Monday, October 1, 2012

1950s Clear Shell Packer Helmet?

Reader "sl" sends in this query:
Just curious if you have ever seen a "clear shell" Riddell Packer helmet from the 50's era uniforms in person? I ran across a clear shell with the interior painted gold with a blue stripe (blue paint is in the mold). Just wondering if it could potentially be a Packer helmet.
A little background: When Riddell developed the first plastic-shell helmets in the late 1930s, the controversial new product was constructed out of clear plastic. Team-color paint was then applied from the inside, sometimes covered by a layer of gray primer. Later, as team logos became more common, they would also be applied to the shell from the inside before painting, preventing those team markings from being scratched off during game action.

One significant drawback, at least where the Riddell helmets were concerned, was that the plastic had the tendency to yellow over time, a discoloration which confounds researchers of the sport.

Other manufacturers soon followed, including Marietta and MacGregor. Marietta was known for its much thicker shell, less prone to yellowing. MacGregor was purchased and relaunched as Kelley in 1977, and Marietta was purchased by MaxPro in 1978. Those two companies, Kelley and MaxPro, were the two most notable manufacturers of clear-shell helmets in the 1970s and early 1980s. MaxPro eventually bought out Kelly in the early 1980s, consolidating the clear-shell market under one manufacturer. In 1991 MaxPro was sold to Riddell, bringing the story full-circle.

I do know that at least some Packers used Riddell helmets during this period. Given the blue color-impregnated stripe, it would resemble the coloring seen on quarterback Tobin Rote's 1954 Bowman card (right). The tendency of Riddell helmets to yellow means we can't be completely sure about the original color, but plausible options include white, silver, and gold. So again, it could well be.

I'd love to know if there's anybody out there who can answer sl's question. If you can provide any information, or need more from sl, send me an email or post a comment. And thanks—I always like a good mystery.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The early Riddell plastic was called 'Tenite' which not only yellowed with time as you stated but it was also quite flexible and in fact Riddell sold a "shoe tree-like" object to help them keep their shape when not in use. Riddell soon switched to a stronger/firmer plastic called Kralite but it was no longer a clear shell instead it was an impregnated (colored) plastic.
Marietta and MacGregor did not use tenite plastic. Mac used a plastic called Merlon for their 100MH model clear shell and I believe Marietta used a plastic called Lexan for their clear shell. Your are also correct in that Bill Kelley and his partners bought out rights to the MacGregor helmets but it was around 1974/5 and relauched in about 1975/76. BTW, part of the reason Mac sold out to Kelley was because they had a terrible time filling the orders and maintaining the warranties on their 100MH model as it often cracked. Bill Kelley strengthened the edges of the shell on the 100MH and had less cracking problems but did not eliminate them completely.
Marietta, which as you said was a much thicker shell and didn't have the same fragility to them as the Mac/Kelley but they were extremely heavy (especially compared to canvas suspension helmets).
Finally, in regards to Riddell's purchase of MaxPro I believe that the Riddell XL shell used for their (now outdated) VSR 4 helmets, which is still worn most famously by Tom Brady, is in fact a MaxPro/Kelley shell.