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Hamm's an iconic Minnesota brew

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In 1865, a German immigrant named Theodore Hamm purchased the Excelsior Brewery near St. Paul.

In 1952, the Hamm's Beer bear was created by Patrick DesJarlait for an advertising campaign created by the Campbell-Mithun advertising agency. The bear was a cartoon mascot used in all forms of advertisement for Hamm’s and is more highly collectible then the brew itself.

The bear’s name, which was never mentioned in commercials, is Sascha, named after the wife of the original founder of the company. Sascha would dance around in a rustic-type setting while the tune "Land of sky blue waters" played in the background.

Sascha continued until owners had to drop the bear because it was thought that it attracted children to the product.

Barry Travis, an advanced beer can collector in St. Paul, started his collection of Hamm’s in 1996, "with an unopened six-pack of Hamm’s beer given to me by a neighbor from the 1960s — it was still in the cardboard," he says.

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Hamm’s is an iconic Minnesota beer that brings back memories. As a collector, Travis has a few hundred Hamm's items.

"I have two large lithograph prints, both dated 1901, featuring Victorian ladies and Hamm's advertising," he says. "To find one in good condition would be quite a find. A lady bought them in a box of rolled posters in the mid-1980s and had the foresight to frame them so they wouldn't be damaged. I paid $700 each for them, and it was worth every penny."

Travis also has a German Mettlach mug, which was presented to the brewmaster of Hamm's in 1901, possibly as a gift or service award, he says. It is more than 12 inches tall, lidded and ornate. The engraved inscription on the lid is in German.

"My wife's grandfather was the brewmaster at Hamm’s, starting in 1958, so it has a special place in my collection," Travis says.

The most valuable Hamm's items are signs that were made for taverns and bars, particularly motorized Scenorama signs made in the early ‘60s by the Lakeside Plastics of Minneapolis.

"There may be rarer signs, but this is the one people remember from the neighborhood tavern," Travis says. "It has a continuous scroll, with moving water and campfire and is mesmerizing to watch."

Hamm’s collectibles are not all that difficult to find. "I look for them daily and always consider it an accomplishment to add an item I don't have," Travis says. "As an advanced collector, it’s harder to find unique items. I can find cheaper items at garage sales, but I search Craigslist and eBay regularly, as well as newspaper classifieds and antique stores and even at Oronoco and Rochester Gold Rush Days."

Before collecting or trying to identify a Hamm’s collectible, Travis recommends attending Hamm's shows and reading old sales and company publications to know which logos were used during specific time periods. Anything with the bear featured on Hamm's products commands a premium.

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There are differences in the bear's appearance when certain breweries owned the brand. Don’t attempt to collect for investment or profit until you have established knowledge of the prices and history. Travis says two good sources for information are www.hammsclub.com and www.ibuyoldbeer.com.

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