Siebe Gorman

(Photos & graphics: Robert Burchett)


This very good ‘Indian’ reproduction of a Siebe Gorman 12-bolt helmet has a short, but interesting background (figures 1 and 3). It serves as a reminder that “if one person can make it, so another person can fake it” (given enough helmet knowledge and craft expertise). The reproduction helmet initially deceived some experts and one or two helmets even passed through auction houses as the genuine item.
The helmets started to appear on the UK market during the summer and autumn of 2005. The first batch of several helmets arrived in the UK from India, and most helmets were quickly sold to eager buyers. The helmets were in near perfect condition, all looked nearly identical and most had serially matched part numbers (on helmet, corselet, faceplate and brails). Serial numbers between the helmets were also sequentially close. The story told at the time was that the helmets were part of a consignment destined for British colonial salvage operations in the 1950s, but were rarely used, put into storage, and subsequently re-discovered.
A few months later, a second batch of about 12 helmets became available from the same source in India. Once again, the helmets were all very similar in looks to those from the first batch, and many carried serially matched part numbers. Serial numbers between the helmets was again sequentially close. However, as a set of circumstances like this is “too good to be true”, the proverbial ‘alarm bells’ started to ring. Some helmets from the second batch were closely examined and found not to be genuine, but instead were very good forgeries. Following this, the actions of the UK supplier was most commendable. The fraud was swiftly and publically exposed, and the UK supplier acted in an honest and appropriated manner to rectify the situation.
It is now known that these batches of reproduction helmets (together with other Siebe Gorman apparatus and marine artefacts) were manufactured in northern India by the same family of artisan craftsmen that still make them today (2010). These reproduction helmets and other copy items are still being sold worldwide through the internet to unsuspecting buyers, by a well known Mumbai exporter. Unfortunately these fraudulent helmets are sometimes realising genuine helmet prices, but as a fraudster knows, a very good copy is still only worth a fraction of the price, compared with the genuine item.
As these reproduction helmets become more widely known, other ways are being found to pass them off or sell them on. Some helmets are now being marketed without the tinned surface (the tinning is removed and the surface mirror polished). Other helmets may have air ducts, the maker’s name tag and serial numbers missing altogether. It probably won’t be long before the first quality reproduction 6-bolt helmet arrives on the market, so be vigilant!
It is unclear whether the reproduction ‘Indian’ helmet can be dived because of some small, but significant differences. However, it would seem unwise to risk diving with an incomplete helmet of dubious origin which may have components made from poor quality, sub-standard materials.

To the unsuspecting buyer or to an untrained eye, the Siebe Gorman reproduction helmet can be difficult to distinguish from a genuine example (figure 1).
However, once several of these helmets have been closely examined, many little differences soon become apparent, and the helmets become quite recognisable. If a complete list of these differences were provided in this article, it is possible that the forgers will just improve the next batch of forgery helmets. Therefore, just a few of the most easily recognisable differences are given here, which should be sufficient for a collector to identify the reproduction helmet. Some information has already been published on the excellent French website dedicated to historical diving apparatus. However, unless you speak the language, the information may not be clearly understood. Hopefully this article in English will help those of us with limited language skills.

Serial Numbers
Siebe Gorman helmet serial numbers are normally found on the underside of the brails, the faceplate (but not always), inside the helmet neck ring and inside the corselet ring. The five digit serial numbers on reproduction helmets mostly start with ‘192’ (plus two following numbers). Sequential serial numbers for the reproduction helmets start around ‘19250’ and approach ‘19299’. Therefore it is possible that up to fifty reproduction helmets may have been made to date. In addition, a few reproduction helmets have now been noted with serial numbers in the early ‘193XX’ range (helmet 19312), which may suggest that more reproduction helmets are being produced. Some genuine Siebe Gorman helmets and helmet parts that carry serial numbers between ‘19250’ and ‘19312’ are known to exist, which confirms the fraudulent nature of the reproduction helmets.

Some Feature Differences
When examining a potential reproduction helmet, a single comparative difference should not be taken in isolation as proof of a forgery. If possible, a number of distinctive and unique differences should be identified to produce a strong case that the helmet is in fact, not genuine.

