When I finally decided to develop a baseball themed beer back in 2000, I had some trouble settling on a company name. My first choice, Budweiser, had already been taken. Being a collector, I wondered if any of the old-time cigarette company names were available. To my surprise, there were several and after much hand-wringing I eventually committed to “Helmar”. It is a nice name, I think, strong, yet short enough to be memorable. And the original Helmar cigarette company made a few neat collectibles. But what really drew me was the neat story relating how the name first came to be used.
The S. Anargyros Famous Cigarettes company was founded in 1885 and by 1900 had become a subsidiary of the giant American Tobacco. Anargyros’ brands used Egyptian-Turkish motifs, a durable theme that had enchanted the west through much of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. To the average American, living without the benefit of today’s media or ease of travel, Egypt and Turkey were basically the same thing–wildly exotic and very, very remote. “Anargyros” is, in fact, a Greek name and plainly unconnected to Egypt, a nuance that was probably also lost on consumers. Examples of popular Anargyros brands included Egyptian Deities, Murad, Turkey Red, Turkish Trophies and, of course, Helmar.The fact that “Helmar” doesn’t seem to quite fit into the Egyptian-Turkish mold it is understandable, given that the name has been perverted from its original form. The brand was first introduced as “Ramleh” or, more completely, “Ramleh Turkish Cigarettes”, and came complete with a stern looking Pharaoh on the package. “Ramleh” is, of course, “Helmar” spelled backwards. What in the world would possess the marketing geniuses at Anargyros to make such a drastic move with a popular brand? The answer is competition. The Mentor company of Boston, a sly group to be sure, had been eating away at Ramleh’s market share with their similar sounding “Ramly” brand. By August of 1907 Anargyros had had enough and made the expensive change, complete with a huge advertising campaign. Luckily, the change was successful and the Helmar cigarette brand flourished until production finally stopped in 1966. To remember Helmar we can look to some of the hobby’s most unique collectibles: the silks, leathers and player stamps that were issued between 1910 and 1915. More on each of those later. By the way, “Ramleh” is an actual city in central Israel. It was founded in 716 by the Caliph Sulayman ibn Abd al-Malik, a name too long for use as a cigarette brand. Apparently “ramleh” comes from the word “raml”, which translates to “sand”. I can imagine the Caliph standing at the site, dreams of the city that he will build swimming through his head, and saying, “I know, we’ll call it Sand!”.