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.

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