Ask most collectors familiar with vintage baseball cards, and they will tell you that there are 324 cards in the popular 1951 Bowman set, which boasts the true rookie cards of Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. While that is true, however, there is at least one more baseball card produced by Bowman that year that many are unaware of.
See, while Bowman produced its popular baseball and football sets, a lesser known set focusing on space was also one of the company’s creations that year. The 1951 Bowman Jets Rockets and Spacemen set was a non-sports creation, leaving it off of the radar of most collectors. This 108-card set looked a lot like Bowman’s other cards but instead of sports, this one focused on space travel. It’s a fairly popular non-sports set, mind you, even if many collectors of baseball cards are not very familiar with it.
And baseball card collectors have at least one reason to pay attention to this set.
About the 1951 Bowman Jets Rockets and Spacemen Set
On the surface, a set about space sounds great, right? After all, who can’t appreciate a good set with spaceships and cards that depict what life in outer space could be like? But while some might be intrigued by these cards, aside from those seeking non-sports card releases, the set really has little appeal for most collectors otherwise.
That probably was not Bowman’s primary concern when they designed the set. After all, the company already had a baseball set that appealed to collectors seeking sports cards. Much like today, the idea was to create as many different cards to appeal to as many different interests. But they still managed to sneak an interesting baseball card into it, anyway.
The 1951 Bowman Jets Rockets and Spacemen set was a curious release, to be sure. Cards featured full color images on the front with text commentary on the back. Fronts included Bowman’s standard white borders and these cards measured just over 2″ tall by 3 1/8″ wide. The set contained a total of 108 cards but they weren’t all released at once. Instead, Bowman issued essentially three series of cards, each consisting of 36 cards. The second series cards, according to PSA’s review of the set, are slightly tougher to find. Some of the cards have a vertical layout but the majority were printed to be viewed horizontally.
True to the name of the set, the pictures on the cards depicted space craft, space travelers, and even alien life. Early cards focus on the trip to space and the series progresses to coming into contact with alien life forms to being detained by Martians.
The backs are interesting in that they carry narratives from the point of subjects in the story. The series begins with commentary from a crew member set to travel into space for the first time with preparations for the trip being discussed. Backs of subsequent cards continued the narratives to tell a bit of a story. That, of course, would have spurred collectors to buy more of the cards since they would be interested to follow the story along. It was a fantastic way to encourage collectors to pursue the entire set since every card sort of tied to the next. Collectors could not get the complete story unless they had all 108 cards.
Baseball and Outer Space
In the early 1950s, baseball’s popularity was on the cusp of reaching another level. The days of Cobb, Ruth, and Gehrig were gone, of course. But baseball still had stars, such as Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Jackie Robinson, Joe DiMaggio, Bob Feller, Yogi Berra, and more. The league also ushered in two of its greatest players of all time in Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. Things were good and the sport was wildly popular. Similarly, the idea of space travel was no longer just intriguing and would soon become a reality.
But what does baseball have to do with this set? Well, somewhat inside of Bowman thought of the fantastic idea to combine the two. The idea of our society using telescopes to take a look into space wasn’t anything new. But one card in the set raises the idea of aliens actually using this technology to study earth.
Remember that mention of the backs of cards including narratives to tell a story? Card No. 91 in the set features the subjects in outer space using a videoscope that ‘traveled through space for eight years.’ What they saw was an earlier game (eight years previously, of course) between the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians.
The picture on the card depicts aliens and space travelers in space suits with a blown up image of an Indians batter projected by the videoscope. Specifically, it’s an image of Indians All-Star catcher Jim Hegan.
Hegan’s cards sell at the common level, but he was a five-time All-Star, including in the 1951 season when these cards were released. He was not an offensive standout by any means but was a star defensive player, leading the league’s catchers in numerous categories, including fielding percentage, caught stealing percentage, putouts, and double plays turned during his career.
The picture of Hegan is also somewhat special. He is not named on the card but we know it’s him by one of Bowman’s other cards. As someone on Twitter pointed out to me, It’s actually a zoomed-in shot of Hegan pictured on his 1950 Bowman card (shown here).
That’s right — we’ve got a Bowman card picturing another Bowman card.
Not bad, right?
Here’s a look at the back:
Prices and Rarity
The card is an interesting one to be sure and it’s in a popular non-sports set. But while the set is somewhat rarer than others, it certainly is not scarce. The baseball card does have a tendency to get scooped up faster than others, but you can usually find most of the cards from the set on eBay at any given time. The fact, too, that it includes Hegan and does not picture a big-name star like Feller has helped keep prices in check.
Thus far, PSA has graded a total of 47 of these cards, which is on par with others in the same series. Many, of course, exist in raw form because of the relatively low values of them. The majority of these cards are ungraded. In mid-grade condition, the card typically starts around $15-$25 with higher prices paid for higher grades.