GENERAL APPEARANCE: an overall appearance of a helmet should look correct for its age. The ‘Indian’ reproduction helmets do not appear correct, as they are all too perfect and look too similar for their age (figures 1A and 1D). Few helmets are in perfect condition and most carry signs of wear associated with their past use (figure 1B)

MAKER’S NAME TAG: the maker’s name tag on the corselet is always worth comparing with a genuine one of the same style and from the same period. A comparison should be made with an authenticated helmet that has a serial number close to that of the helmet under suspicion. The ‘Indian’ reproduction name tag is an excellent copy, and there are few noticeable differences, apart from a slight size discrepancy and inadequate soldering of the tag to the corselet. As an exercise to “train the eye”, there are a number of noticeable differences between the ‘Indian’ reproduction name tag, and an original one with a slightly different style of lettering shown in figure 2.

Look closely and you will begin to appreciate a number of subtle differences between the two name tags.

TINNING: the quality of tinning is poor and quite patchy on some surface areas of the reproduction helmets. The most obvious difference is in the ‘patina’ of the tinned surfaces. The reproduction helmet surfaces have been artificially aged with chemicals, and later tests suggest that an ammonia containing treatment (perhaps equine urine) may have been used. This chemical appears to have been brushed on to the surfaces of the helmet, giving the tinned areas a characteristic ‘streaky’ appearance (figures 1D and 3A-3E).

Compare this to the typical well tinned surface of a genuine helmet (figure 1C).

COLOUR: bright green, copper containing corrosion deposits (verdigris) often appear over wide areas of the reproduction helmet surfaces (figure 1A), and in some areas where they should not normally be expected (figure 7A). Most genuine helmets have some ‘verdigris’. However the ‘verdigris’ deposits on a reproduction helmets can be relatively thick and scaly, and the deposits flake away too readily.

SOLDERING: the quality of the soft soldering is often poor where brass fittings are attached to the copper helmet or corselet. The soft solder join around the perimeter of the reproduction corselet often appears ‘ripple-like’ instead of ‘smooth’ (figure 4).

Slotted stud heads on the underside of the corselet are often left un-tinned on reproduction helmets (figure 6B).

FITTINGS: the air inlet elbow of the reproduction 12-bolt helmet uses a standard 6-bolt elbow fitting (nut-shaped), instead of the more typical round-shaped one, that is seen on most (but not all) 12-bolt helmets (figure 5).

Quite often, threads of various reproduction fittings (e.g. air inlet, faceplate, corselet studs etc.) will not allow accurate fitting of genuine parts. Position of rivets can also differ and some rivet heads may be ground off or flattened on the reproduction helmets.

AGEING: apart from the induced ageing of reproduction helmet with chemicals, false distressing is sometimes observed on surfaces and edges. This is often applied by hammering or filing (figure 6A).

HELMET COMMUNICATIONS: a reproduction helmet may have parts of the communication system left inside the bonnet to add authenticity. Sometimes the wiring may appear old, but quite often bright new, red and black ‘PVC’ coated cable is used (figure 7B).

Finally, temper buying enthusiasm with caution and approach every helmet as a potential forgery. Knowledge and experience are your only real allies, and it can be a steep and sometimes expensive learning curve for the unwary buyer. Even an expert is occasionally deceived by a forgery. If a helmet appears “too good to be true”, then it probably is. The Latin phrase ‘Caveat emptor’, “Let the Buyer Beware” is one worth remembering.

I would like to thank David Dekker, Dr. John Bevan and Phil Thurtle for their helpful comments and suggestions while writing this article.

With special thanks to Mike Burchett for this article



The Heinke 3-bolt 'Lightweight' Harbour Helmet and corselet (with top glass/light) was produced by C.E. Heinke & Co. Ltd. mostly during the post war period (Code No. 2/B1014). However, in 1961 the Heinke Company was taken over by the firm of Siebe, Gorman & Co. Ltd. who then continued to produce the 'Lightweight' Harbour Helmet under their own name for several more years, but with a few minor changes (including the Siebe, Gorman style spitcock and their own oval name badge). In essence Siebe, Gorman was using up the Heinke parts they had acquired during the takeover for the continued manufacture of this helmet.

The replica version of the English 3-bolt (4-light) lightweight 'Harbour Helmet' has been in circulation since mid-2010, and the helmet is found with a Siebe, Gorman company name badge on the front of the corselet (breastplate). It is worth noting that authentic 3-bolt (4-light) Siebe-Heinke 'Harbour Helmets' are rare, therefore finding an inexpensive, genuine helmet is most unlikely.

