Vintage Motorcycle Helmets: Buying, Restoration, History and Spotting a Fake

Vintage motorcycle helmets are becoming increasingly popular as a collector’s item.  The most popular are those that come from the 1960s and from the World War 2 era.  However, as you will see, it’s all to possible to fall foul of the conmen who would like you to buy a fake off of online auction sites.

In the following I’ll look briefly at where to buy motorcycle helmets, vintage helmet restoration dangers, the history,  and of course fake avoidance!

Where to buy vintage motorbike helmets

These helmets can cost anywhere between $10 and $100’s if not into the thousands!  Of course you can buy vintage style motorbike helmets at  a fraction of the cost, and as long as you can be sure that it isn’t a fake copy then you could get yourself a good deal.  A few companies make replicas that can be worn and are compliant with today’s safety standards.

The best place to buy is actually online.  Whilst offline works, real helmets can often be a long distance away.

Use a bit of creativity though to source a helmet.  Don’t just rely on browsing, try using twitter too with various hash tags and follow a few people.  Ask around forums and on facebook.

Just a word about buying a buying vintage motorcycle helmets for sale.  Don’t think for a moment that you will be able to wear one out on the road.  Even if you get a genuine original the safety spec is far inferior to today’s standards and won’t protect you should you crash.  In addition, helmets do degrade over time, some through exposure over years to the elements, some because the wrong chemical was used to clean them, and some because they have been hit or dropped.  Whilst dents and cracks can lower the price, they will also weaken the structure.

So, beware that any helmet you buy is really for collectors only, and shouldn’t be relied on for any sort of protection.

How about this, a motorbike dream wedding?  Vintage helmets aren’t the only thing that gets the unending vintage treatment.  Vintage wedding invitations are sympathetic to the whole vintage scene, and if you lady-bikers are anything to go by, your aren’t against a little romance.  I know one such biker who is respected by the rest of her group and acts as ambassador to the other groups in our area…including the Hells Angels who give her respect.  And she loves leather and lace, and all things vintage.

PEACE vintage motor cycle helmets

P E A C E H E L M E T (c) 2009 Renee Silverman We went to the Vintage Motorcycle event in Venice Beach today. Not a whole lot of bikes. It looked like it was winding down but was able to grab a few memorable shots.
P E A C E H E L M E T (c) 2009 Renee Silverman We went to the Vintage Motorcycle event in Venice Beach today. Not a whole lot of bikes. It looked like it was winding down but was able to grab a few memorable shots. | Source

Restoration of Vintage Motorcycle Helmets

The simple message here is to be careful. Much advice suggests that you should use rubbing alcohol to remove stickers and the like, but be careful since some decals actually add value to the helmet, and taking them off could result in damaging your investment. 

Obviously you want to remove cracks and dents, and if you don’t already have the skills then it is always best to talk with a professional restorer since the inexperienced person can end up doing more harm than good.  In actual fact a bit of wear and tear is normal, and therefore indicates a good example from the period.  This is particularly important  when it comes to those helmets from the second world war, because no helmet form that period will be perfect.  And that is a sure fire indication that if you do find a perfect WW2 helmet in perfect condition with a chinstrap – chinstraps were rarely used in those days – then it’s not real.

In the end, you might decide it better to live with minor damage and give the helmet a buff. Certainly don’t use paint unless you know what you are doing.  If you decide to take it further then a professional restorer’s advice who will retain the value of the helmet is crucial.

A bit of motorcycle helmet history

The first Vintage leather motorcycle helmets were embossed, invented by Gottlieb Daimler in 1885. In 1953 Prof C.F. ‘red’ Lombard of the University of California created the outer shell and inner lining for comfort. Serious investigation was undertaken into helmet safety by the William Snell memorial foundation in 1957. As far as law is concerned and motorcycle helmet adoption it hasn’t been an easy one.

In 1961 Australia made helmet wearing mandatory, but in the states it has taken much longer. The California Highway Patrol adopted mandatory helmet wearing in 1958. And yet by the 1990’s mandatory wearing for the general public was only law in 27 states, whereas in the UK we have had law for many years.

Last tips to avoid fakes

I have already mentioned about decals and chinstraps. Don’t forget about the perfect paint job being impossible. Camouflage is also rare, as is lining.

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