Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Helmar? What the Hell is Helmar?!?!

Ever heard of Helmar?  If you haven't, and you're a collector that enjoys older baseball cards, say 1950s and prior, then you should absolutely read on!

Helmar is a company from the Michigan area that, among other products like beer and potato chips, has produced high quality baseball art cards for well over a decade now.  I don't know a whole lot about them just yet to be honest, but I do know that I'm intrigued by their very apparent appreciation of baseball history.  That appreciation is certainly reflected in their "labor-of-love" approach to creating high quality baseball art, and cards.

These days they produce a few different custom sets at any given time.  The approach is pretty unique, with each individual card painstakingly produced and released in a somewhat limited quantity.  Every Tuesday night they run a series of eBay auctions for singles, and they have publicly vowed to produce and sell no more than 6 of each card per year.  After a period of years sets are retired as well as new sets are moved into their product line, so for most of their cards there are no more than a couple/few dozen copies of each floating around out there.  They're very hard to find, if you don't believe me open up another tab in your browser and go check eBay.  See how many you can locate outside the few dozen that are auctioned direct by Helmar each Tuesday.

That's a story for another post and another day though.  The way things started for Helmar on the baseball card front was with a small set, done in the style of the early tobacco releases, that was released back in 2005.  These cards, referred to simply as the "Famous Athletes" series, would actually come in packs of three (see image above), inserted into bags of potato chips and caramel corn.

I can vouch for this myself, given that the pack I have for you today still has some snack food remnants stuck to the back!

There is a certain amount of collector demand for the various Helmar cards, and you'd be amazed what some of the hand-crafted singles I mentioned go for each week.  These 2005 minis aren't quite as sought after or valuable, but they're still rare compared to most modern baseball cards.  I was lucky enough to work out a deal with an eBay seller for four unopened pack at a price point that worked out to about $6 per pack shipped.  With three cards inside, I paid about $2 per individual card.  Series 2, which was produced in much smaller quantities in response to collector demand after Series 1 and sold direct, is much rarer and single cards routinely sell in the $15-$20 range and up.

Enough setting the stage here, let's rip the first pack and check these cards out!

Again, the design for this first release is pretty simplistic, but the paintings are really the star of the show anyway.  How seriously did Helmar take this first venture into the world of baseball cards?  Seriously enough that each one of the 74 cards in this Series 1 release (and all of their releases since) features original, hand-painted art!

In my research I read that they have three or four artists on staff, all local in Michigan except for one highly touted artist overseas.  I am seriously impressed with the job that these folks did in creating these cards.  As someone who loves really old-time baseball, I think they did an absolutely perfect job creating bright, vibrant artwork that looks right on point for the era these athletes appeared in.  Sort of a T206 meets early 1950s Bowman in my humble opinion.

This is just my second card of Buck Weaver overall, member of the infamous "Black Sox" of 1919 (as evidenced by the "Expelled in Scandal" reference along the top of the card.  I'll take this over pulling my 50th card of Christian Yelich or Chris Sale from a modern Topps pack!

For this first series, the card backs are all identical, just a simple logo along the top and then a scratch-off section where you could win various prizes.  These are printed on high-quality cardstock, as thick as your average game-used relic card.  Slightly larger than a mini card from Allen & Ginter or Gypsy Queen as far as dimensions go.

Since this set is called Famous Athletes, it of course contains some non-baseball subjects, though the majority of the checklist is comprised of ballplayers.  My second card out of the pack is boxer Jimmy Adamick, whom I confess I've never heard of.  Apparently he was a local boxing legend, known as The Midland Mauler!

While I prefer the baseball subjects, I think it's cool that they sprinkled in some other athletes, particularly since they seemed to seek out lesser known subjects from their region of the country.  Is it weird that when I pull a card out of a modern baseball pack and don't recognize the subject I get annoyed, but when I pull a card of a really old subject I don't recognize I get excited by the "research opportunity"?

Final card in the pack, and we're back to baseball.  A fine example of the beautiful artwork that went into this set.  According to Helmar's website, it took a full two years to paint all of the original artwork used in this first series; the largest hand-painted series of baseball cards in many years at the time of release.  They occasionally list original artwork in their eBay store as well, though it's way too expensive for me to dabble in.

Well, with just a three card pack that wraps it up for this evening.  I'm off to see what I can find out about Goto here; any leads?

I know that unlicensed cards like this aren't everyone's cup of tea, but what's your opinion on that kind of stuff (and on Helmar specifically if you have one)?  Personally I'm fascinated by these, and even more so by some of Helmar's other, more recent sets.  I find them to be exponentially more interesting than 95% of what's come out since I rejoined the hobby back in 2007, and I wish Topps would put half as much effort into some of their sets as this small company clearly does.

I welcome any opinions in the comments, and regardless of how you feel thanks for stopping by my little corner of the internet!

5 comments:

Nick said...

I had no idea these were so rare...though that might explain why I have exactly one of them in my collection. I don't know that I'd pay what you paid for these packs, but the cards are definitely cool. That Weaver in particular is fantastic.

Billy Kingsley said...

Never heard of them....I'll have to look and see if they had anybody I need for my collection in that multi sport set.

I send you an email a few days ago, did I miss your reply?

Jon said...

Pack prices must be going up, as they used to be considerably cheaper. I remember looking into them a few years ago, and one could get multi-pack lots with the packs costing somewhere between a $1-2 per. Cool Goto BTW!

AdamE said...

I have a few Helmar's in my boxing collection. Not many though and not the one that you pulled.

Fuji said...

Love the 2005 Helmars! There was a time when I attempted to build a set of these, but I couldn't find an official checklist... and had no idea there was even a second series. In your research, did you find a checklist for the 74 cards? Do you have 2nd series checklist? Is there an easy way to distinguish the two series apart?

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