When I was planning for the introduction of Big League Brew back in 2001, I thought it would be great to have each and every component of the packaging collectible. I wanted the carrier, the labels, the outside carton and even the bottle crowns to be memorable. The recipe needed to be memorable too, and I was thrilled later when we won a Gold Medal at the World Festival of Beer. But back to the crowns. They were great fun to design. It was a little bit of a challenge working within the constraints of a one inch circle, but I was very pleased with the finished compositions. Once I’d completed the art for all 24 different crowns, it was time to turn them over to the manufacturing company that would actually run the job. Jobs like this are printed on large sheets of metal and then die cut into the individual crowns. In this case a single printed sheet yielded 525 single crowns (a bit less than 22 complete sets). Later I was to regret not asking for a sample printed sheet, but it didn’t seem important at the time. If I had bothered to look one over I would have found that the manufacturer’s art department had gotten a bit lazy. Rather than strip in nearly equal numbers of each design, they had taken a shortcut and doubled up on some designs while shortchanging others.
It wasn’t until months after beer was on the shelves that I began to hear from collectors, inquiring if some crowns were rarer than others. My stock reply was to the negative but eventually it became obvious that there was a problem. It appears that, in fact, two crowns were produced in lower quantities. The less rare of the two is the #20 Joe Jackson. I would guess that it is moderately less common than usual. Much more difficult is the #9 Babe Ruth crown, which seems fairly hard to find. It is too bad about the Ruth…it was not my favorite image. I prefer either of the other two Ruth’s found in the set.
You can often find Helmar bottle crowns available on eBay, but only infrequently will you find some collector auctioning a complete set. Now you know why! As for the package design as a whole, it was notable enough that several articles were written about it in specialized packaging magazines. I’m told that there is a packaging museum of sorts that acquired an example of the 4 pack for their collection. Here are images of the Jackson and Ruth, taken from the original art files: