Sun and Pith Helmets

Updated December 1, 2017

Early 20th Century Wolseley Style High Quality Sun/Pith Helmet


We must remember that sun/pith helmets weren’t used just by the military. In the late 19th and early 20th century those with means did travel the world a bit, and when venturing to hot climates the proper headgear was most certainly required.

Here is simply one of the finest private purchase helmets we’ve seen. It is in the basic shape of the British Wolseley pattern helmet but is made of sola pith rather than cork. What is fascinating is that it was apparently marketed for sale in Jamaica based on the label inside.

This helmet was made by or for Henry Heath Limited, a noted upscale retailer in London, and sold by The Sports, Gents Outfitters in Kingston. Based on the inside lining this likely dates back to the early 20th century and is most certainly a pre-World War I item.

The helmet is in very good condition. There is some minor soiling on the exterior of the helmet but it is complete with a thin cloth puggaree. Sadly the chinstrap is broken but each end is still intact. There are some tears on the underside of the brim but this is likely due to age. The leather handband to the liner is missing – but this is actually rather common with helmets from the Caribbean. Perhaps the humidity rotted these away, but it has been suggested that the thick leather may have stuck to wearer’s heads and the leather was removed and the helmet worn instead with just the buckram band in place. This would still be fairly comfortable, perhaps more so that having tacky leather stuck to one’s head!

What really makes this one so nice is the interior stamp that highlight the maker and retailer. There is some staining and a slight tear to the silk lining, but this shows that it was worn. This would likely have been an expensive helmet when it was originally offered for sale – so perhaps it was for a colonial official or at least someone with some standing in the colonies. It is a nice piece that truly evokes another time.


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American Model 1880 Sun Helmet


While the American Model 1887 and 1889 sun helmets aren’t exactly common, these aren’t rare. The harder to find helmet is the earlier Model 1880 helmet, which had a more flared brim than the latter patterns. The Model 1880 helmet was the first style of helmet adopted by the American military, and reportedly only some 6,000 were produced. As with the later patterns this helmet features a four-panel construction.

Offered here is one of the nicest examples that I’ve come across. Apart from a slight tear to the cloth on the rear of the helmet this example is otherwise in mint condition. It is actually likely that the cloth torn when the helmet was handled badly as the cork is also cracked. No attempt has been made (or in my opinion should be made) to fix this minor issue. As it is on the back of the helmet it displays extremely well otherwise.

The helmet is free of any notable stains. There is some minor wear to the green cloth under the brim but this is likely from age. The headband shows minor wear, suggesting it was issued but not overly used. The original blue leather liner string is complete and intact. There is a former museum mark on the leather band, which has been blackened out unfortunately, but again this is all too common with items that were once in these collections.

This helmet is also sized seven and is one of the largest examples I’ve seen as well, which makes it also very desirable. This is simply a great helmet and I’m happy to offer it. It is priced accordingly.

Price: $250 plus shipping

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American M1889 Sun Helmet – Large Size


Here is a nice example of the “classic” American sun helmet from the end of the 19th century. It is the Model 1889 helmet in khaki. It appears to have been stained and lightly cleaned with blanco. It shows actual wear so this likely saw use and wasn’t just something that was sold via the Bannerman Catalog. What really makes it is nice is that it is complete with size stamp (7 1/2) and patent label (May 2, 1899). As this is a size 7 1/2 it is one of the larger sizes I’ve seen.

The helmet is solid and will display quite nicely. There is the issue of the staining, but this was common for helmets that were actually used. The leather headband is torn in one spot but is otherwise in good and supple condition. If you were going to have just one of these helmets this would be the one.

Price: $225 plus shipping

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Japanese Pre-World War Private Purchase Officer’s Helmet


This style of helmet has been dubbed “English” or “safari” pattern, but it doesn’t really have an official moniker. These were a private purchase item used by Japanese officers and to a lesser degree NCOs. There is much debate as to whether these helmets were actually produced in Japan or were an import item. What is unique about these helmets is that these are made of both sola pith and cork – the interior is lined with cork, which was likely imported from Portugal. Given the use of sola pith it is likely these were in fact made in Japan.

