By Joe Orlando
he 1955 Bowman baseball set is a strange set, not only in design, but also in the content of the cardboard. While the 1955 Topps set is truly packed with stars and is beautiful in design (there's no question that it takes the cake as the best set produced in 1955), the 1955 Bowman set is unfortunately very overlooked.
What does the 1955 Bowman set offer the vintage collector?
Plenty, and it might be one of the most overlooked sets of the 1950's.
Chipping, chipping, chipping. Did I mention chipping? The brown borders on these vintage gems are extremely susceptible to border or corner chipping. The slightest flaking along the edges causes an eyesore as the white cardboard underneath is exposed. Some of the cards have a darker brown color than others. You will notice the chipping a lot more on the darker brown-colored cards because of the contrast. Sometimes, the chipping is merely the result of the cut, often a rough one, and the chipping will be seen along the entire border. As long as the chipping is not severe, the card should not receive a major downgrade because some chipping is overwhelmingly common.
Centering is another obstacle. The cards are not only commonly found off-center, but the centering is actually very difficult to determine because of the design of the cards themselves. This is very apparent when it comes to the top to bottom centering measurements. Reverse staining or surface creases, otherwise known as wrinkles, are fairly common as well. There was a very small find of 1955 Bowmans a few years back but this issue is certainly a condition sensitive one that offers a challenge to advanced collectors throughout the sportscard hobby.
The Featured Faces
While the 1955 Topps set certainly has the edge in terms of star power (due to great cards like the Sandy Koufax rookie, the Roberto Clemente rookie, the Harmon Killebrew rookie, a Ted Williams card, and so on), it does include a few major keys that are certainly noteworthy. For instance, Topps did not include a Mickey Mantle card in their set so Bowman can claim to have the only mainstream Mantle produced in 1955. The Willie Mays and Hank Aaron cards are very popular as well, with the Aaron example being his first Bowman issue. The same can be said for the Ernie Banks card; his first Bowman issue is a desirable one.
Don't forget guys like Al Kaline, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella (Campy has no Topps issue from 1955), Whitey Ford (Ford has no Topps issue from 1955), Pee Wee Reese (Reese has no Topps issue from 1955). The Bowman set also offers an interesting group of umpire cards in the high-number series, including a couple of Hall of Famers. Again, while the set lacks the overall punch that the Topps set offers, it does have a few key Hall of Famers unique to the set which means that collectors have one choice and one choice only if they want to complete a run of cards for a particular player.
The choice is 1955 Bowman.
Affordability and Potential
I don't think there is any question about the potential of these vintage gems due to their affordability and/or their difficulty to locate in top grades. Rarity is an ever-increasing factor in the valuation of sportscards and memorabilia and these cards, in true high-grade form, give the collector a truly scarce find, especially in Mint 9 or better condition. If you compare the price levels of other comparable cards, this point is made clear. For instance, Mantle's 1956 Topps card is valued between $15,000-$20,000 in Mint 9 condition and his 1954 Bowman card is valued somewhere in the $20,000 range at this point (although this card has sold for much more at auction) so why does his 1955 Bowman issue only sell in the range of $8,500-$10,000 when the card is as tough as it is?
Will this set ever have the overall appeal of the Topps issue from the same year?
Are these Bowmans as visually attractive as the Topps issue from the same year?
Is it unfortunate that they left out the Koufax, Clemente and Killebrew rookie cards?
Regardless, the opportunity exists to obtain some outstanding vintage cards and the potential for growth is there because rarity is a force in the advanced sector of the hobby. It really does, in some cases, come down to the fact that, "I have something that you don't have" or that, "I have something that few people have."
With that in mind, the 1955 Bowmans should eventually get their due.
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