding No. 25 Ear Protector, see our September 2015 Artifact of the Month
For more on the Improved Head Harness, see our October 2015 Artifact of the Month

Rendering of Harness #1

Rendering of Harness #2

So why go to the trouble of rendering photographed head harnesses? We're constantly looking to document and share the rare football artifacts we discover, but the supply of rare pieces on the market is at an all-time low. Through simulation we can bring life artifacts that may be lost to time, and in the process gain a more comprehensive database and understanding of the equipment used in America's favorite pastime.
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