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Saturday, June 11, 2011

The History of Bowman Since 1989

Bowman was Topps' biggest (and really, only) competitor in the 1950s baseball card market. That ended when Topps bought Bowman, and stopped producing Bowman cards.

Fast forward more than 40 years. It's 1989, and there now five major card manufacturers. Topps has seen its market share drop for nearly a decade, and they figure its time to add another set to the mix. What better way to increase sales than to reintroduce a set so steeped in history, so in tune with the fifty-something year-old baby boomer men collecting cards that remind them of their childhood? It was time to bring Bowman back!
What a mess that set was. I can read Jack Morris's signature on the front of this card, but for most cards, I had to flip the card over to tell who it was. That was probably the least of the set's problems. It was printed on the same cardstock as Topps - ugly, grey, matte card stock - when Donruss, Fleer, and Score used white card stock and newly-released Upper Deck used modern high-quality printing processes on a glossy white stock with fancy holograms. And it wasn't standard size. In an homage to the 1950s, the set was 1/4 inch longer than the "regulation" 3.5 inch by 2.5 inch cards, so it didn't fit in normal boxes or card pages. People bought it, though, just like they bought the other stuff hoping to eventually turn a 50-cent pack into a $10,000 gem. Even Ken Griffey Jr. couldn't save this set - his rookie card is worth $6 according to Beckett, but most collectors dismiss it. This set had one bonus over other sets (if you were into that kind of detail) - the backs of cards gave stats for the player against every team in the league.

But since Bowman sold, Topps brought it back the next year. And they listened to some of the complaints. 1990 featured readable (albeit tiny) names on the front and a standard card size. The border is a rainbow, appropriate foreshadowing of the colorful 1990s.

1991's issue was again colorful, with a minimal design. However, the set was still printed on low-quality cardstock and featured less-than-stellar photography. For the second year in a row, Topps featured a fairly strong rookie class. Bowman was starting to find its calling.
It took them four years, but eventually Topps caved in to collectors' quality-level demands. Topps' flagship was finally printed on white card stock, and Bowman received a much-needed upgrade as well. The card stock was nice and glossy, and one-per-pack foil cards added a chase aspect to another quality rookie class. The 1992 set featured rookies so fresh, many of them were pictured in street clothes or in locations outside of major league fields. Bowman became the home of the rookie card. Design-wise, the card featured a simple modern design with a new logo.

The next year, Bowman again went with a simple modern design and another new logo. 1993's rookie class was fairly small, but contains Yankee superstars Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte.

The 1994 design is the only Bowman issue with full-bleed photography. The design features a simple gold foil printing and another new logo. (This is someone else's tribute card, but it was too good to ignore.) This set also holds the distinction of being the last set issued to not contain inserts until 1999.

The 1995 issue went back to white borders and design elements that made the card look fairly busy. This was the first year to use the current Bowman logo.

The next year's issue was modern-meets-1960s, with a burlap-style printing along the borders. 1996 would be the last year to feature a design that wasn't drawn upon heavily in future releases (to date).

The 1997 design should look familiar to collectors. This is the first year Bowman would use black borders with red accents. But it would be a few years before this design would become standard. This is the last year Bowman didn't include facsimile autographs on card fronts.

Starting in 1998, Bowman veterans would stick with three colors - black, red, and grey. Rookie players had blue instead of red.

The '99 design used a black wood grain style design at the top and bottom with light grey borders.

Bowman would add the year to its logo in 2000, the only time that was done. This would be the last year they used grey in addition to the black and red.

2001: curved signature banner with diamond, and a red top.

2002: fading red horizontal striping.

2003: Arch top with curved bottom right corner.

2004: plateau-style horizontal accents.

2005: return to the red horizontal stripes, this time in the middle of the card only, using the same "fading" orange as 2002's issue.

2006: Box with curved upper-left corner.

2007: Box with diagonal bottom corners.

2008: Bowman added a little more design to this year's issue, adding "shiny" highlights to the red frame. However, take out the white highlights and it looks very similar to the 1997 design.

Horizontal stripes, again? 2009's set seemed to draw from many earlier releases, with minor curves, corner accents, and the horizontal striping.

Last year's issue was the most basic design since 1994, but still defines Bowman of the 2000s - black borders, red accents.

After a decade of red and black, would 2011 be any different? You bet your ass it isn't.
Black with red accents! This year's set is reminiscent of the 1955 design, without diverging from the simple modern formula.

My favorite design is the 1994 issue, with 1992 and 1993 close behind. They all feature simple but attractive designs. The past 11 years have been about the rookies, and it's obvious in the design. But that's another post - tomorrow's post.


  1. Great post. There were a few Bowman sets I hadn't even seen until now (namely 1995 and 1997).

  2. Thanks! Tomorrow I'm going to get critical of Bowman.