The Daily Helmet: Size Matters: Mini Pocket Or Mini Mini or Gumball
When it comes to collectable helmets, there a a lot of options. You have full size, Mini, Pocket Pros and gumball. There also different variations each, customs and other things you may come across. I figured I would do a quick rundown of each size.
Full Size Helmets
The top of the line collectible as far as size is obviously full size. They are the most expensive and take up the most space. There also a bunch of options when it comes to full size helmets.
Full Size Authentic
What exactly does authentic mean? Well, mostly it is a marketing term, that allows the items being sold to be sold at a premium. It should not be confused with game worn (see next section), which is a completely different animal. Prior to the 80s, the only licensed helmets sold were the various youth helmet and uniform sets. NFL merchandising was very different in the 50s-70s. While the amount of merchandise really expanded throughout the 70s, it was still mainly marketed towards children. In the 80s companies like Proline began to market and sell “Authentic Game Helmets”. Now, this would lead you to believe these were helmets used on the field or at least the same exact helmets the players were using, but in reality these were helmets specifically manufactured for retail. To this day you will see Proline helmets on eBay being sold as game used or someone will find one in a thrift store somewhere and wonder if it was player used. You can usually tell by the mask and clips, as well as the inside of the helmet. A game used helmet is usually pretty obvious. These days there are authentic as in helmets licensed by the NFL, but unlike some of the helmets sold in the past, feature safety plates that keep people from wearing them and injuring themselves. Even still, there are various classes of retail helmets with the on-field authentics getting the highest price tags. If you’re looking for a realistic helmet that is the same as what is worn on the field you will need to go to someone who makes custom helmets. They usually put a lot of effort into making an authentic player specific replica, of course full size custom helmets can cost anywhere up to $400 and these helmets very in quality depending on who you go to. If that is what is important to you, then you will have to pay the premium.
Game worn helmets can fetch the highest prices and are the coolest of any display helmet in my opinion. There is just something special about an item that has been used in an actual NFL game. I do not currently have any in my collection, but if I found one for a reasonable price, I’d love to get one. They usually are sold via auction sites and other various sites. I love looking through past auctions or sites that have gamers in stock, quietly dreaming that I will someday have the extra cash to spend on a game used helmet. The game used helmets can go from a couple hundred bucks up to thousands, depending on the era, team and player. Many times, the helmets can’t be attributed to any specific player, but are authenticated as a game worn. Authentication, is big business, but the NFL historically has not been as thorough with their authentication of signed and or game worn memorabilia as Major League Baseball, which has had a very comprehensive authentication process. as the interest in this sort of merchandise has grown, the NFL is finally starting to follow in the MLB footsteps, with various teams, like the Bears, who have started hiring third party authenticators to help ensure fans are getting the real deal and naturally get fans to pay the most money. If you are on the hunt for a game used, and i am far from an expert on the subject, you will want to be sure you are buying what the seller says you are buying. Without the authentication, you will not be sure you are just buying a high school helmet that has been refurbished (which is what my collection is). Most authentication is based on knowledgeable people looking for certain markings and accessories/equipment as well as photo verifying by matching the piece with photos of the player in question. If you are looking for a game used, just be sure to do your homework before forking over your cash.
The next step down in size is mini helmets. These helmets normally sold as size 3 5/8 and mostly featured Riddell miniature replicas, but you can also find Schutt college mini helmet. For most collectors, this is their best bet to have an extensive collection of NFL, college or other league helmets, without breaking the bank or taking up too much space. These days you can also find various talented customizers who can create a very realistic player specific replicas, with custom masks and accessories that are very impressive. The cost is a bit more for these helmets, but they look so much better than most of the basic mini helmets that have been sold and licensed over the years.
Riddell Pocket Pros
In the 1990s Riddell began to sell what they called Pocket Pros. These helmets are slightly larger and better quality small collectible helmets. I specifically refer to them as Pocket Pros and while technically are miniature helmets, don’t refer to them as Mini, saving that name for the larger Mini helmets previously mentioned. I love pocket pros. I have the entire current NFL, not counting some of the new designs I have to update, and several NCCA conference sets. The original sets came out in the late 90s and if you still have some unopened ones, can go for a decent price. The next sets in the series were Revolution style Pocket Pros, modeled after the (hideous) original Riddell Revolution helmets. During this time there were also several limited release throwback, chrome and other models released before the Pocket Pro speed helmets were released and currently sold. Hopefully I can eventually get rid of all my Revo PP and go to all speed for my NFL collection. As with the Mini helmets, you can also find a number of people who sell customized Pocket pros. Making teams and styles not normally sold or even try to model them after player specific setups. I tried this once, customizing a generic SEC helmet which came with the conference set into a Notre Dame helmet, which currently are not sold anywhere. For my first time trying, it turned out pretty well.
The classic Gumball. Of all the collectible helmets there are, the classic gumball might be the one closest to my heart. Nothing was more exciting than getting that quarter from your mom or dad and popping it in the machine hoping to get one of the final few helmets you needed to complete your collection. Getting numerous doubles over the years was part of the fun. The classic gumballs helmets first debuted in the 70s and were also sold at IHOP. The helmets came in various ways. Sold individually in little bags, and other packages or the later on in the classic gumball machine domed container. The helmets as far as quality were not great. You had to apply the logo stickers yourself and they were not always accurate, I mean the Browns came with stickers for some reason. The masks sometimes wouldn’t stay on and the colors were not accurate with the molded plastic hardly ever matching the stickers. Even with all of that, I loved them!
Eventually, IHOP stopped selling helmets and the familiar design a lot of us grew up with went away, with at first a change to this ugly mask:
Then later changing the design all together.
If you are a helmet collector, you have a lot of options. I happen to love Pocket Pros and refurbishing my own full size. Authentic helmets are great, but I can’t see spending thousands on helmets, so that is why I decided to take a DIY approach to my collection. The exception being a future game worn that I may purchase.