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Basic gear from mid-twentieth-century Italy: Other manufacturers

Discussion in 'History of Diving Gear' started by David Wilson, Apr 7, 2021.

  1. David Wilson

    David Wilson Contributor

    So today we move on to masks, snorkels, snorkel-masks and fins made around the middle of the last century by Italian manufacturers other than Cressi, Mares and Pirelli. These perhaps less commonly known basic diving equipment producers included long-established makers of standard diving dress intent not only on serving the continuing professional diving market but also on cashing in on the gradual rise of leisure consumerism and aquatic activity tourism during peacetime; industries exploring profitable alternatives to military goods production in the aftermath of World War II; new entrants to the diving business confining their product lines to goods of sole interest to underwater hunters or expanding their horizons to cover the full gamut from a humble nose-clip to a family of regulators. Some of these businesses have lasted to the present day, while others have arrived as latecomers to the party, "dipping their toes in the water", so to speak, launching their product lines, maintaining them for several years and discontinuing them when they no longer brought a return or when an advance in technology necessitated heavy investment.

    In this new thread I make no claim to cover every basic gear manufacturer operating in Italy during the so-called vintage era from the 1950s to the mid-1970s. There were so many of them that I am certain to miss at least a couple and this is where you, dear reader, come in if you have specialist knowledge or expertise to share. I am minded to begin with Italian manufacturers who were around in the late 1940s or early 1950s, reviewing their product history from then until the arrival of the silicone-skirted mask, silicone-mouthpieced snorkel and plastic-bladed fin bandwagon on the scene. Later on, I shall also review at least one Italian manufacturer who decided to maintain production of traditional rubber masks, snorkels and fins into the new millennium.

    Our port of call this morning with be the Atlantic range of underwater products manufactured during the 1950s by a long-established, well-respected Italian company named after its founder Riccardo Spasciani and still engaged in national and international business.
    jale and Sam Miller III like this.
  2. David Wilson

    David Wilson Contributor

    The final subject of our previous thread, Pirelli, and the initial subject of our current one, Spasciani, are both Milanese concerns. Milan (Italian: Milano) is a city in northern Italy, capital of Lombardy, and the second-most populous city in Italy after Rome. Some of the sights of this metropolis can be viewed above. Milan served as the capital of the Western Roman Empire, the Duchy of Milan and the Kingdom of Lombardy–Venetia. The city proper has a population of about 1.4 million while its metropolitan city has 3.26 million inhabitants. Its continuously built-up urban area, that stretches well beyond the boundaries of the administrative metropolitan city, is the fourth largest in the EU with 5.27 million inhabitants. The population within the wider Milan metropolitan area, also known as Greater Milan, is estimated at 8.2 million, making it by far the largest metropolitan area in Italy and the third largest in the EU. Milan is considered a leading alpha global city, with strengths in the fields of art, commerce, design, education, entertainment, fashion, finance, healthcare, media, services, research and tourism. Its business district hosts Italy's stock exchange (Italian: Borsa Italiana), and the headquarters of national and international banks and companies. In terms of GDP, it has the second-largest economy among EU cities after Paris, and is the wealthiest among EU non-capital cities.
    Spasciani S.p.A. was founded in 1892 by Riccardo Spasciani, a pioneer of accident prevention in the workplace. The company started from a laboratory in the heart of Milan's historical quarter. In the early twentieth century, dust masks were produced to counter what was then the greatest industrial disease: silicosis. The 1930s saw the development of the first self-contained respiratory equipment for miners and firefighters, which were forerunners of compressed air breathing apparatus. The firm's constant expansion required its premises to move to various factories before it arrived in the Baranzate headquarters where it remained for 46 years. Its final destination in 2008 was the current modern factory in Origgio (VA) pictured above. Located about 20 kilometres (12 miles) northwest of Milan, Origgio is in the province of Varese in the Italian region of Lombardy.
    Pictured above is a Spasciani advertisement in the first issue of the Italian diving magazine Mondo Subacqueo ("Underwater World") published in 1950 in the Northern Italian city of Genoa, a whole year before the first issue of Skin Diver appeared in the USA.

    If you want to see a full-text scan of the first 1950 issue of Mondo Subacqueo, including the Riccardo Spasciano advertisement above, one is available, courtesy of Luigi Fabbri of the Blu Time Scuba History site, at http://blutimescubahistory.com/sites/default/files/copertine_libri_riviste/Mondo Subacqueo 1950.pdf. It is a 36.5 MB download.