Rear view of two of the replica helmets


The history of this replica helmet is an interesting tale of intrigue and more details are likely to emerge in the forthcoming years. On 27th January 2009 a burglary took place in the German town of Lorsch where some 28 diving helmets were stolen from a private collection (including a Heinke 'Lightweight' Harbour Helmet). The German police were informed about the stolen helmets and an investigation was carried out. A number of the stolen helmets were advertised on the police website. Three days after the robbery, 12 of the stolen helmets were offered for sale by a German dealer to a Belgian collector. Nine of these helmet were then purchased by the collector. However soon after the deal was concluded the Belgian collector became uneasy at the low prices offered for some of the helmets. Therefore the collector contacted a known diving apparatus dealer from Wassenaar in the Netherlands for some advice. A meeting was arranged for the following day which took place in Belgium between the various parties. The helmets were identified as being part of the stolen collection. The helmets were returned to their rightful owner but the unfortunate Belgian collector had lost his purchase money.

A few weeks later, German police arrested a German father and son for the burglary and theft of the diving helmets. The arrested men were also known to be responsible for previously organizing the manufacture and sale of forgery Draeger diving helmets. The court case was due to be heard at Freising, Germany on 24th October 2011, some two years after the robbery occurred, but the case was postponed.

The web of intrigue deepened in June 2011 when one of the two men originally arrested for the helmets theft offered a Dutch collector a rare Siebe-Heinke 3-bolt (4-light) 'Lightweight' Harbour Helmet and then accepted a very low offer. The helmet was purchased, but the collector was suspicious as to why the helmet was sold at a knock-down price. Having known about the robbery some two years previously and suspecting the seller may be connected in some way, the collector looked through the 'Polizei' website database which illustrated the stolen helmets. He also contacted a reputable diving apparatus dealer/collector near Hoorn in the Netherlands for some further advice. A comparison was made between the newly bought helmet and photographs of the original stolen one. From the outcome it was evident that the newly purchased helmet was not the original stolen helmet, but nor was it a genuine one! It was in fact a good replica which had then been sold as a forgery by one of the previously arrested men.

It is now thought that the original Heinke 3-bolt (4-light) 'Lightweight' Harbour Helmet stolen from the German collection was most likely dis-assembled, parts were copied and from this a number a fake helmets were manufactured (but instead the replica helmets are fitted with a Siebe, Gorman company name badge on the front of the breastplate). However as to the final quantity of helmets reproduced, only the forgers know. The source of the manufacturing operation is likely to have been Poland, (possibly near Gdynia) where past reproduction helmets have been made and from where there is easy distribution links to the rest of Europe.

Less than two months later (early August 2011) another reproduction helmet identical to the first one surfaced onto the market and was offered to a German collector by a Polish woman who spoke excellent German. Photographs of the helmet were sent, but the collector took further advice and luckily he did not purchase the fake helmet. Following on from this, fake helmets has been sold in Denmark, to a diving museum in Holland and one has been offered for sale by a dealer in Bristol (UK).

These Siebe-Heinke helmets first came onto the market around June 2010 when one was offered for sale on the major internet USA website. The German dealer did not pretend to sell the helmet as an original, but as a replica which is quite legitimate. However when contacted he would not reveal the source of this reproduction helmet! It should be remembered that a dealer who sells a replica of a vintage diving helmet is not breaking the law if it clearly states that the helmet is a copy, replica or reproduction. However if the helmet is advertised and sold as authentic (e.g. made by the original manufacturer) when it is clearly not (therefore there is obvious deception by the seller), then this act becomes fraudulent because the helmet is now a forgery.

Unfortunately to date, 16 helmets from the original collection are still missing, including the Heinke 3-bolt (4-light) 'Lightweight' Harbour Helmet. It is not known if other types of helmets have been copied and are ready to enter the market place in the near future, so watch out.


When examining a potential reproduction helmet, a single comparative difference should not be taken in isolation as proof of a forgery. If possible, a number of distinctive and unique differences should be identified to produce a strong case that the helmet is in fact, not genuine. At first sight the reproduction 'Lightweight' Harbour Helmet looks quite convincing, but there are several noticeable differences:
Helmets are not tinned (most genuine ones were tinned or show some signs of original tinning).
Some helmets appear as if they are manufactured yesterday, and look far too new.
Build quality is not as good when compared to a genuine helmet.
Some of the helmets may have a chrome-looking, swivelling telephone connection (banjo).
Position of the 'diver-phone' stamped word on the telephone connection is not correct and the serial number may be missing underneath this word.
Serial numbers may be missing from the helmet, corselet and other normally marked parts.
Makers name badge (of the Siebe Gorman type) that is attached to the front of the breastplate is not correct.
Position of certain fittings are not correct or are not at the correct angle and rivet heads may also be wrongly positioned. A careful comparison should be made of these as they are obvious give-aways.
Helmet bonnet looks to the left a little when fitted to the corselet (breastplate), therefore it is slightly out of line.

Hopefully the above differences and the photos are enough to make people aware of the reproduction helmets. There are several other small, but significant features that distinguish the fake helmet from a genuine one. However a comprehensive list of differences given here will only make the forgers work easier if another batch of helmets are produced.

Special thanks again go to Mike Burchett.

This helmet was found in an antique shop in Thailand.


Photos courtesy of Pierre Nyberg




This helmet was found on a remote Island off the Chilean coast



We have a 4 light replica Sebe Gorman of London helmet, also found off The coast of Chile


Have a look at this 4 light item. Is it a 3 bolt ? NO !  Is it a 12 bolt ? NO !, it's Super Grover !! It looks like a Draeger and it looks like an old Morse helmet. In the right picture you see a hole. Maybe our phony friends planned an exhaust there. Remember this is not a diving helmet and you should not have to pay a diving helmet price for it.


Probably the most replicated diving helmet in the world is the Mark V. The latest copies sometimes even have airducts and the interrupted screw thread! Be aware, before you know it you pay a real helmet price for a phony hat.

This interesting item circulated the worlds biggest marketplace for a while. It is a US Navy Mark V from 1909. Now, that's interesting because George D. Stillson finished the design for the Mark V around 1915. This item was first offered as a real helmet and later as a reproduction. One of the few we have ever seen with nipples on the front and the back of the corselet.

From the MARK V a lot of reproductions were made 
(and still are). Sometimes it is hard to tell the repro 
from the real thing ! 

The best replica of the MARK V is the so called "8-29-41" that was made in Taiwan in 1980.

Korean MARK V replica. The position of the phone booth
is not bad compared to many other phonies but have a look
at the spitcock.

English MARK V Replica. 
It has an eight point exhaust handle but no holes
at the end of the banana tube !

One more for the road ! You will sometimes be offered this 8-29-41 reproduction with actual numbers beeing punched in the nametag. Do not fall for that trick. 


Morse used OVAL nametags. This one is a reproduction that has NO number stamped in it. 

Two original name tags:Schrader used this shape

Another one trying to fool us!! You remembered to look at the nametag. Then you find a beautiful SCHRADER Mark V helmet on Ebay (at least: that is what you think) and start bidding like there is no tomorrow.

 We find the position of the air-inlet and the phone-connector rather strange: they must be in each others way. The telephone booth on this hat is, compared to real Mark V's, put way to far to the back. The top light seems to be a bit too far to the left. The mechanism to adjust the air-outlet is missing. There seems to be no hole to the inside of the helmet. Conclusion ? Nice try with a custom made nametag. Schrader NEVER used screws. Nametages were always SOLDERED. 

Did you know people even offer phony nametags for sale?
This looks like a bad recast from an original one.

Ever heard of the EMORY & DOUGLAS company producing Mark V diving helmets? As far as we are concerned they are in the phony business! Sold on Ebay for a real diving helmet price......

Dear Karin and Bert. I bought this helmet in an Indonesian antique shop. The salesman was honest about the fact it was obviously fake. It cost 2,000,000 rupiah which is less than USD200. I think this to is a fair price for an ornament considering material and the level of workmanship.
The helmet is copper/brass, including the shell which has been blackened. The valves function but the pipe fittings are blank. The spelling mistake (incoperated) on the label tag is particularly amusing!
I would be interested in your comments and feel free to use the pics I have sent
Also a friend  "assures" me that fully functional MkV replicas are available in China. He has worked with Chinese divers and he says there are still used today and can be purchased for about USD500. Do you think this true?
Bob Griffiths

Who knows more about Chinese, fully operational MkV's? Please contact us

See more phony material

  • Last edited on 25th February 2014