Bowman Gum Company dipped its toe in the water in 1948. A year later, they did a cannonball off the deep end diving board. A 48-card black and white introduction three summers after the end of World War II gave way to a 240-card, living chronicle of Major League Baseball. The 1949 Bowman Baseball set may have been missing Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio, but it put Bowman in the minds of youngsters across the country.
It was three years before Topps put forth its game-changing challenge and Bowman was about to become the king of cards.
Printed in seven series beginning in the early spring, Bowman’s smallish cards weren’t exactly full color, but rather black and white photos overlayed with team colors assigned to each player on a pastel-like background. Before they were done, Bowman would provide one of the first two nationally distributed baseball cards of Jackie Robinson (Leaf being the other). They would also give us the second (and last for a while) Stan Musial card, a second year Yogi Berra and stars like Roy Campanella (rookie), Satchel Paige (old rookie), Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, Richie Ashburn, Phil Rizzuto, Robin Roberts, Early Wynn and Bob Lemon.
The first 72 cards were printed with white backs, but as production continued, the color changed to gray. Kids had to flip the cards over to learn the identity of the player on the front if they didn’t know him as the front was devoid of anything beyond the photo. Collectors looked, but never did find a card number 4–at least not until the next series (#74-108) which inexplicably included the missing card.
By summer, Bowman production was in full bloom and names began appearing on the front of the cards. The backs, which had included a player’s name in plain block lettering, now included a script version.
There were more changes, too. In Series 6, which encompassed #217-240, Bowman reprinted six cards from series 3 to fill the sheet, but these had the now standard names on the front.
Including those six variations, a master set includes 252 cards–or 324 if you count both the white and gray back variations from the first 72 cards.
Bowman also produced a 36-card Pacific Coast League set for distribution in that area and it’s believed they were only available in sheet form. Surviving single cards show signs of being cut.
The company was apparently proud and protective of its deal with baseball, using its contracted players to challenge Leaf’s right to produce cards in court. It’s likely one major reason why Leaf’s set, which included Williams, ended after just 98 cards.
Common cards from the set, even in EX/MT type condition, are quite reasonable, even when graded and stars–with a couple of exceptions–are attainable. Cards 145-240 usually sell for a little over double their common counterparts numbered 1-144.
A complete, EX grade 1949 Bowman set sold for $5,249 via Lelands this year. A mid to higher grade set, with 17 cards graded, brought $8,963 in another auction while a master set of 252 plus 70 of the 72 gray back variations brought $20,145 via Robert Edward Auctions not long ago.
The Robinson card is the most valuable in the set but is still relatively undervalued as a rookie era card. A PSA 8 example sold recently for $3,555. A Paige graded 7 sold for $2,390. Even 1949 Bowman wrappers are prized, selling for $200 and above on the rare occasion when they are offered.
You can see 1949 Bowman baseball cards on eBay here.