This blog is about vintage and hand-made baseball cards, art, brewing and cigars, history and anything interesting that I think should be passed along. Come often, you are welcome!
Charles has written 146 posts for helmarblog

Seven times HR champ!

We just finished this one for our new series on the 1950’s and thought you’d enjoy a preview. Charles.

Back in history…

I first became entranced with Indian Mughal-style art about thirty years ago. It is easy to go a little crazy with these; at one time I had several hundred pieces. These days I have perhaps a dozen or so that I haven’t been able to give up and perhaps another dozen that I wonder why I ever bought in the first place.

It’s a long story but these stylized gouache paintings brought me back to baseball. At some point I realized that this method was perfectly suited to recreating the look of many early cards. Charles.

Had to share this one…

I really like this one, a Bill Mazeroski for the new series of 1950’s players. The painting is done using opaque watercolors. Which other second basemen from that decade would you like to see?

Best, Charles Mandel

Auctions every Tuesday evening!

What we’re working on today…

Time to shake things up a bit! Here’s one of the first paintings for a new series that will concentrate on the 1950’s.

I expect that the final size will be 3″ x 4″. How about sending me some suggestions for the name of this new set? Any players that you would like to see?

Best, Charles

What we’re working on today

The 1910-11 T3 Turkey Red series is often considered by collectors to be the most beautiful of all early baseball sets. In fact, the beauty of this series has probably never been surpassed since the oversized cards appeared over a century ago. Amazing.

I’ve finally decided that it is time for us to take a shot at our own version of the iconic series. After months of discussion we’ve started to work on our first paintings. Here’s an advance view of our Eddie Collins card as of a couple days ago.

And here is the work as of today. Any suggestions for improvement? Also, if you have any other ideas for this series, such as player suggestions, please let me know!! Charles.

A Close View of Mr. X

A close-up of Mr. X

Here’s the close-up of our mystery player. I think that it points away from being Hans Wagner. The shoulders are more narrow and the face just seems to indicate that it is another player. So, who do you think it is now? Our choices seem to be Fred Clarke, Chief Wilson or Roy Thomas. In any case, it is a great photo!

Update to Player Identification

Clarke or?

The last post began the discussion of our Helmar Imperial Cabinet #4 and the identity of this mysterious Pirate player. While I’ve suggested that it is Hall of Fame member Fred Clarke, others are certain that the photo is of the ever-popular Hans Wagner. Let’s dig a little deeper:


At the top of the cabinet the photographer has scrawled “Bresnahan catching” and “Pittsburg + N.Y.”. Following that is a much less clear tag that appears to read “Sept. 18”. This does help narrow things down for us.

A quick Internet search shows that the Pirates played the Giants on Sept. 18, 1908 in a double-header at the Polo Grounds. Our photo clearly agrees with other period images of the stadium. On that long-ago September afternoon the Giants crushed the visiting Pirates in both games. Left handed batters for Pittsburgh that day consisted only of these players: Fred Clarke, Chief Wilson, Roy Thomas, and pitcher Nick Maddox (who only had two at bats). The player shown in our Imperial Cabinet would be one of these four men unless Wagner decided to bat from the left side that day. Wagner is known to have hit lefty no more than a handful of times over the course of his long career. It would be a very rare photo indeed if it turns out to be Wagner.

Maddox, I think, can be excluded almost immediately. He simply didn’t look anything like the batter in the photo. Each of the other natural lefties (Clarke, Wilson, and Thomas) had prominent noses and that does complicate things for us.

Chief Wilson

Roy Thomas 

Based on my photo library I am now leaning toward Clarke but an not at all convinced. In my opinion it is definitely not Wagner. The best news of the night is that I found another photo online that I’ve never seen before. It is a photo from the HOF and is dated September 19th, 1908–the very next afternoon from our Imperial Cabinet photo. Pittsburgh and New York again played at the Polo Grounds (with a big win for Pittsburgh). This new photo clearly shows Bresnahan and Wagner together and is taken from the same point of view. Does it change your opinion of the mystery batter? Here it is.

Honus Wagner batting in game, Roger Bresnahan catching

A Little Help? Player Identification

Bresnahan catching; Pittsburg & New York

A question came in the other day asking who the Pittsburgh batter is in this piece. The writer wondered if it was the great Honus Wagner. That would be something, wouldn’t it? Could there be a more interesting action shot than those two Hall of Famers together?

When I first saw this image some years ago my first impression was that it was, indeed, Wagner at the plate. The pose fits my conception of how Honus would appear in action. The nose, too, seems fairly prominent–not unlike Han’s honker. But this batter is hitting from the left side of the plate (Honus was a rightie). Could the plate have been reversed? No, Bresnahan has his catcher’s mitt on the correct hand. Who, then is the batter?