    In the full-page advertisement, the company identifies itself as a manufacturer of what we have now learnt to call personal protective equipment (PPE), in this case: masks, goggles and self-contained breathing equipment. In 1950, the firm's address was Via Stendhal, 45, Milan, where it had operated since the 1930s. Its new "Atlantic" range of products "per la sport subacquea" (for underwater sport) came with a seahorse logo and comprised "pinne" (fins), "occhiali" (goggles) and "maschere" (masks), which were retailed "nei migliori negozi" (in better stores) to underline their quality.

    And there, perhaps a little tantalisingly, I have opted to leave matters until the weekend, when normal service will be resumed with a review of the R. Spascieni "Atlantic" lines in underwater sportsmen's goggles and masks. In the meantime, keep safe and stay well.
    jale and Sam Miller III like this.
  3. David Wilson

    David Wilson Contributor

    We now proceed to Atlantic goggles made by the Milanese Riccardo Spascieni company. During the first half of the twentieth century, the firm was already engaged in manufacturing personal protective equipment including masks, goggles and self-contained breathing gear for industrial use (see above), which was not a far cry from making underwater goggles and masks for peacetime recreational use during the second half.
    Today we shall focus on underwater eyewear, beginning with goggles. The advertisement above dating from 1925 showcases a set of adjustable rubber goggles designed by Spasciani to protect the eyes of motor vehicle drivers, motorcyclists and aviators. When Spasciani began producing goggles for the underwater hunting and swimming market in the aftermath of World War II, the firm elected to target opposite ends of the market. The choice of "Nuoto Economico" ("economic swim") as the name of the pair below clearly tagged them as a low-budget swimming accessory when they appeared in the 1954 Rex-Hevea catalogue:
    Italian: "ECONOMICO: gomma oscura, cristalli tondi, adatti ai bambini. (ONECO). Lit. 750."
    English: "Model in dark rubber, round glasses, suitable for children."

    The product reappeared in the 1958 edition of the catalogue:
    Italian: "ECONOMICO: gomma nera o azzurra, cristalli tondi, adatti ai bambini"
    English: "Black or blue rubber, round glasses; adapted for children."
    jale and Sam Miller III like this.
  4. David Wilson

    David Wilson Contributor

    Option Two in the Spasciani Atlantic range of goggles was dubbed "Nuoto Lusso" ("luxury swim") to target the more discerning underwater hunter or swimmer with deeper pockets. Image and caption from the 1954 Rex-Hevea catalogue:
    Italian: "LUSSO: gomma variamente colorata, cristalli tondi, adatti per giovani ed adulti. (ONELU) Lit. 1.000."
    English: "Model in various colours of rubber, round glasses, suited for young people and adults."

    While the the lower-priced Economico was designed for children, the higher-priced Lusso was intended for adolescent and adult users. Some auction pictures of the latter below:

    The Lusso was absent from the 1958 Rex-Hevea catalogue. Next stop mid-week will be the three models in the Riccardo Spasciani Atlantic range of diving masks. Here in the UK, tomorrow sees the first reopening of certain "non-essential" commercial premises since December 2020. These include hairdressing salons, many now with long waiting lists and hence longer opening hours over seven days a week for the foreseeable future. Stay safe and keep well as vaccination begins to spread around the world.
  5. David Wilson

    David Wilson Contributor

    Thanks, Sam, for the likes.

    Today we'll move on to a trio of Spasciani Atlantic masks today called "Standard", "Standard Lusso" and "Standard Piccolo". None of these masks survived beyond the 1950s, which may be due to Riccardo Spasciani company moving its factory premises in the early 1960s and deciding to focus on its core range of personal protective equipment for use in the workplace.

    The Standard appeared thus in Fabio Vitale's roundup of early-1950s diving masks:
    Italian: "Maschera Atlantic St. Standard. Adatta ad ogni viso, con carcassa in gomma nera e cristallo tondo bloccato da ghiera metallica."
    Rough translation: "Atlantic St. Standard mask. Adapts to every face, with black rubber body and round lens retained by metal band."

    So nothing particularly out of the ordinary for the time. A model with a round faceplate, a metal retaining band and a rubber skirt claiming to fit all facial profiles. This said, the Milanese firm of Riccardo Spasciani could rely on its past reputation in personal protective equipment manufacturing as a selling point for this new product as well as a guarantee of its safety and efficiency.

    The 1954 Rex-Hevea catalogue provided a more detailed, though unillustrated, description of the Atlantic Standard:
    Italian: "ATLANTIC: misura unica media, cristallo tondo, particolarmente adatto per chi usa autorespiratori senza maschera incorporata. (ATLECO) tipo normale."
    English: "Made in medium size only with a round window, particularly suitable for anyone using self-breathing apparatus without an incorporated mask."
    And no, I too dislike the official English translation "self-breathing apparatus" of the Italian "autorespiratori". "Autorespiratori" are "rebreathers", like the above.

