PSA Set Registry
Collecting the 1950 Bowman Football Card Set
A Trailblazing Vintage Football Issue
by Kevin Glew
It's a set of firsts.
Not only is the 1950 Bowman Football set the first mainstream gridiron issue of its decade, it's also the first to feature cards from the new National Football League (NFL), which had freshly merged with the All-American Football Conference (AAFC).
It's also Bowman's first color football offering and it showcases the first cards of 10 Hall of Famers, including legends Y.A. Tittle (#5), Lou Groza (#6) and Otto Graham (#45).
But despite all of these firsts, this trailblazing set is rarely mentioned as one of the most desirable pigskin offerings.
"With football cards, you've got the big rookies in the 1957 Topps set with Bart Starr, Johnny Unitas and Paul Hornung, then you've got Jim Brown in the 1958 set and then you have 1952 Bowman Large, which is a very popular set with the Frank Gifford rookie," explained Paul Taylor, who owns the No. 3 Current Finest 1950 Bowman Football set on the PSA Set Registry. "The 1950 Bowman set is really overlooked, and the price for these cards is still relatively low. For example, the price of an Otto Graham PSA [NM-MT] 8 rookie is about $1,500, while a [PSA 8] Unitas rookie can go for $8,000 or $9,000. And this is in spite of the fact that the Graham is older and a much tougher, lower population card."
Jeff Smith, who has built the registry's No. 9 Current Finest 1950 Bowman Football set, also believes the set is overlooked.
"I liked the set because the rookie class was incredible and they were just the coolest looking cards," he explained. "Plus, the set wasn't too big. It wasn't 200 or 300 cards, something that was going to take me forever to complete. I think it's totally underrated."
The 1950 issue marked Bowman's return to football cards after a one-year hiatus. Legal wrangling between Bowman and Leaf was reportedly the reason that Leaf produced the sole football card issue in 1949.
Measuring 2-1/16" by 2-1/2" each, the 1950 Bowman Football cards offer colorized pictures on white-bordered fronts. Most of the pictures, which are the sole feature of the fronts, are presented vertically, but some players are highlighted horizontally.
"The 1950 Bowman set is such a beautiful set. It's the first color set with those small square cards," said Taylor. "They're like small pieces of art."
Football card historian Mike Thomas, who operates the www.footballcardgallery.com website, also savors the design
"The cards are colorful and creative," he said. "I think they're beautiful. They obviously took some time coloring the cards because they're really well done."
Many of the pictures offer posed action shots that reflect the player's position. The bulk of the quarterbacks are pictured throwing, while receivers are frequently highlighted catching a ball. Some of the pictures of the halfbacks and tackles are the most memorable. Halfback Steve Van Buren (#23), for example, is pictured with a menacing glare that makes it appear that he'd run through anyone that gets in his way. On the flip side, tackle Lou Rymkus (#116) is pictured with an intimidating look that seems to say no one is going to get through him.
The horizontal card backs exhibit the player's name and the logo for the "Bowman 5-Star Picture Card Collectors Club" in red at the top. Below the player's name are their team, position and vitals (e.g., Age, Residence, Height, Weight, etc.) in black text, followed by biographical information. This generally details the player's collegiate and professional accomplishments, but it sometimes shares their off-season job (see accompanying sidebar).
"I noticed that a lot of the cards also talk about the player's military service," added Thomas. "In some cases, the player had just come back from the service where they had spent two or three years, and despite that, they had fantastic careers. Just imagine what they would've done with that extra two or three years."
In a few instances, health obstacles that players had to face in their childhood are revealed. Mac Speedie's single (#8) indicates he "overcame a childhood leg ailment to become one of the game's greatest ends," while Sam Tamburo's card (#49) shares that he "recovered from a childhood siege of rheumatic fever to become, in the course of time, a star on the gridiron."
The card number and copyright data can be found below the biographical information.
The 1950 Bowman Football cards were distributed in six-card, five-cent packs that included two pieces of gum. Unopened packs, wrappers and empty boxes are rare today.
The cards were produced after the June 2, 1950, AAFC dispersal draft. When the AAFC and NFL merged in 1950, three AAFC teams - the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Colts and San Francisco 49ers - joined the NFL, but four AAFC teams were eliminated and most of the players were placed in a draft for NFL teams. Many of the cards reflect the players' new teams.
