Monday, February 18, 2013

Bowman vs. Topps: The early years

I've come to a surprising conclusion over the past couple days.

While I try not to show a whole lot of vintage for simply the sake of vintage around here, I do like to weave it into my topics on a regular basis.

However, in reading through some of my more recent posts, I've noticed a shocking lack of old-time cardboard in my writings.

While I absolutely love what the "modern" era of the hobby has to offer, nothing is quite like writing about a treasured piece of cardboard history.

Aside from my dime box conquests, the topic of vintage is likely my favorite to write about as a blogger.

Once I came up with the basis for this post, a slew of other potential vintage post ideas fell into place.

So, for all you vintage lovers out there, look for more old-time cardboard in my coming writings.

This post was basically the inspiration for that shocking realization on my part.

As many of you probably already know, the Bowman and Topps-dominated era of the early '50s was arguably the most revolutionary period in cardboard history.

With the "golden age" of the game in full force, it was the perfect time for baseball cards to shine. 

Amidst all that, both Bowman and Topps were in constant competition with one another. That, of course, led to some pretty amazing cards being produced on both ends.

These days, Topps gets most of the 1950's spotlight. However, I feel that the elegance of early Bowman sometimes gets overlooked as a result.

The question I'll seek to answer in this post is pretty simple.

Between Topps and Bowman, who produced better cards on a year-to-year basis from 1952 to 1955?

Technically, Topps burst onto the cardboard market with their 1951 "Red Backs" release.

However, we'll be starting with '52 for the sake of this post. The reasons for that are two-fold.

1) I don't own any cards from either '51 Bowman or '51 Topps.

2) In the end, '52 is generally regarded as the first "official" set in Topps history.

With that in mind, we kick off tonight's post with the lone '52 Bowman piece in my collection, one that features Mr. Sal Maglie.

What always manages to catch my attention with these are the facsimile autographs. As a whole, they're one of the more hit-and-miss aspects of cardboard history.

In 1952, however, Bowman certainly delivered a "hit" with their usage of them. In my mind, the appearance of Maglie's signature is a definite "plus".

And, as is the case with nearly all 1950's releases, the artistry on these is second-to-none. 

While perhaps not as well-known as other Bowman sets, '52 was certainly a good year for Bowman.

I hear the word "overrated" a lot when it comes to 1952 Topps.

So, do I think they're overhyped in this hobby?

Yeah, a little bit.

But that's only natural.

I don't know that any design could've lived up to the lore that now surrounds the hallowed '52 Topps.

That aside, though, I still believe that these are among the better-made pieces in the history of this hobby. 

The signature, the prominent team logo, and, of course, the photography are almost like a perfect storm of sorts. 

And, yes, the only reason I bought this particular piece was because of the name "Clyde Kluttz". At the time, I couldn't afford any '52s of any "names". (I still can't.)

Since I was going to have to settle on a no-namer anyways, I figured I'd might as well get the one with the funniest name.

So I did.

1952 Advantage: Topps

Don't get excited.

This is a reprint, folks.

As much as I'd love to own anything from '53 Bowman, none currently reside in my collection. Filling that void is one of my "goals" for the next show I attend.

So, for the sake of continuity, I'll have to let a reprint do the talking here.

From what I know, '53 Bowman was released in two different series. A standard, black-and-white one, and a striking color version.

Obviously, this one of Mr. Kiner is from the "color" side of things.

One of my "pipe dreams" as a collector is to buy the famous Pee Wee Reese card from '53 Bowman Color. When I strike it big one of these days, I'll run off and buy it.

For now, though, it'll just have to stay a dream.

In 1953, Bowman went to the extreme of minimalism, letting the photography speak for itself. No signature, no tangible design, nothing.

While the set does feature some amazing photos, I'm still a little torn on how I feel about that.

Topps took a different route.

With the reappearance of the large team logo, "name box", and awesome photography, it's apparent that Topps stuck with a few of their "winning" aspects from the year before.

The only notable exclusion are the facsimile signatures, something which I feel was a good move by Topps. They just wouldn't have worked with this design.

Kids who were new to the game in the early '50s didn't have to flip over their treasured cards to find out that Johnny Sain was a pitcher. It was right there on the front for all to see.

One revolutionary aspect of the '53s, however, was the appearance of the position on the fronts of each card. I'm not so sure that had ever been done before '53.

