Key card to the '53 Bowman set
features a youthful Mantle.
Key card to the '53 Bowman set features a youthful Mantle.

The 1953 Bowman Color baseball card set was printed and issued by the Bowman Gum Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1953 Bowman issued two separate baseball sets, one featured the major stars of the day and was in color, while the other featured lesser known players and was in black and white. The 1953 Color set, at 160 cards, was considerably smaller than the previous four Bowman sets (1949 - 240 cards, 1950 - 252 cards, 1951 - 324 cards, 1952 - 252 cards). However, when you factor in the 64 card 1953 Black & White set, there were a total of 224 baseball cards produced by Bowman in 1953. This figure is much more in line with the previous four sets, and interestingly, is identical in number to the 1954 Bowman set.

Following the positive response to the "large" football card issue of 1952, Bowman decided to increase the size of the cards in their 1953 baseball set to 2-1/2" x 3-3/4". Interestingly, this was the first set of current major league players to feature actual color photographs. This was also Bowman's first issue to include player statistics on the backs of the cards. Many people consider this issue to be the most beautiful baseball card set ever produced. The fronts of the cards have incredible full-color player photographs, with nothing else to interfere with their ultra-clean look - no advertising, player names, team names, or facsimile autographs. The two 1953 Bowman sets are the only major vintage post-war issues to feature this streamlined design.

Although there are no confirmed figures to verify this, the general sentiment of knowledgeable collectors and dealers is that there were far fewer Bowman cards produced in 1953 than in years previous and following. After almost two decades in the sportscard business, my experience is that both 1953 Bowman issues are much rarer, in any grade, than other Bowman sets. My guess is that it was probably very expensive to produce these ultra high-quality cards and that perhaps Bowman limited production in light of the increased costs, thus accounting for the relative rarity of these cards today.

The 1953 Bowman Color baseball card set is a true classic. It's Bowman's most popular and avidly collected issue, and in fact is one of the two most popular post-war sets ever produced. These cards are gorgeous, incredibly well-designed, works of art! All of the cards in the 1953 Bowman Color set offer outstanding potential for future appreciation.


BY THE NUMBERS

The 1953 Bowman Color set consists of 160 different cards. Cards numbered 1-112 constitute the low-number series and those numbered 113 -160 represent the high-numbers. In general, cards 113-160, and especially 113-128, are tougher to locate than their low-number counterparts. Many of the cards numbered 113 -160 are incredibly difficult, almost impossible, to find well-centered.

This set contains many interesting and important cards, including: Stan Musial's final Bowman issue, a "combo" card of Phil Rizzuto and Billy Martin, another "combo" card of Hank Bauer, Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle, Billy Martin's first Bowman card, and an ultra-popular horizontal format card of Pee Wee Reese.


MOST IMPORTANT CARDS IN THE SET

The following is a listing of the most important cards in the 1953 Bowman Color set. The cards are listed in numerical order. For reference purposes, I've included the March 2000 Sportscard Market Report value for PSA graded, unqualified NM-MT 8 examples.

#32 Stan Musial ($5,100). Hall-of-Fame great "Stan the Man" Musial's final Bowman card and definitely his most popular. Beautiful artwork and coloration on this tough-to-find vintage card.

#33 Pee Wee Reese ($5,000). An ultra-popular horizontal action card of Dodger Hall- ofFamer Pee Wee Reese. A difficult issue to find well-centered, this is one of the highest demand post-war cards.

#44 Bauer/Berra/Mantle ($5,000). A classic early "combo" card featuring two of the greatest players ever, Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle. This issue is very difficult to find well-centered and with good picture focus.

#59 Mickey Mantle($15,000). A gorgeous and super-popular, early Mantle card featuring a very youthful-looking Mickey. This was Mantle's third Bowman issue and is the key card in the 1953 Color set. Another card that's very difficult to find well-centered.

#117 Duke Snider ($12,000). An incredibly rare card of Dodger Hall-of-Fame slugger Duke Snider. This issue is part of the ultra-tough high-number series and is virtually non-existent with decent centering.

#121 Yogi Berra ($13,000). Another ultra-tough high-number rarity! This is the most important card ever issued of Hall -of-Famer Yogi Berra. A very difficult issue to find without print lines and with good centering.

#153 Whitey Ford ($10,500). Yankee Hall-of-Fame hurler Whitey Ford's second Bowman card and one of the keys to the 1953 Color set. This issue is incredibly difficult to find well-focused and well-centered.


Greg Bussineau is president of Superior Sports Auctions, which specializes in pre-1976 sports cards and memorabilia.


See related story...
Collecting Classic 1952 Bowman Large Football Sets

The first set of current major league players to feature actual color photographs.
The first set of current major league players
to feature actual color photographs.