They were born in the post-War boom and faded quietly away as Topps, that young buck, took over with a monopoly it would hold for 25 years. Bowman baseball cards had plenty of young fans during their 1948-1955 heyday, though. As Topps celebrates its 60th year in the cardboard business while offering up voters choices for its all-time top 60 list, we look wistfully back to offer some great vintage Bowman Baseball Cards.
The company produced only nine mainstream baseball card sets, but what’s a top eight list? Any company that produced one of the most beautiful sets of all-time deserves at least ten.
Any list like this is subjective, of course. There are plenty of arguments. What factors should you include? Scarcity? Popularity? Visual appeal? Historic relevance? A mix of all of them? That’s kind of the way we’re leaning.
Without further ado, here’s our list of Bowman’s best:
10. 1951 Bowman Bobby Thomson. There are plenty of cards worth more than this one. Thomson wasn’t a Hall of Famer, but his pennant-winning home run that fall is one of baseball’s greatest moments. His story–intertwined with that of Ralph Branca–looms large in the annals of the game. His life changed forever that day. Here, he’s just another Giants outfielder waiting for history to hap him on the shoulder. There are prettier Bowman cards and dozens that are more scarce. Still, it’s the only card issued of Bobby Thomson in his trademark season. See them on eBay here.
9. 1949 Bowman Satchel Paige. His late arrival in the majors meant we really don’t know how good Satch was. Many kids had never heard of him. Thanks to Leaf and Bowman…and Jackie Robinson…they started to learn. This card is part of the tough high number set, too. It’ll cost you $1000 or more for a really nice one. There typically aren’t many available for sale but you can usually see one or two.
8. 1950 Bowman Ted Williams. Teddy Ballgame was making up for lost time in 1950. Already a war hero, he was larger than life, even if these mini Bowman cards didn’t show him as such. For kids, it had to be a thrill to see this classic shot of Williams on the front of a bubble gum card. The star of stars was about to slide over to share the stage with that new Yankee farmhand from Commerce, Okla.
7. 1949 Bowman Jackie Robinson. Bowman honored Jackie with it’s #50 card, quite a compliment considering no one would offer him a job just three years earlier. It’s his first Bowman card and just the second mainstream issue. Still relatively affordable considering the history. In fact, this might be one of the best bargains in the vintage card market at under $1,000 even in ex-nm condition. Check them out here.
6. 1953 Bowman Color Pee Wee Reese. Truthfully, we could do an entire top ten list from this set alone. The “pure card” concept cost Bowman a pretty penny to make, but boy are today’s collectors ever grateful. Stunning designwith groundbreaking photography make this one of the best baseball card sets of any era.
The 1953 Bowman Reese is the first real “action shot” of its kind, an immensely popular card that shows the Dodgers shortstop leaping at second base as he turns a double play. From the high number series, it’s nearly impossible to locate in high grade. A PSA 10 copy sold for over $53,000 a couple of years ago but thankfully there are usually several cheaper options on eBay.
5. 1953 Bowman Color Stan Musial. We debated about including Stan the Man’s rookie card from 1948 in this list, but the ’53 Bowman wins again. While Musial’s rookie card is important, true collectors prefer the best looking cards. If this doesn’t capture Stan the Man the player and the personality, we’ll eat a harmonica. Not especially rare, but extraordinarily desirable in high grade. A nice ex-nm copy is a good one for those on a budget.
4. 1953 Bowman Color Mickey Mantle. Classic. No early Mantle card–not even the ’52 Topps–captures the Mick better than this beauty. It’s a single print, too. Not easy to find, drop-dead gorgeous, chased by many. You could sing the praises of this cardboard classic until the cows come home. Kids who had yet to see him play on TV or in person were introduced to the game’s hottest new superstar through this picture card. “See son, swing like that and you might play pro ball some day.” If you search ‘1953 Bowman Color Mantle’ on eBay, you’ll miss some of the listings from sellers who don’t use ‘Color’ in their title. We’ve done the work so you might spot a bargain.
3. 1951 Bowman Willie Mays. One of the two most expensive Bowman cards, collectors know that this Mays’ rookie card. Linked together forever from the time they were pulled from wax packs in the ’51 Bowman high number series of late summer, Mays and Mantle would enjoy a long and friendly rivalry.
There just aren’t that many out there but if you check prices, it’s still not as expensive as the Mantle with a decent one usually available for $2,000-$2,500.
2. 1954 Bowman Ted Williams. He had a strange baseball card history. From Play Ball to Bowman. Topps to Fleer. You never quite knew which set–if any–was going to have the Splinter. Of course, the story here is that Bowman printed the card without having Williams’ name on a contract so it was pulled from production, thus becoming one of the most scarce post-War vintage cards. You really can’t own the set without it, can you? Once thought to be extremely rare, it’s now only considered sorta rare (there are usually about 20 on eBay at any one particular time).
1. 1951 Bowman Mickey Mantle. Predictable, yes. But the ’51 Bowman Mantle rookie card is actually kind of underrated. Give the company credit for having the foresight to put Mays and Mantle in its late-season print run. While most fawn over the ’52 Topps, this really is the true Mickey Mantle rookie card and easily the most desirable of any vintage Bowman card. Surprisingly, you can still find a respectable lower to mid-grade version for less than $3,000 if you shop wisely.