Rare Bob Ratcliffe Abalone Helmet!
Before designing his world famous Rat Hat, Bob Ratcliffe was an abalone diver working out of Santa Barbara, California, with his friend Lad Handelman. Together, they would go on to form Cal Dive, and Oceaneering International, with other divers.
The origins of the trade of diving for abalone are with the immigrant Japanese on the coast of California early in the 20th century. World War II saw the internment of the Japanese divers and their places in the industry were taken over by caucasians. The helmets that the Japanese divers used were from Japan and were rugged and also much cheaper that the domestic helmets of Morse, Schrader and DESCO. After WWII was over Japanese manufacturer’s still supplied helmets to the abalone industry. The caucasian divers started modifying these helmets with different style face ports to give them a larger field of vision underwater. Bob did this one.
This helmet is a four –panel, hand formed Japanese helmet serial number 3485, probably manufactured by Yokohama or TOA of Japan. It has the large port and bonnet mounted air control conversion, as well as a communications conversion. The bonnet shell has been re-tinned to protect it and give it a more uniform appearance, but the brazing lines of the four panels can still be seen. It also retains its non-return valve. This style of helmet is solely from the California abalone industry and converted by one of the most famous names in the commercial diving industry.