Sunday, August 25, 2019

Antique? Vintage? Modern? (a Helmet)

On 2019-08-24 10:04 PM, 'M.D.' wrote:
I have a question about a helmet I was given some years ago, which I'm now hoping to sell.
The person who gave it to me first thought it was a costume replica, and now believes it to be a WW1 tank helmet. It was found in an antique shop.

It looks a lot like a medieval helmet and is very heavy. The back has a flexible "lobster tail" neck protector and the visor lifts somewhat.
An online search reveals nothing similar. Many helmets are more elegant; might this be a helmet a grunt soldier might have worn?
There are no tank helmets online that look anything like it.

Ok - so here is what I remembered, what I found, and what I think.

On tankers helmets:
I had a small drawing in a reference book
described as 're-inforced leather helmet'

image from : Weapons and Warfare of the 20th Century - Morris, Johnson, Chant & Willmott
With a slightly better idea what I was looking for, I was able to plug into Google images search on the internet and come up with a description at the Imperial War Museum in England (link):
image copied from the Imperial War Museum
So at least for British tank crews, your object remains quite different, as you had indicated. There was still some extremely limited use of plate armours in WW1 (notably massively heavy 'sniper proof' combination chest and head shields). This proved a wasted effort, as by that point the weight of the bullets easily penetrated anything able to be carried. (I saw several samples of these pieces at Ypres in the museum there in 2016 - with bullet holes.)

Ok - so what DO you have here?
I've sent back two of your images, marked up.

(green) : The original surfaces have been spray painted black (obviously a modern addition!)
 - There are a few areas that show the original metal surfaces.
 - The rust effect on those surfaces looks to be that you see on mild steel, not wrought iron.
 - These surfaces also don't have any forge scale, all the forming has been via cold bending or hammering.

(purple) : You mention how the visor only can be raised slightly. This would be a very bad design if this was a 'working' helmet. The visor is in fact shaped primarily. as a flat curve (section of a cylinder). It really should be dished (section of a sphere) in a shape that conforms to that of the skull.

(yellow) :  All the plates are formed of the same, very thin, (mild steel) metal stock.
- The metal would be extremely thin for actual wrought iron plates
- You can't really tell in the images, but this appears the same thickness for the body of the skull as well.
These do appear very thin, against the ideal for the purpose of actual combat. This is seen in the visor, which is one of the normally thickened target areas on an armour. the skull plates should also be considerably thicker for the same reasons (you can judge if this is the case?). In combat, most strikes will come to the wearer's left side skull, which commonly is thickened to protect against these impacts.

(red) - These seams look to be arc welds.
- The beading further looks to be stick welding.
- There has been an attempt to grind the welding beads smooth and flush
The uppermost line of welds appears to have actually burned through the metal - which indicates both not the best work - but most importantly again that the skull plates may be quite thin metal. 
A look to the inside surfaces of those seams will tell you a lot. I expect you will find the lumps of the weld bead.

So - what time frame does this all give us?
- Mild Steel = post 1855.
Wrought Iron was still being produced, in smaller and smaller amounts, up into at least the 1920's - 30's
- Arc 'Stick' Welding = post 1870.
Stick welders are still widely available. Largely supplanted in current workshops by inert gas welding (MIG), which itself is only after about 1945 (which would be definate modern dating).

One of the big indicators for me is the construction of the skull. It has been made of several narrow pieces, each partially dished, as cold hammering, then the segments electric welded to create the sphere of the skull. This is a very modern, 'amateur' approach to creating the required shape.
The historic method is to hot dish the skull from one single piece. That starting plate would have been forged to a modified thickness profile to start with, thinner at the edges, and thicker in the centre. Taking a flat circle and forming it into a half sphere involves dishing in the centre and raising along the edges. Dishing thins the plate, raising thickens it. Ideally the variations in starting profile would allow for a *uniform* thickness overall in the finished skull - after the stretching and compacting of the two forming processes.

'Antique' as a term gets pretty slippery. 'Vintage' may be fair. This could possibly be a late Victorian era 'replica'.

But, sad to say, I think what you really have here is a helmet made by a mid skill grade, modern, re-enactor. Likely some point in over the 1980's or 1990's.

Note : Images of the object under consideration, from the original questioner. Name is withheld for privacy.

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February 15 - May 15, 2012 : Supported by a Crafts Projects - Creation and Development Grant

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