    The 1958 edition of the Rex-Hevea catalogue brought an illustrated description:
    Italian: "ATLANTIC ST.: (...) cristallo tondo, gomma nera, adatta ad ogni viso; (...) ghiera di bloccaggio; unica misura media."
    English: "(...) round glass set in black rubber adapted to all faces; (...) blocking ring; medium size only."

    So no change there in this mask's specifications. This was the latest reference I could find to the Atlantic Standard mask. Unless you know different...:)
  6. David Wilson

    David Wilson Contributor

    Next up today is the Spasciani Atlantic "Lusso" (Luxury) diving mask. Each of the three sources listed in the previous message had something to say about this model.

    Fabio Vitale's roundup of early-1950s diving masks:
    Italian: "Maschera Atlantic St. Lusso. Indicata per profondisti, con carcassa in ottima gomma blu e cristallo Securit di forma trapezoidale a base superiore molto allungata bloccato da ghiera metallica (...) in misura unica media."
    Rough translation: "Atlantic St. Lusso mask. Suitable for deep diving, with blue superior rubber body and trapezoidal shaped safety lens with very elongated upper base retained by metal band (...) medium size only."

    Both the Standard and the Lusso were "medium-sized" with metal lens retaining bands, but there the similarity ended. A trapezoidal faceplate with the long edge at the top. A blue skirt made of the highest quality rubber. A design intended for deep water diving.

    Here is the 1954 Rex-Hevea catalogue entry:
    Italian: "ATLANTIC: misura unica media (...) costruito in «tipo lusso» con cristallo Securit triangolare ed in gomma verde o blu. (...) (ATUSSE) tipo lusso, Lit. 2.700."
    Rough translation: "Made in medium size only (...) in a «luxury type» with a triangular window of Securit, and in green or blue rubber."

    This source suggests that the Lusso was available in green as well as blue. It also describes the Lusso as "triangular" in shape.

    Triangular faceplates were not uncommon during the 1950s. My first swim mask was a Turnbull Sea Raider imported to the UK from Australia:
    US divers may be more familiar with triangular swim masks from the 1949-1954 Desco water sports catalogue:
    The USSR came out with its own triangular mask made during the 1960s by the "Krasny Rezinshchik" rubber goods plant in the Ukrainan capital Kiev:

    But I digress...:wink: The 1958 Rex-Hevea catalogue entry for the Atlantic Lusso is reproduced below:
    Italian: ATLANTIC ST.: LUSSO (...) cristallo Securit, trapezoidale a base superiore molto allungata in modo da dare un ampia visuale: la carcassa è in ottima gomma blu (...) ghiera di bloccaggio; il tipo Lusso è spiccatamente per profondisti o per chi usa apparecchi autorespiratori non già completi di maschera. Unica misura media."
    English: " LUSSO type; (...) trapezoidal shaped Securit glass with very wide top for a large field of vision; the frame is in high grade blue rubber (...) blocking ring; distinctly for depth swimmers or for those using self-breathing equipment not supplied with a mask; medium size only."

    So references to the safety benefits of the shatterproof lens, the visual benefits of the trapezoidal shape, the high quality of the materials and the readiness of the product for deep diving challenges.

    I shall set aside my keyboard at this point to leave all my readers with an element of suspense as they anticipate my review of the third and final member of the Spasciani Atlantic family of diving masks: the Standard Piccolo. I shall leave that task to the weekend with the prospect of a similar review of the Spasciano Atlantic breathing tube. By then I should have received my second shot of COVID-19 vaccine. Until then, keep safe and stay well.
  7. David Wilson

    David Wilson Contributor

    Thank you, Sam, for the likes. We have one more Riccardo Spasciani Atlantic diving mask to go, the Standard Piccola. "Piccola" is the feminine singular form (matching "maschera", Italian for "mask") of the Italian adjective "piccolo", meaning "small" or "little".

    The Standard appeared thus in Fabio Vitale's roundup of early-1950s diving masks:
    Italian: "Maschera Atlantic Standard Piccola. Carcassa in gomma azzurra con cristallo ovale bloccato da ghiera metallica."
    Rough translation: "Atlantic Standard Piccola Mask. Light blue rubber body with oval lens retained by metal band."

    The model also appeared in the 1958 edition of the Rex-Hevea catalogue:
    Italian: "ATLANTIC ST(ANDARD) P(ICCOLA): a cristallo ovale e carcassa in morbida gomma azzurra: una ghiera metallica blocca il sistema cristallo-carcassa; piccola, leggera è adatta per i profondisti: misura unica media."
    English: "With oval glass set in soft blue rubber frame secured by metal holder, small, light and adapted to depth swimmers: medium size."