These helmets are also notable in the use of animal brands – and this is from the more popular “Hare Brand” of sun helmets. It lacks a Japanese Army star on the front, but shows staining on the leather liner band. It is likely this was used by a Naval Landing Force officer, who weren’t as likely to add an insignia on the front. The helmet is in excellent condition apart from some notable wear to the exterior and the aforementioned sweat stains on the headband. There is a small tear on the underside of the brim, but this hardly detracts from the helmet. All in all this one would display quite well – and it would make a great addition to a Japanese Army or NLF display.


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Late WWII Early Cold War American Pressed Fiber Helmet


These are truly the helmets that get no respect but actually have been the longest serving piece of American headgear. Introduced in the 1930s the pressed fiber helmets still are used by the USMC on the shooting range today.

Here is a late WWII or early Cold War example. It features no surplus stamp, so it is my opinion that it is likely a late war helmet. It is in overall good condition. If you only needed one of these to fill out the collection this might be the one.

Price: $30 plus shipping

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Royal Canadian Army Service Corps. Wolseley Helmet


The Canadian military adopted the Wolseley pattern helmet as part of the dress uniform and many regiments continue to wear it to this day. Here is a post-war Wolseley sun helmet to the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps. It was made by J. Compton Sons & Webb in London and is a size 7 1/8.

The Wolseley helmet was worn by officers at times in place of the traditional cavalry busby. This particular helmet is complete with ball (in place of spike) and base as well as a two-prong badge to the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps, along with a blue vinyl tape for the puggaree. It is unclear exactly why the tape was used over cloth but several Canadian regiments used this tape.

The helmet is in very good condition apart from rather unfortunate staining to the rear brim. While this could be cleaned up with blanco I’ve left it as is, and honestly when displayed on a shelf it is hardly noticeable. All in all this is a nice and rather unique helmet!

Price: $225 plus shipping

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Thai Army Officer’s Helmet – Pre-World War II


Sun helmets from Thailand have always been hard to find – the weather does a number on these items. So this is a rare one indeed. It is a Thai Army sun helmet from the pre-World War II era. It features a design that is truly unique as it has a shape similar to a British Wolseley but certainly incorporates elements of the French Model 1931 helmets. It has a Thai bullion cap badge affixed to the front.

This is a unique piece and previously I’ve seen such items in photographs. The overall condition of the helmet is very good apart from a few stains and scuffs, which is expected considering its age. There is some wear to the liner and the green underside lining of the brim. Otherwise this is a helmet that should display quite well.

Price: $275 plus shipping

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American M1889 Sun Helmet


Yes, I keep posting nice examples of the American Model 1887 and American Model 1889 sun helmets. When I see them I jump on them. This one may have had someone literally jump on it as the front brim is crushed. I considered repairing it but opted to just keep it “as is” – this one has real character and likely did see use.

Despite the crushed brim it still display wells. It isn’t going to get better but if resting on a shelf it really won’t get worse. This is a budget example of helmet that is become a lot harder to find.

Price: $160 plus shipping

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Post World War II Indian Pattern Helmet


If you needed a helmet for your next safari or just to mow the lawn this one is perfect – provided a 7 1/8 sized helmet will work. It is a 1950s or so era Indian-made Bombay Bowler. The condition is excellent apart from some nice patina on the chinstrap loops and vent grommets. It is complete with original chinstrap and the liner is fully intact. Even if you just want a helmet to hang on the wall in the mancave this is the one!

Price: $30 plus shipping

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Vintage Dutch East Indies Bamboo Helmet


Here is a unique piece – probably not military – but still very cool. It is a vintage Dutch East Indies sun helmet that is made of strips of bamboo. This style of helmet was used on plantations before and after World War II. This one is hard to date, but it looks old.

It is a very unique example and one of only two I’ve ever seen. Given that these are fragile very few have likely survived. It is something you truly don’t see every day.

Price: $40 plus shipping

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Italian East African Sun Helmet


Offered here is another unique piece. It is a straw sun helmet, complete with original liner. There is no cloth covering on this helmet, but this is how many of these were marketed in the Italian colonies in East Africa before World War II.

