Bowman Baseball Cards

Early History of Bowman

Gum, Inc., the ancestor of Bowman, was founded in 1927 by Warren Bowman. The company quickly took off, and its chief product, Blony bubble gum, became the best selling bubble gum for a penny in the United States. As soon as 1937, Gum Inc. had over half of the bubble gum sales in the entire country. This was mostly because their gum was the largest in weight.

Despite the successes of the company, it was wrought with drama. Jacob Bowman was briefly ousted from his company after a dispute with a prominent shareholder/supplier of Gum Inc. Bowman filed suit, and the case was eventually brought to the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court. Bowman returned to his company. Meanwhile, his second divorced wife sued for half of the company. Though it did not stand, it is evident that the company had disarray.

In the midst of chaos, Bowman trading cards were on their way. Blony gum began to come with many different cards. Perhaps the most famous was the commonly called “War Gum,” which was officially called the Horrors of War series. The set had 288 cards which had different conflicts from across the globe printed on them.

Play Ball

Bowman entered the sports cards business in 1939. The Play Ball sets were popular from 1939 to 1941 until World War II paper rations came into effect. The cards are significant for their bright color pictures.

The two Play Ball sets are a great pre-war set with awesome historical value including the most valuable cards of Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game streak and the MVP snub of Ted Williams. Two cards came along with gum for the price of one penny.

Bowman’s Brief Dominance

In 1948 Bowman returned with a hugely popular baseball set as well as football and basketball sets.

The main competitor at the time was Leaf Candy Company which dropped out in 1950. Bowman stood on top with over one million dollars in revenue from baseball cards with a monopoly in 1950. The company produced 200 million cards which coincided with one million dollars.

The 1950 measured at 2 1/16” x 2 ½”, and they had painted reproductions of photographs. As a monopoly, Bowman had the rights to represent every star, but the lack of rookies has lessened the 1950 Bowman’s desirability over time. One interesting fact is that the lower numbered cards are less common than the higher numbered cards.

The Bubble Gum War

In 1951 Topps entered the market with their first set. They packaged their cards with taffy in order to avoid a legal dispute with Bowman. Topps had the advantage of a boom in baseball’s popularity with the rise of television, the soaring of attendance, and the increase in radio ratings.

Furthermore, Topps was headquartered in New York, while Bowman was in Philadelphia. Keep in mind that a New York team would be in every World Series from 1949-1958, and this was the era of Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays.

The first Topps set was not successful. However, the Bubble Gum War had officially began.

Warren Bowman acted to the threat, and he began to sign players to Bowman baseball cards. Warren hired agent Art Flynn, and Warren had Flynn sign a minimum of 15 players from every team.

Bowman managed the competition in 1951 with a 324 card set, but they reused many pictures from the year before. It was a sign of complacency that their brief dominance created. They led the way with rookie cards from Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays.

Meanwhile, Warren Bowman sold his company to Haelan Laboratories in April of 1952. At the surface level, Warren’s company was the leader of a booming market with baseball, bubble gum, baseball cards, and the Baby Boomer generation ready to soar. Historians speculate as to whether Warren foresaw a demise or his absence caused it.

For the second year in a row, Bowman did not update the front of its cards. They remained the same color reproductions instead of photographs, but they did change the players’ names from regular type into autographs. Furthermore, the size of the set actually went down to 252 cards. Bowman was showing significant signs of decline.

At the same time, Topps came out with their all-time best set in 1952. The cards were physically larger at 2 ⅝” x 3 ¾”, there were more cards at 407 cards, they had more information, and the pictures were better looking. The well known Sy Berger of Topps was now at the forefront.

Bowman tried to keep up in 1953 with larger cards, better pictures, and player stats on the back. It innovated with multiple player cards. There are no major rookies, but the cards are collectible today for their design. 160 cards were color photographs, while 64 were black and white cards of lesser players. The color cards are some of the best that Bowman ever produced.

Bowman committed to the color with a fully colored 224 card set in 1954. They continued to copy Topps by having larger cards, and Bowman added a trivia question on the cards in mimicry of the 1953 Topps.

Out of competition to be the first produced, the Bowman cards were printed too fast. There were stats errors on one out of every five cards. They were later reprinted which has led to plenty of variety in the set. The variations also include a short printed Ted Williams who had signed with Topps in the process of printing.

1955 was the final year of Bowman as an independent brand. 1955 Bowman is a great last gasp. It shows a color photo of a player in a TV set. The 320 card set is one of the best creative works of any brand. There were a few additional points like the testimonials from players such as “My Biggest Thrill in Baseball” and “My Advice to Youngsters.”

Bowman was bought out for $200,000 by Topps in 1955.


Bowman was brought back in 1989 under Topps. The 1989 Bowman stood out for two reasons. First, the 484 cards measured 2 ½” x 3 ¾” which was the design of the 1953 Bowman. This hurt sales initially as they did not fit in with the standard supplies. They resumed printing the standard 2 ½” by 3 ½” the next year. Secondly, the cards listed players stats versus every team. It was a good start at a reincarnation.

The 1990 Bowman was the beginning of Bowman’s reputation as a rookie card brand. Rookies and prospects such as Larry Walker and Sammy Sosa were featured in the set. In the following year, Bowman continued to make its name as the rookie card brand.

1992 was monumental for Bowman. It cemented the title “Home of the Rookie Card” with a true focus on the theme. That title was copyrighted by Topps, and it was plastered over Bowman sets in 1997. Trevor Hoffman, Manny Ramirez, Carlos Delgado, and many more brought the brand into focus.

The 1992 Bowman was put into the league of Topps Stadium Club for quality as the set was put on much better stock. The set became more valuable because it made the 1992 Bowman print to order.

Topps followed the trend of the time by having Bowman produce spinoffs. The 1994 Bowman’s Best — Premier Edition sold for 5 dollars a pack, which was expensive at the time.

As Bowman made its name off of rookie cards, the brand continued to satisfy collectors. 220 of 439 cards of the 1995 Bowman were rookie cards. 1997 was the release of Bowman Chrome, which was also a successful spinoff brand.

Topps used the respected reputation of the “Home of the Rookie Card” to its advantage, and Bowman had sets geared towards prospects. Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects was released in 2000, Bowman Heritage in 2001, and Bowman Sterling was first produced in 2005. Bowman Sterling drew collectors as the ultimate premium brand.

The Official Rookie Card Logo

In 2006 when Topps and the MLBPA came to an agreement over rookie cards. From then on, the official Rookie Card Logo would be stamped on any player who is able to make the 25 man roster. Essentially, the first season in which a player is in a MLB uniform is when his rookie card will officially be produced.

However, it is more complicated than a cut and dry logo. Bowman is still licensed to produce prospect cards of players in the minor leagues. Plenty of these cards are more valuable than the official rookie card.

Many consider the first licensed card of a player in a minor league uniform to be a rookie card. They would contend that by way of law, the Topps RC with the logo is the rookie, but by way of fact, it is up to the market.

Therefore, in many ways, Bowman is still the “Home of the Rookie.”