While Wagner played for Pittsburgh from 1900 through 1917, Bresnahan only appeared with the Giants from 1902 through 1908. This image is almost certainly from the latter part of that period.

A quick check of the Pittsburgh rosters from those years turns up several possibilities and I feel that the most likely are either Fred Clarke or Beals Becker. Both were lefties, both had generous noses and both were a bit smaller than The Flying Dutchman. Who do you think that it is?

I used colored pencils and a little gouache to do this piece. Gosh, it was done quite a while ago now. The most recent copy of this Imperial Cabinet that sold just this past week was the last one that I had.

Something Different

I have a number of 19th century images of Native Americans and Western personalities that we’ve colorized but not published yet. Originally the idea was to do small cabinets but I’m thinking of doing this instead. 6″ x 9″ and the finished piece would be a two-color linocut with the colorized photo printed on specialized paper.

Oklahoma land rush; linocut with colorized photo.

Design by Coincidence?

Recently I’ve been scanning my modest collection of old matchbox labels and have noticed some similarities in design with old baseball cards. Most of the similarities seem to be unintentional. For example, here are three matchbox covers where the red stripe at the bottom are filled with bold text.

These examples of Swedish matchbox covers for the Indian market share the design element of a red stripe filled with bold text.

Do they remind you of a famous baseball series? How about the classic 1933 Goudey set? Here are three cards from that series followed by a grouping of retired cards from our Helmar-R319 set.

1933 Goudey cards. Note that both end cards have striking red backgrounds. We’ll talk about this in a minute.

I don’t for a moment believe that the Swedish matchbox designers were familiar with the Goudey cards. It is interesting, however, that two sets of graphic designers on different continents adopted the same look.

A Surprising Conclusion Coming

 Now take a gander at the Japanese examples below. The red background concept was used on thousands of different Japanese designs over many years. True, manufacturers in other countries employed it as well–they all copied shamelessly from each other. It was by far most common in Japanese design, however. I’ll share some beautiful examples some other day.

Japan was a major, major exporter of matchboxes in the earlier decades of the 20th century.  Their designs were eye-catching, quirky, and their product was everywhere — including here in the United States. American graphic designers were certainly aware of the Japanese designs and most likely admired them. I don’t think that it is much of a stretch to imagine that the designers of the 1914-15 Cracker Jack cards were heavily influenced by them. What do you think?

Above: early Cracker Jack cards. Below: Helmar Cigar cards.

Big League Retirement Party

Wow, I was looking over the list of cards in our Helmar-R319 series that have retired over the past few months. As you know, we auction about four prints of a card each year until we reach the total that we intend to sell. In the case of this series we planned on selling twenty prints of each. It saddens me a bit when a card reaches retirement.

The good part about a card retirement is that in one sense the fun is just beginning. At this point the card has entered the secondary market and the twenty or so lucky souls that are fortunate enough to own a print have something very, very rare. In a few weeks we’ll be introducing the Helmar Marketplace on our website; this should help Helmar collectors connect more easily.

Anyway, here is a sampling of recent retirees:



This Woman is doing the Hard Work

It is time for an update on our Joe Wood Boston Garter rug project. So far the weaving map has been made and all the wool and art silk has been dyed to our specifications. This means that we are at the stage where the hard part begins–and in this case we are depending upon the expertise of India’s women crackerjacks to tie the actual knots. Everything looks great to this point, doesn’t it? I’ll try to find out the names of the women here. Note: we are looking at the back of the rug.


Joe Wood Rug Progress

If you are like me–and I’m sure that you are–every time you’ve ever walked across a hand-knotted rug you’ve asked yourself, “Gee, I wonder how they know where to put each color of thread?” The answer is that a map is produced before a single knot has been tied. These color maps are usually called “cartoons”. Here is the cartoon of our Joe Wood rug.



Boston Garter Joe Wood Rug Update II

A great deal of planning goes into a hand-knotted rug before it even gets on the loom. First, of course, the basic design is agreed upon and colors that will be needed are selected. In our case the design will be based upon our Boston Garter Joe Wood art card. A true four-color is not possible with jacquard and so representational art, such as our Wood, is usually not attempted. With endless varieties of beautiful geometric designs readily available to the weavers that we will work with, there is usually little point in attempting to convey subjects as difficult as as subjective as the human face. However, this is Helmar and we always seem to be pushing the envelope.

Two issues are of immediate concern. In order to accomplish the intricate design that we’ve chosen it will be necessary for the weaver to make 300 hand-knots per inch when I can barely tie my shoe once. Secondly, a high quality hand-knotted rug will sometimes include up to a dozen different colors of yarn. Our piece, however, will have up to 25. The more colors that need to be integrated the more difficult the weaving. There’s no question; we’ll need an experienced artisan at the loom.

