Baseball card set overview: 1955 Bowman Baseball

16 Feb

The 1955 Bowman baseball card set which many refer to as the “TV set” due to the border of the cards being made to resemble a television set was the last set Bowman made as an independent company. Although Topps Gum purchased Bowman that year, the set was released and fully distributed as Topps executives saw it as wasteful to not at least try to cash in on the design work, marketing, and distribution already completed. For collectors it is a good thing they did as this is one on the classic sets most serious baseball card collectors like to complete.

 The 1955 Bowman set did have some innovations and quirks about it. The most obvious issue for most collectors is the classic television border. The dark brown to walnut color used is very harsh so far as maintaining the tint over time and has been no friend to collectors when it comes to hiding even the most minor corner dings. This was also the first time umpires were included in a set which makes for an interesting story to be detailed regarding values later on. Also another little known fact is that the wall in the background of each card is a representation of the one that was present at Shibe Park in Philadelphia where the A’s and Phillies played. Another fun bit of trivia is that on the back of the cards there was a question posed to most players as to who the best hitter or pitcher was. While many different pitchers were named, almost all regarded Ted Williams or Stan Musial as the best hitter.

The set itself consists of 320 cards issued in two release runs. The thing that makes collecting this set tough is not just that it is tough to put together a full set that is Nrmt (Near mint) or better, it is that even the common cards in VG (very good) condition are still a bit pricey for most collectors. The set does however have its standout cards which for most normal collectors are beyond the price range of ownership, but plentiful enough that if you are willing to go with a lesser condition graded example is possible to get them for the price of a car or mortgage payment. The five key cards concerning price are as follows:

#202 Mickey Mantle
#68 Elston Howard
#23 Al Kaline
#179 Hank Aaron
#242 Ernie Banks

The Mantlecard is always in the highest demand. For the best graded Mantle cards from this set you can expect to overpay on the list value. A mint graded sample can easily go for around $6,500 (List value about $1,250), but as always, try to find one in that good of shape. The Elston Howard is his rookie card,

but more significantly this was the first card to feature an African American New York Yankee. The card is constantly undervalued in price guides at around $100 or so, but the real dilemma is trying to not just find one, but actually find one in Nrmt or better condition. Although it has never been confirmed, nor will it likely ever be known, there were rumors that at the time (Remember this was 1955) many African American players were short printed as a cost saving device believing that regardless of how good they were they would never be as in demand as Caucasian players. As such a Howard upwards of a PSA grading of 8.5 runs around $450 and up.

 The Ernie Banks fetches prices of around $1600 for a GAI 9 or better sample, and the Kaline brings in about $950 for a similarly graded card. The Aaron in a similar manner carries a list value of about $400, but for a well graded example of this expect to go as high as $1,000. Two of the other higher end player cards are the #1 Hoyt Wilhelm, #184 Willie Mays, expect to pay upwards of $700 for a Nrmt graded card of Mays and about $200 for Wilhelm. There are two variation cards to watch out for as well:

#132 Harvey Kuenn – The initial issue was a misprint spelling his last name as “Kueen” on the back. The corrected version goes about double the error version and brings in about $70.

#195 Erv Plica – The original issue shows Erv with the wrong team, while the corrected version did obviously get it right. The corrected version ranges in value to somewhere in the neighborhood of about $35.

The real challenge for most collectors piecing this set together is getting the umpire cards. All told there are thirty umpires in the set, some you never heard of and a few that are Hall of Famers. The list price for these cards is always too low and out of touch with the actual market demand as the highest end umpire cards are only priced at about $75. In reality if you want a NrMt or better graded Jim Honochick (made famous in 1970’s Miller Lite beer commercials), Jocko Conlan, Cal Hubbard, Or Nestor Chylak, you can plan on spending $125 without batting an eye. In fact even the common umpires generally run around $40 each in most price guides which can be triple that of a common player.

The story behind the value of umpire cards is three fold. For starters this was the first time umpires were ever featured in a baseball card set so there is a historical value embedded in them. The second factor is they are all high numbered cards, the general sentiment was that they wouldn’t be as popular as player cards so they along with many coaches and managers filled up the second print run which means they are in shorter supply. The third factor in their value is kids for the most part didn’t care about umpire cards at all. As such some were used for BB gun target practice, or as many kids that grew up in that era related were just tossed aside and never thought about again. Add all those factors together and you have a niche card that carries a prime valuation.

 For most people getting started collecting the 1955 Bowman baseball set the best way is to actually start with the umpires as the focus. It is a small subset that often proves the most difficult to finish. Plus if you shop smart and let condition slide a little you can grab them all for around $1,000. The next logical step is to move to the coaches and managers which is less expensive and easier to put together. From there work on the commons which range from $12-$20 each and keep an eye out for the money cards at a price you can afford. The thing to aim for is just getting one of each card regardless of condition. You can always upgrade as time goes on and use the lesser graded cards you replaced to offset the acquisition of pieces you are missing
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