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Nation's Attic Diving Into History 2023

Rare 1916 AJ Morse & Son US Navy Mark V Diving Helmet

The auction will start in __ days and __ hours

Start price: $3,500

Estimated price: $7,000 - $12,000

Buyer's premium: 20%

Sales Tax: On the lot's price and buyer's premium

Arguably the most collected diving helmet around the world is the famed United States Navy Mark V. Its very image is a symbol of hardhat diving among many generations of divers. It is commonly known that the Mark V was first made in 1916 for the United States Navy by the A.J. Morse & Son Inc Co. The US Navy would be the primary consumer of the helmet from 1916 until the mid-1980s. During that time the Mark V would see dramatic increases in production due to the United States entry into World War 1 in 1917 and World War 2 in 1941. Today in the 21st Century a large majority of Mark V helmets that are found date to the 1942 to 1945 time period. A very small percentage of surviving examples will be found from 1918. Mark V helmets dated to periods when the United States was not engaged in a World War are rare finds.

After years of testing the United States Navy in conjunction with the A.J. Morse & Son Co. and the A. Schraders Son Co. developed the Mark V helmet in 1916. The US Navy published a diving manual explaining how to use Mark V diving helmet. Shortly after the publication of the diving manual, the helmet went through some relatively big changes. For decades, collectors have studied this original manual and the Mark V helmet featured. It is quickly realized that the example helmet is a prototype made by A.J. Morse. The most obvious difference in this helmet is the small oval A.J. Morse ID plate, then used on commercial helmets. Also, the helmet features an 8 pointed exhaust wheel, no bastard stud, and an 1898 dated communications cup. The back of the helmet has the air fitting and communications fittings reversed. The dumbbell safety latch also does not have a cover with a cotter pin preventing it from moving. All of these differences would likely be eliminated by late 1916 and early 1917 except for the 8 point exhaust wheel, which would be phased out in the late teens.

This incredible helmet is in its original unaltered as found condition. Somehow, this helmet survived over 100 years without apparently being modified, damaged, and retaining its original parts!

Our best guess is that this particular helmet was assessed and tested by the US Navy. As noted above, the helmet exhibits characteristics that were undoubtedly noted by the Navy and changed on standard production examples, resulting in the configuration found on 99.999% of Mark Vs in existence.

This helmet does feature most of the same characteristics the prototype example does in the 1916 USN diving manual. Those features are the eight pointed exhaust wheel, communications cup with Patented Dec 20, 1898 on it, faceplate clip pad not tapped, the air and communications elbow fittings are reversed, the air elbow being smaller, the communications elbow a different configuration, the dumbbell safety latch without the extra safety hinge and cotter pin, and the bastard stud is located one position up with a different style wing nut, and unique communications hardware. All of these details have been noted on a precious few other 1916 AJ Morse & Son helmets, leaving no doubt this is one of them.

The mysterious detail of this helmet is the total lack of serial numbers or ID plate. Originally, this helmet did have the oval brass AJ Morse & Son ID plate. The faint outline and two rivets are visible on the breastplate. Upon close inspection of the two neck rings, no numbers are visible there either. A very faint 4 can be seen on the breastplate neck ring. The faceplate has a faint 413 stamped into it as well as a 7 stamped in two spots. The first documented AJ Morse Mark V helmets started with serial numbers in the 2190 range. Was the helmet evaluated by the US Navy and then discarded, with the serial numbers and ID plate removed?

This helmet was purchased many decades ago by an individual who wanted to use it for gold exploration in Alaska. Unbeknownst to him, this helmet is one of the first US Navy Mark V helmets ever made. With the brass ID having been removed before his ownership, its age and maker were a mystery. That adventure never happened, and the helmet ended up been carefully kept in this nearly time capsule like condition shown in the photos.

Overall, the helmet is in amazingly good original condition. The copper body is free of any notable dents or holes. All of the brass hardware is in excellent original condition. The glass with old caulk is intact, with no cracks or breaks. The window guards, 8 pointed exhaust wheel, spitcock, twelve correct wing nuts, four brails, internal air vents, exhaust button, early communications hardware, ultra rare air and comms elbows, a telephone cap stamped HELMET CAP, an AJ Morse & Son Inc non return valve with air hose fitting threaded on, and dumbbell safety latch.

Without a doubt, this is a true piece of diving and US Navy history. The helmets incredible condition and unaltered prototype configuration are features worthy of any personal or institutional collection in the world.

All diving helmets in this auction will be accompanied by a certificate of authenticity from Nations Attic. The certificate will have a unique number that will match the number on a tamperproof hologram decal placed inside the helmet. This information will be kept on permanent file at Nations Attic and help ensure the provenance of the helmet and authenticity. The display stand shown in the photos is not included. The option to purchase one after the auction will be provided.

All items will be shipped with a signature required upon delivery and full insurance either via FedEx or the USPS Priority Mail. Worldwide shipping is available; however, no ocean freight will be offered on large items. DHL Express is an option for international shipments under 600 pounds via air. Payment via bank wire for customers outside the USA is required. A shipping quote prior to the auction can be provided by emailing your postal code.