I’ll leave you with just one photo today–our yarn has already been dyed. Here is what it looks like:

rug colors



The 1933 Game of the Century

Last year Mike Shannon, long-time envy of baseball writers everywhere, kindly agreed to write the backs of my Helmar “Game of the Century” series. What a great job he did! Mike used the “voice” of a 1930’s sportswriter when doing the compositions. I had to laugh the first time I read through his submissions… they were right on and were the perfect compliment to the art deco style portraits. Here is one example, front and back:

Mike is the forever editor of the magazine Spitball, which he founded back in 1981. If you are a baseball fan and have not subscribed you are missing the best value out there! Don’t bother with the one or two year offers; a lifetime subscription is only $125! Basically the same price as a cup of coffee at Starbucks.

Mike also wrote an article published in Sports Collectors Digest (June 4, 2018) about the series. You can access it here.

Follow our new project with me!

A few months ago I was reading up on the stunning medieval tapestries at the NY Met. How beautiful they are! The amount of clever designing, experimenting and yes, tedious work required is mind numbing. And, as usual, I found myself wondering about this process and how it could relate to baseball. There is not a deep textile tradition in sports art and little in the way of large scale imagery.

To make a long story short, I began to research the process in some depth. It was soon apparent that old style jacquard weaving is an art that has almost disappeared. These days if you want a rug or wall hanging it is nearly always made utilizing digital printing on artificial material. Some of it looks…okay. But the real thing? You’ll have to dig deep for a traditional supplier.

After a great deal of time I have found a maker of hand-knotted carpets and we have already started on our first collaboration. For the design I’ve selected one of my favorite Helmar art cards from the Boston Garter series, Joe Wood. Here is the image:

H813-4_Boston_Garter-Helmar_17_Front (2)

It takes a few months of hard work to make one of these. In my next post I’ll talk more about the process.


Charles Mandel

A perfect baseball card mother

Just thinking of Mom today, on what would have been her 87th birthday. She was the perfect mom for a young card collector. I remember those summer afternoons when she would drive us around town, visiting corner party stores and looking for packs of cards from any series other than the one that was available close by. It was thrilling to find some out of the way place that had series that we had missed. A couple times we even found packs that were one or two years old. Mom was a big supporter of my card collecting even when I was old enough to have grown out of it. Thank you, Mom, and God Bless. Say hi to dad for me. 20150421_220841S/W Ver: 96.B0.0AR

Pepper Martin has a big fan!

Collector Derrick Sanders’ favorite player is the flamboyant and aggressive Pepper Martin. Who can blame him? Pepper was a 5’8″, 170 pound ball of fire. Playing 16 seasons in the big leagues he had a lifetime average of .298. He led the National League in stolen bases three times and once led in runs.

Derrick has framed his Helmar Trolley card of Pepper along with sentiments from yours truly and Sanjay Verma, the painted the wonderful portrait on the card.

Here is a close-up of the card and a second image of a new Pepper Martin card from Helmar:

Helmar_Trolley_Card_22_Front (2)martin sm20170920_173311_1505947376835 sm

An Oldie but Goodie

Paul Conan, a relative of 19th century Hall of Famer Jim “Orator” O’Rourke, asks that I post of photo of the Helmar card of Jim O’Rourke from the long-retired Heroes of the Polo Grounds series. Here it is, Paul.

Jim had a 19 year career playing catcher, first base and the outfield. His lifetime batting average was .310. His .347 mark while playing for the Buffalo Bisons was good enough to win the 1884 batting title. Belated congratulations, Jim!

O’Rourke also appears in the Helmar Polar Night series as card number 50. The first copy brought $461 in an April, 2017 auction. Here is an image of that card:



Meet Me in Cleveland April 8th!

Helmar’s Baseball Cards and Art Opening Day

April 8 @ 10:00 am2:00 pm
League Park, 6601 Lexington Ave
Cleveland, 44103
+ Google Map

They look like classic old baseball cards of the past – like Goudeys and Cracker Jacks and T206 tobacco cards. They are based on beautiful original artwork done by highly talented contemporary artists. They are handmade from top quality card stock and other intriguing materials and intentionally distressed so that they appeal to true collectors and not to wheeler-dealers interested only in their money-making potential. They are produced in extremely low quantities and not released in sets so that collecting them is a worthy challenge.The stunning cards we are talking about are produced by a small Michigan outfit called the Helmar Brewing Co., which is owned and run by Charles Mandel. Mandel is a visionary, an unrecognized genius and quite possibly the most important person in the baseball card hobby known by the fewest collectors. On display through May 27th.

John Metz and his Pirates!

