A mid-19th century, handmade copper and brass diving helmet, believed to be an early John Date model, fetched a staggering $54,000 during Nation’s Attic “Diving Into History” auction last December.
Early John Date 19th-century Canadian diving helmet – Image: Nation’s Attic
While the rare helmet bears no identifying marks, it whispers secrets of its past through its unique construction. The skillful soldering of copper pieces and the use of convex glass point to its creation by master metalworkers in the 1860s or 1870s. Its style further hints at a possible origin with John Date in Montreal or the renowned Siebe Gorman company in London, England. Date was the only diving helmet manufacturer in Canada.
Diving helmets from this era are in high demand, but finding one in unaltered condition is rare. Many helmets were lost to wars and metal shortages, while others were modified as diving technology evolved. Because of this, a precious few original diving helmets from the mid-1800s exist today in museums or private collections.
The helmet was part of a small collection of antique diving equipment discovered in North Carolina. An individual with a good eye for quality antiques acquired it decades ago and enjoyed it in his personal collection. After his death, his widow contacted Nation’s Attic to sell the collection. While many of the items in the collection sold for high prices, the 19th-century helmet was a huge surprise to the family.
The market for antique diving helmets has been, on average, in the $4,000 to $8,000 range. In the past few years, popular helmets such as the U.S. Navy Mark V have been commonly sold in the $10,000 range and more. While most diving helmets made in the 20th century are quite collectible, they rarely exceed prices of $20,000. The previous high price for a diving helmet sold by Nation’s Attic was $28,175.
For more information on the auction, go to www.oldhelmet.com.
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