Like many vintage football equipment collectors, as a novice I grossly overpaid for several head harnesses described on EBay and auction sites as "Exceedingly Rare" or "Turn-of-the-Century." As the bid prices rose, I found myself caught up in bidding wars for pieces, I admit, I had very little knowledge of. I just had to have "one of those" because I may not see another for sale ever again. My moment of clarity came about two years into collecting when I purchased an impossibly rare Princeton head harness from a dealer for a large sum, and then watched three identical or better Princeton's sell over the next 12 months for less than 50% of what I had paid. I was so depressed that I decided to sell the Princeton for $0.30 on the dollar just so I wouldn't have to look at it as a daily reminder of my naivety. Determined to not make the same mistake again, I began storing databases of information, such as auction sales results, vintage photos, and catalogs in file folders on my computer. For awhile, all I seemed to be collecting was information. When given the opportunity to purchase an item, I would first sort through this growing pile of information before making my purchase to verify the claim of age, rarity, and value. After years of research on rare football head harnesses, the conclusion I have reached is one that is basic common sense:
Top 10 Rarest Football Helmet Styles 1894-1925
"In general, rarity is inversely proportionate to age and period popularity."
To illustrate this statement, the Football Head Harness Rarity Chart below computes the relative degree of rarity of each head harness style by estimating the total number of harnesses manufactured each year from 1894-1925. Production records from sporting goods manufacturers have long since been discarded, so the chart uses a combination of data and assumptions to estimate total production numbers for each head harness style. For each year, the total number of high school and college age football players was computed by multiplying U.S. Census population data by the curent ratio of football participants to U.S. population (1). Based upon inspection of period photos, the percentage of players utilizing head harnesses by year was estimated to determine the total number of players wearing head harnesses in a given year. Finally, using catalog information and photo evidence, the % of marketshare of each head harness style was estimated for each year, which, when inputted into the chart, yielded an estimate of the total number of each style manufactured. From this information I was able to estimate the Top 10 Rarest Football Head Harness Styles.
1894-1925 Head Harness Rarity Chart
The Princeton head harness refers to a lightweight leather helmet design to maximize air flow to the head. The Princeton consisted of a separate flattened top that was attached to the body of the harness in either 4 or 8 points. Manufactured between 1912 and 1929 by Reach, Spalding, Wright & Ditson and Rawlings, the 4-attachment Princeton was made popular as the style worn by Princeton University in the 1910's. Production of the 4-attachment stopped in the mid-1920's. Goldsmith introduced an 8-attachment model in 1930, that was designed for warm weather climates. This style was manufactured until 1935.