Published 9th March 2016
Since receiving instruction for the auction of the Tony and Yvonne Pardoe Collection of diving helmets and equipment, it has become a fascinating journey into the history of diving helmets and their development as well as a visit to the archives for previous diving helmets sold at auction with Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood.
My first introduction could not have been a better one, when, in 2009 the discovery of an unidentified diving helmet in an attic in North Devon began an investigation into these iconic pieces.
Though rather battered and missing all of the glass to the three windows as well as the guards to one side window, this particular diving helmet raised a great deal of interest. The location of an adjustable outlet valve on the corselet rather than the side of the helmet indicated that it was an early model and possibly by perhaps one of the most well-known makers, Augustus Siebe.
Considered by some to be the godfather of diving helmets, his background befits his status. Born in Prussia in 1788, little information is known of his early life until he began metalworking in Berlin. Caught up in the increasing conflicts in Europe during the Napoleonic wars, he served as an artillery officer with the Prussian army against Napoleon.
In 1816, soon after the Battle of Waterloo, he moved to 5 Denmark Street in London, where he returned to his metalworking and engineering roots. His first commercial success was on a design for a rotating water pump and shortly afterwards he was approached by the Deane brothers to redesign one of their smoke helmets for underwater work.
The open-bottom diving helmet had been used previously, but the risk of drowning was increased as the air escaped from underneath the diving helmet unless the diver remained upright. Augustus Siebe's breakthrough idea was to fully enclose the diver in a canvas suit and attached it to the diving helmet via 12 bolts to the corselet, greatly improving safety and thus creating the standard diving dress.
That particular diving helmet sold to a collector for £16,000 whilst another later 12-bolt diving helmet by Siebe Gorman included in the same auction sold for £3,200 (despite having had a hole drilled through the top to make it into a table lamp!)
From that point onwards, my interest in diving helmets has grown and now with the cataloguing of the Tony and Yvonne Pardoe collection, it is easy to see how collectors become hooked on obtaining these fascinating pieces.
Having read about Augustus Siebe and the importance of his contribution to the diving helmets and diving equipment, it is wonderful to see included in the collection early examples of pumps by Augustus Siebe, as well as some rather interesting variations of the Siebe Gorman helmets to be included in the diving equipment auction in June 2016.