Rare Early Head Harness
Discovered in a Vintage Team Photo:
September 29, 2016
We're constantly looking to document and share the rare football artifacts we discover, but the supply of these pieces on the market is at an all-time low. Through simulations we can bring life to 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. Earlier this month we acquired a vintage football team photo featuring an unusual head harness. The helmet didn't match any documented style in our archives, and to our knowledge, no example is known to exist. The simulation below attempts to recreate this head harness style so that we may better understand the evolution of head protection in American football.
With substantial ear padding and a relatively insignificant top strap, the head harness in the photo was predominately utilized as an ear protector. The heyday of the ear protector was between 1893 and 1897, and the uniforms and equipment in the photo support this dating. The players' long sleeve football jackets were generally replaced by sleeveless jackets in the mid-1890's., and reeded pants replaced the quilted pants worn in the photo by 1900.
A distinguishing characteristic of this head harness is the absence of a transverse strap across the top of the head that is present on 4-spoke head harnesses. For that reason, we feel that "Single-Strap Ear Protector" is an appropriate name for this style harness.
While some late nineteenth century head harnesses were custom creations fashioned by leathersmiths, the construction techniques used in this example suggests it was a model mass-produced by a sport goods manufacturer. The ear padding is attached to the leather ear flaps with metal rivets rather than sewn. Spalding used a similar rivet connector in their circa 1897 Model 35 4-spoke head harness. Further, the hole pattern in the ear flap is relatively uniform and consistent with ear hole configurations used by early manufacturers.
Hopefully a surviving example or catalog image of this style will surface in the future.