After thinking about it, I may well like the '53s a tad more than the '52s.

For me, the "victor" for '53 wasn't much of a contest.

1953 Advantage: Topps

In contrast, 1954 proved to be much more of a challenge.

While not bad by any means, I feel that it was the least stellar of the early Topps-Bowman years.

Bowman's '54 offering was quite similar to the previous year's design. Once again, the photography pretty much spoke for itself. 

From the looks of it, this beautiful shot of Johnny Pesky definitely stands alone in its own right.

As you can probably see, the only distinct difference was the inclusion of the facsimile "nameplate" at the bottom of each individual card.

These days, what makes '54 Topps for me is the sheer color of each card.

Although not generally specific to any team, the striking backdrops of each and every card from this set makes them stand out in a big way.

While the color was a welcome addition, I've always felt that the facsimile signatures were a bit invasive on these. For whatever reason, they just don't seem to work with the overall design.

However, what makes 1954 Topps such a revolutionary release was the now-famous double-image innovation.

Kids back in the day must've been surprised to see not one, but two photos of their favorite ballplayers such as Preacher Roe on the fronts of their cards.

In recent years, we've started to take the action shot/posed shot "combo" for granted. But none of it would've been possible without '54 Topps.

As far as the history of the hobby goes, this is what puts '54 Topps over the top.

1954 Advantage: Topps

So far, Topps is a perfect 3-0 in my comparisons.

Can Bowman pull out the victory in '55?

These certainly make a good case.

Given the striking similarity of their past two releases, Bowman felt the need to step up their game a bit once 1955 came around.

And that they did.

I have been absolutely fascinated by the horizontal "Color TV" theme of these for as long as I can remember. In my mind, it is one of the best designs in hobby history.

And I don't see that changing anytime soon.

The few pieces I have from the set are easily among the most treasured pieces of my collection. I plucked this Minnie Minoso from a budget-friendly bargain bin back in July.

In fact, I just made a very special '55 Bowman-related purchase the other day. I'm calling it an early "present" to myself for my birthday tomorrow.

And it has to do with one of the players I've mentioned in this post. But, for now, you'll just have to wait.

So, how much do I love '55 Bowman?

It'd easily rank in my top five favorite sets of all-time.

Without a doubt.

Well, judging by all that, I think most of you probably know who will come out on top for '55.

However, that's not a slight against Topps.

They produced a pretty darn good set that year, bettering many of their innovative qualities from the year before.

Once again, though, I feel that the facsimile signatures are a bit out of place here. They just don't work for me.

On the other hand, the colors remained in full force in '55.

Plus, Topps thankfully stuck with the "double-image" formula, once again giving the collector two different looks at guys like Elmer Valo.

Perhaps more importantly, both Bowman and Topps laid the groundwork for future horizontal issues with their efforts in 1955.

However, in this case, Bowman takes the cake with what I believe to be the best set of the 1950's.

1955 Advantage: Bowman


Sadly, Bowman was dissolved after the '55 season.

After their demise, Topps was basically the only game in town up until Fleer and Donruss entered the hobby in 1981.

I've often wondered how different the hobby would be if Bowman had somehow lasted into the '60s and '70s.

Would it have helped the hobby? Would Topps have lasted for as long as it did with another competitor? Would other companies have entered the fold?

Would we even have baseball cards today if Bowman stuck around?

We'll never know.

One thing's for certain, though.

The 1950's was home to some seriously awesome cardboard.

I don't think there's any denying that.


Anonymous said...

I was nodding my head, "yes," in agreement.

Then I got to the '54 Topps.

Then I paused.

And stared.

I'd still be staring, but I had to let you know I'm staring at that '54 Topps of yours. Ha! But, that '55 Bowman is a stellar piece, no doubt.

Anyway, previously (that's to say, last week) my oldest cards were two from the 1959 Ted Williams set. All that's changed. I just picked up a fairly destroyed '55 Topps Aaron I can't wait to show off, just as soon as it arrives.

No Bowman's of the vintage variety here in Underdogville. Not yet. You've made the case.

AdamE said...

To me the worse sets of the 50s is 1955 Bowman followed by 52 Topps so we don't agree much there.

53 is my favorite though so at least we agree there.

Love the 54 Preacher you posted. Search my blog for Preacher and you will see why.