These were pressed into service during the Italian resistance in late 1940. It is hard to say if this one actually dates from that period but it has the right look. Few of these have survived, making this a rather rare example. It is reasonably priced.

Price: $50 plus shipping

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British West Indies Regiment Helmet


Few sun helmets were actually made in the West Indies, but helmets were imported from Europe – made of cork – and from India, which were made of shola pith. The pith helmets are actually rarer, likely because of the distance from India.

However, the British West Indies Regiment adopted pith helmets, and these included private purchase officers helmets such as this example offered for sale. It is the classic “pith helmet” with a multi-fold puggaree, including a strip of blue fabric indicating use by the regiment. This helmet was likely used by a British officer in the interwar period before it was disbanded in 1927.

This is a fine example of a rare helmet with only minimal staining and few small “dents” to the pith material. The chinstrap is broken,  but it otherwise displays quite well. It is reasonably priced.

Price: $100 plus shipping

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French Model 1931 Sun Helmet


Introduced in the early 1930s the French Model 1931 sun helmet was used throughout World War II and into the 1960s. Offered here is a classic example of the earliest version of this helmet pattern. It is dated 1939 but has no badge. It is likely that this particular helmet was never issued or was only used briefly.

It could shows some storage wear, but otherwise is in overall excellent shape. This is one of the finest examples of a French M31 that I’ve seen, and the cork is solid.

Price: $150 plus shipping

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Italian Police Sun Helmet (City of Milan)


The Italian police and paramilitary forces continue to use sun helmets in the summer months. Offered here is an issued example of the classic Italian police sun helmet. It is based on the Model 1911 sun helmet, but is made of plastic or fiberglass. This example is in excellent condition apart from minor storage wear. Even the original maker labels are present.

It is hard to find such a nice example of an Italian summer sun helmet, and this example features a modern badge for the City of Milan. It is reasonably priced.

Price: $90 plus shipping

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British “Indian” Pattern Pith Helmet


Many tropical sun helmets are called “pith helmets” but this is often times inaccurate and overly generalized. While the pattern helmet originated in India, the sun helmets made in Europe are typically made of cork or felt. However, here I’m offering the real deal – a true “pith helmet.” It is an interwar Indian Pattern helmet. It is thicker and bulkier than the Cawnpore or Bombay Bowler patterns, but not quite as large in size as a khaki sola pith hat. Regardless of the nomenclature these helmets have two things in common: first, they were used by civilians and soldiers alike to protect the wearer from the sun and second, I think these are very cool!

This example was made in India, and the label inside says as much. It was also produced by P.S. Sun Hat (which given my initials I also find kind of cool). As noted by the label it was actually produced for the military and likely was a private purchase example to a British soldier – probably an officer. This is only the third example of an India pattern helmet that I’ve ever owned.

This example is in good condition, however there is some minor staining and the chinstrap is broken. The helmet’s brim is starting to come apart from the top “bowl” of the helmet – something all too common with these older helmets. Despite these drawbacks it displays very well and is a nice solid example of a rather uncommon British-used tropical helmet. No collection of British military sun helmets is really complete without one of these – I have one in my collection and I’m offering this one for sale at a very reasonable price.

Price: $75 plus shipping

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Canadian Pressed Fiber Helmet


The Canadian Army acquired the “fibre” helmets prior to the outbreak of the Second World War for summer training as a substitute for the more expensive and fragile Wolseley helmet. The chosen supplier was the United States based manufacturer Hawley Inc., which also supplied the pressed fiber sun helmets to the United States Marine Corps, United States Army and United States Navy. The demand from Canada was apparently so great that a Canadian factory was set up.

The helmet featured a faux three-fold puggaree, which was the number of folds in the British-produced Wolseley helmet of the era. Unlike the American designed helmets these offered three sets of vents on each fold of the faux puggaree. It features the badge of the Canadian Infantry Corps.

The Canadian version helmets are much rarer than the American versions, and this example shows honest wear but still displays very well.

Price: $100 plus shipping

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