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Lot 217

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Lot Number: 217

Description: Historically Important Los Angeles Rams professional model helmet c.1947-Prototype for the First NFL Team Logo Helmet (Fred Gehrke Provenance). Fred Gehrke graduated from Utah University with a degree in Art in 1939. Fred was an outstanding All-Conference running back and quarterback at Utah and would end up playing for the Cleveland/Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers, and Chicago Cardinals. However, in the end, Gehrke's artistic skill set would be his most significant contribution to the game of football. Gehrke played for the Rams under owner Dan Reeves and coach Art Snyder including their 1945 NFL Championship season in which he led the league in yards per rush. In 1946, Gehrke made his first design related contribution to the game by fashioning a type of helmet facemask after having his nose broken on several different occasions. While impressive, it would pale in significance to his next achievement. Based on period accounts, in late 1947 or early 1948 Gehrke noted to reporters that the "team's owner cared more than his counterparts about his team’s appearance." As such, Gehrke used his design talent to draft some sketches as to what the Rams' helmets might look like if a representation of their team logo was painted on the helmet. Fred presented the draft to coach Snyder who remarked that he could not properly visualize the draft and to "Paint it on a helmet". Gehrke did just that by taking a brown leather helmet and hand painting it blue with the now iconic Rams horn decor in golden yellow. Upon completion the helmets were approved by both Snyder and Reeves to which the owner confirmed that there were no legal obstacles from a league perspective. Subsequently, Fred Gehrke was contracted by the team to paint approx. seventy five helmets for the Rams players to wear during the 1948 season. In fact, Gehrke himself would be responsible for all paint touch ups and other maintenance of the helmets until the 1949 season when Riddell manufactured the helmets with Rams horn logos incorporated. Fred Gehrke's insightful and innovative use of his talent was the first appearance of an NFL team logo on a uniform. This achievement would quickly lead to other teams following suit and eventually realization of the immense branding power behind the marketing of each franchise logo on a myriad of product mediums numbering in the thousands today. Hos accomplishments were lauded by numerous entities within the game including selection as the inaugural recipient of the Pioneer designation with his induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Gehrke was even asked to recreate his original creation by painting another miniature version of the original Rams painted helmet which now resides in the collection of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Curator Jason Aikens categorized the helmet as "One of the most significant artifacts in NFL history." Offered is the very prototype helmet that started its historic journey at the hands of Fred Gehrke back in the late 1940s. Hard shell leather helmet retaining its original Hutch manufacturer's label on the interior suspension padding. Hutch is also stamped in silver on interior leather pad with model H-17 and 7 1/8 size indicators. Gehrke has signed the interior, "Fred Gehrke 1947" in period ink. Exterior of the helmet reveals the very essence of Gehrke's artistic process as corroborated by period accounts. Gehrke first applied a coat of blue paint to the brown leather surface later adding the now iconic Rams yellow horn logo to each side. Clearly evident underneath the layered paint are the various iterations of Gehrke's process noting adjustments to the size and length of the horn decor. The helmet is accompanied by a matted and framed display that chronicles Gehrke's relationship with former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle. The display includes telegram from Rozelle, small printed note from Rozelle, and most notably a 1989 typewritten letter from Rozelle to Gehrke. The letter content relates to Rozelle's retirement with a personal handwritten and signed notation at the bottom noting their long tenured friendship. It reads, "Fred, It was so great to hear from the developer of the modern helmet design. I can remember when you did the Rams by hand, PR". Significant and personal confirmation of Gehrke's helmet innovation achievement from one of the NFL's most notable Commissioners. Incredible equipment artifact of the highest significance with impeccable primary source provenance. Includes LOA from Hunt Auctions; modern copy of photo picturing Fred Gehrke holding the very helmet in his office; Framed display with Pete Rozelle letter to Gehrke; 1948 Bowman Fred Gehrke football card, Gehrke's 1968 CA driver's license, and copy of original 2020 notarized affidavit from Jean Gehrke (Fred's widow) confirming the helmet and its provenance : VG-EX

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