Longtime collector John Metz was kind enough to send along a couple photos of Helmar items that he’s framed. The first item is a Lloyd Waner display where John has used an Imperial Cabinet and a smaller Helmar-R318 die cut of the great Pittsburgh outfielder. Very nice! The second piece that John has framed is the very large Pittsburgh Pirate display that we did with Let’s Play Two Collectibles.

Thanks for sharing, John!

If you would like to share photos of your displays please contact us.

Framed Lloyd Waner Helmar display


Helmar Pittsburgh Pirates display

We Enter the Amazon

Decided to market Baseball History & Art on Amazon. What can go wrong? Three issues are now available there, each come with one of the special art cards that I’ve written about in this space. If you have time, please take a moment and give us a review. It looks a bit bare without at least a couple!

Winter, 2015 Baseball History & Art Magazine

page1 2015 Baseball History & Art Magazine


Baseball History & Art Premium Revealed!

I will be making these available with back orders, too. In Helmar style they will be distressed. 5″ tall.


back 027 detroit 2btes stent

Christy Mathewson art magazine

Christy Mathewson art magazine

Baseball History



And another back; this time with Larry Lajoie

back 027 detroit 2ab ready

Helmar-T206 card back of Ty Cobb

There is a second version, with Larry Lajoie, that I will try to post later.


T206, Helmar, Ty Cobb

T206, Helmar, Ty Cobb

Hughie Jennings advertisement

I finished this advertisement featuring good old Hughie Jennings today. I love Hughie. That green was used on many vintage ads and it reminds me of the famous T206 series. By the way, the advertisement is for Helmar T330 Art Stamps. There are 200 in the series and they really did turn out great. If you read the ad, you’ll see who to contact for them.

For Helmar-T330 Art Stamps

For Helmar-T330 Art Stamps

Already working on the next one…

The Spring cover may have a special card that folds up into a standing display. If it works….

Anyway, here is a mock up of the next issue’s cover:

Baseball History & Art

Baseball History & Art

3 Finger Brown leads the Way

The latest issue of Baseball History & Art focuses on Brooklyn baseball and some of the most beloved players of the early decades. There is also a bit about Charles Ebbetts, builder of Ebbetts Field. Imagine, he started selling scorecards for the team in 1880 and ended up owning the team! That “can-do” attitude is one of the things that I most admire about both baseball and America in those earlier days. I suppose even now there are success stories like his; it’s just that they seem much less frequent. Maybe not, but there does seem, to me, to be one big difference. Fortunes today seem to be built overnight. Some manage it by creating a software app that will be forgotten in less ten years, some do it by scams, some do it by getting fat contracts through politicians that they seem to have paid off. How often do we hear of modern fortunes being built up slowly, over a lifetime, such as Charles Ebbetts accomplished? More important than Mr. Ebbett’s wallet is the fact that he really built up an institution (the Dodgers) that will last a long, long time. I suspect Ebbetts would be more proud of the Dodger legacy than any of the money that he made.

Anyway, here is the latest cover:


Winter issue of Baseball History & Art is ready!

I think you’ll really enjoy this issue, especially if you like Brooklyn baseball.

WIP sm

It’s here! Helmar’s Baseball History & Art magazine Inaugural issue!

front page ad 2 flatClick the magazine for details!

The inaugural issue of Baseball History & Art is now available! Seventy-six full color, beautiful pages of baseball history with vintage Helmar-style art. Printed on thick, wonderful paper! 8.5″ x 11″, 76 pages.

If you want to learn the stories behind the player’s names, along with great art, this is the magazine for you.

This INAUGURAL issue includes:

  • TY COBB die-cut, 7.5″ dia. portrait insert in the style of the popular circa 1911 “Fan for a Fan”.
  • “Players We Ought to Know” features stories behind history’s most interesting players
  • “Black Stars Exhibit” brings great art and bios of some of baseball’s best blackball era stars
  • “Boneyards” feature on Forbes Field, Honus Wagner and the history of that great, lost ball field. Written by Mark Schraf.
  • “Finding Home”, in which author Steve Hermanos tracks down and visits the apartment Christy Mathewson and J.J. McGraw shared in 1903. It is still there!
  • “Ticket Stub” feature examines how a no-name rookie beat Bob Feller for the pennant. Written by Dennis Snelling.
  • An insightful interview with Marty Appel about Mickey Mantle and the boys as he knew them.
  • An examination and discussion of the many Helmar-T206 card backs. There’s more involved in those beauties than one might expect!
  • Auction results of Helmar cards in graph form
  • “The Lucky Man,” an interview with super-collector Jerry Bradley
  • Mike Shannon, editor of Baseball History & Art, puts the hobby in review in a thoughtful book review

This magazine is about BOTH baseball history and collecting. It will be published on a quarterly basis…this listing is for ONLY the first issue. You will love it!

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