    So the product name, suggesting as it does lower volume, seems to relate more to the depth of the swimmer's descents in the water and less, as the previous masks do, to the depth of his pockets. In keeping with the former, the mask skirt comes with ribs for reinforcement both inside and out, mask collapse under increased water pressure during deeper diving being considered a real possibility in the 1950s.
  8. David Wilson

    David Wilson Contributor

    So much for these three Atlantic masks. Having had a long history of manufacturing industrial breathing equipment, Spasciani would have been expected to include a breathing tube in its new underwater range. In the event, the firm produced two kinds of atmospheric air breathing tubes: one with a mouthpiece and others built into swim masks. We shall focus on the former here.

    The Rex-Hevea catalogue of 1954 lists the following: "(RANTIC) tipo «Atlantic», boccaglio corrugato ed anellino per fissarlo alla maschera. Lit. 850" This roughly translates to "(RANTIC) "Atlantic" brand, corrugated mouthpiece and ring for (tube) attachment to the mask. 850 lire." There was no illustration.

    So the stand-alone Atlantic breathing tube came with a mouthpiece with a flexible corrugtated rubber elbow. The flex-hose snorkel is a mid-1950s innovation. According to Dick Bonin - SDI | TDI | ERDI | PFI, this breathing tube type was introduced to the USA by Dick Bonin, founder of Scubapro: "We brought out the first flexible snorkel. In Chicago, they used to sell surplus aircraft parts so I took a hose and put it on a snorkel tube, and I never forgot that. Swimaster priced it at $2.95 and everyone said we were out of our minds, but we sold them like crazy." Perhaps not a world first, however, as flexible-hose snorkels were already on sale in Europe in 1954 if that year's Rex-Hevea catalogue is to be believed. The latter featured an image of the "Delfino Corrugato":
    So Spasciani's "Atlantic" snorkel was not the only flex-hose breathing tube in production at that time; it was not even unique in Europe. The main advantage of the design was the mouthpiece's ability to drop down out of the way when it was no longer in use. This made it a favourite of scuba divers who liked having a snorkel to hand but disliked having one with a mouthpiece with a inflexible bend that sometimes got in the way.
  9. David Wilson

    David Wilson Contributor

    We shall finish today with several auction pictures of Spasciani Atlantic underwater equipment. I almost won the auction, but was pipped at the post: What was on offer appeared to be an Atlantic Standard Piccola mask with ribs for reinforcement and an Atlantic breathing tube with a corrugated mouthpiece.

    The third image clearly shows the brand name "Atlantic" along with this underwater range's seahorse logo.

    Plenty for today, but we are far from finished with the Atlantic product line. Spascini designed and manufactured masks with integrated breathing tubes in no fewer than five different models. We shall begin reviewing those some time midweek. In the meantime, keep safe and stay well.
  10. David Wilson

    David Wilson Contributor

    I am grateful, Sam and evandroairton, for the likes.

    Today I propose to focus on two members of the five-product family of Spasciani Atlantic masks with built-in breathing tubes, namely the single- and double-snorkel versions of the Atlantic Lusso ("Luxury") model. The plain Lusso, remember, came without breathing tubes. I have reproduced the latter below from the 1958 Rex-Hevea catalogue:

    There follows an image of the Atlantic Lusso combined mask and tube from a Spasciani advertisement in the first issue of the Italian diving magazine Mondo Subacqueo ("Underwater World") published in 1950.
    Although the above Lusso snorkel-mask has the same triangular shape as the plain Lusso with no snorkel, the former differs significantly from the latter otherwise. Obviously, the snorkel-mask is a much larger piece of kit with full-face coverage instead of what is associated with the conventional mask: eyes and nose enclosed, mouth left uncovered.

    As this full-face snorkel-mask covered both the nose and the mouth, one or two built-in breathing tubes were necessary to enable the wearer to breathe air nasally and orally from the atmosphere. The attached aluminium snorkel(s) emerged from a point on the side of the mask roughly level with the mouth and nostrils, terminating overhead with a lever-operated float valve to shut off the air supply when submerged. Plugged into each snorkel socket was a rightly secured elbow enabling the attached barrel to follow the vertical contour of the head. The barrel itself could be adjusted for both length and direction relative to the surface of the water.

    The appendage fronting the mask body at the bottom was a non-return purge valve designed to drain out any residual water in the mask interior.

    The extra weight and volume of the mask body, window, tubes and fittings led the snorkel-mask designers to reinforce the straps attaching the device to the wearer's head. While one strap went horizontally around the head, another passed vertically over it. Both were much wider and thicker than conventional mask straps.
    Sam Miller III and jale like this.

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