The names may not be familiar to fans of today’s game but for those who appreciate vintage cards, the 1952 Bowman Large football set has everything a collector could possibly want: a brightly colored design, a 144-card roster filled with Hall of Famers, rookies and veterans, and a larger, 2½ inch-by-3¾-inch size that enhances the card’s eye appeal.
1952 Bowman Football: Big Names and BIG Names
Roll these big names off your tongue — rookie cards of Art Donovan, Gino Marchetti, Hugh McElhenny, Frank Gifford, Andy Robustelli and coaches George Halas (Bears) and Paul Brown (Browns). Add that to established names like Norm Van Brocklin, Otto Graham, Y.A. Tittle, Steve Van Buren, Sammy Baugh, Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch and Tom Landry, and collectors are looking at a dynamite set of players in a set touted as one of the top post-World War II football sets.
Besides, the 1950s were the days of tongue-twister football names, so finding players like Bob Hoernschemeyer, Ed Modzelewski and John Badaczewski in packs of 1952 Bowman Large cards are a consonant collector’s dream.
But the biggest name in terms of value is the unlikeliest — No. 144, the final card in the set, depicted Jim Lansford, a tackle out of the University of Texas who played his only season in the NFL in 1952 for the Dallas Texans. It’s a single print card and was located on the bottom right-hand corner of Bowman’s production print sheet. Because of that, the card was often miscut. As the last card in the set, it also was susceptible to damage and wear. Kids collecting cards during the 1950s were not concerned about condition, and if they put the cards in numerical order the Lansford card was at the bottom of the stack.
That makes the Lansford card one of the toughest to find in mint condition. Of the 143 cards that have been submitted to PSA, only two have been graded 9 just 10 have even reached an 8. One of the PSA 9s sold for $21,500 on eBay in December 2013. There have been 29 Lansford cards submitted to SGC for grading; only one came back as high as 92, and there are two at 88.
The Bowman Large set is basically a bigger version of the company’s scheduled football release; the 1952 Bowman Small football set also had 144 cards and measured 2 1/16 inches by 3 1/8 inches. The cards were sold in five-cent packs, with five cards to a pack. They were released in two series—cards 1-72 in the first series and 73-144 in the second—during the autumn and winter months of 1952.
The Large set was a football answer to the success enjoyed by the 1952 Topps baseball cards; the design was simple, with most cards sporting a vertical design with a small white pennant near the bottom of the card that depicted the player’s name and team. Some players, like Gifford, were identified by their college team on the card front and their pro affiliation on the back. The colorful cards resembled paintings and were appropriately framed by a white border.
Design and Checklist
While most cards had a vertical front designs, a few quarterbacks like Baugh, Tittle and Van Brocklin were featured in a horizontal format. Receivers Bill McColl and Bobby Watson are also examples of a horizontal design. All of the card backs are horizontal in design. The players’ names are positioned at the top left of the card and the text is black against a gray background. For the first time, Bowman added the player’s statistics from the previous season, and each card contains a player bio.
There were 12 teams in the NFL for the 1952 season, and the first 36 cards of the 1952 Bowman Large set contain three from each team. Several teams, like the Bears, Browns, Giants and Texans, have 13 cards each in the set. The Detroit Lions have the fewest amount, with 10 cards.
In addition to Halas and Brown, every coach in the NFL was represented with a card in the 1952 Bowman Large set. That includes Steve Owen, Wayne Milner and Joe Stydahar. A Stydahar card that graded PSA 9 — the only one at that grade — sold for $11,400 in the Fall 2014 Greg Bussineau Sports Rarities auction. That card was not only a high number, but also a single print card.
Key cards include the Lansford card. Van Brocklin sits at card No. 1 and is the second football card of the legendary — and volatile — Dutchman. Gifford (No. 16) is a strikingly nice rookie card that shows the future Hall of Famer in an action pose. Baugh’s final Bowman card (No. 30) is a single print and extremely tough to find in a high grade. Only one card has graded as high as PSA 9.
Other single prints of interest include Charlie Conerly (No. 63), John Schweder (No. 72), Hubert Johnston (No. 108), Gene Ronzani (No. 135, a high number) and Tom Landry (No. 142, also a high number).
There are plenty of cards on eBay for collectors, but if you are looking for high-graded cards be prepared to shell out some cash. Many of these cards, particularly the single prints, are expensive. But for sheer beauty and value, few sets approach the 1952 Bowman Large set.