And while we can't pinpoint the exact date as to when the cards were produced and subsequently released, it's interesting to note that Bob "Buddy" Tinsley (#55) is highlighted as a Pittsburgh Steeler, even though he was signed by the Canadian Football League's Winnipeg Blue Bombers on July 31, 1950. So it's safe to say that by July 31, the 1950 Bowman Football cards were too far along in the production process to have changes made to them. A few cards also mention that the player is set to begin their first professional season, so this, too, appears to suggest that these cards were manufactured prior to the start of the 1950 NFL season, which began on September 16.
The 144 cards were likely printed on four separate 36-card sheets. Two 36-card sheets that were sold in a Lelands auction in December 2001 displayed the cards in numerical order. In other words, the first sheet contained cards #1 to #36, with the first of four rows of nine cards on that sheet showcasing cards #1 to #9 from left-to-right and so forth. The second sheet would have cards #37 to #72, the third #73 to #108 and the fourth #109 to #144.
Players from each of the 13 NFL teams are clumped together in batches of two or three within the set. The cards also follow the same team sequence on each 36-card sheet. For example, the Detroit Lions players appear to be the first on each sheet, starting with #1, #37, #73 and #109. Representatives from the other teams follow in this sequence (after the Lions): Baltimore Colts, Cleveland Browns, Green Bay Packers, New York Yanks, Los Angeles Rams, Pittsburgh Steelers, Chicago Cardinals, Philadelphia Eagles, Chicago Bears, Washington Redskins, New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers. The end result is that each team has 11 representatives, except for the Philadelphia Eagles who have 12.
As noted earlier, this set boasts the rookies of 10 Hall of Famers: Y.A. Tittle (#5), Lou Groza (#6), Tony Canadeo (#9), Joe Perry (#35), Marion Motley (#43), Otto Graham (#45), Tom Fears (#51), Elroy Hirsch (#52), Dante Lavelli (#78) and Jim Finks (#128).
The Tittle single (#5) is one of the most coveted rookies. Showcasing a great action picture of the Baltimore Colts quarterback leaping to make a throw, this card is often hampered by poor centering, staining on its reverse and print defects in the picture's background. Of the 406 submitted, there have been two PSA MINT 9s and 52 PSA NM-MT 8s. A PSA 8 sold for $1,881.89 on eBay in September 2016.
Taylor and Smith cite the Canadeo (#9) as a tough card.
"In PSA 8 or 9, you're looking at a lot of money for that card," said Taylor.
Smith has had a similar experience.
"I know I way overpaid for that card," he said, adding that it was one of the last cards he needed to complete his set.
This was likely the final card on the right in the top row of the first print sheet, an edge-sheet position that generally makes cards more vulnerable to flaws such as miscuts. Of the 281 submitted, there have been two PSA 9s and seven PSA NM-MT+ 8.5s. One PSA 8.5 commanded $2,198.40 in a Memory Lane auction in May 2016.
But collectors seem to agree that the Graham (#45) is the marquee rookie in this set. This card presents a terrific picture of the legendary Browns pivot poised to throw.
"The Graham is just an iconic card," said Taylor. "I don't know how much people know about it - it's not like the [1935 National Chicle] Bronko Nagurski - but the Otto Graham rookie is just a beautiful card."
The Graham rookie is regularly plagued by poor centering and staining on its back. The centering issues are not surprising given that it appears to have been the last card on the right in the top row of the second print sheet. There are nine PSA 9s, 12 PSA 8.5s and 82 PSA 8s. One PSA 9 fetched $17,025.80 in a Mile High Card Company auction in January 2016.
The 1950 Bowman Football set's strong rookie class is complemented by more than a dozen other Hall of Famer cards, including Doak Walker (#1), Bob Waterfield (#17), Steve Van Buren (#23), Sid Luckman (#27), Bulldog Turner (#28), Bobby Layne (#37), George Connor (#97), Sammy Baugh (#100), Leo Nomellini (#107), Charley Trippi (#129), Chuck Bednarik (#132) and Pete Pihos (#134).
There has yet to be an example of the Walker single (#1) grade above PSA 8. This card is not only hampered by centering issues, but by the extra wear and tear it absorbed from being on top of collector piles. It was also located in the top-left corner of the first print sheet, which made it susceptible to flaws.
"With the Doak Walker, you're talking about an almost impossible card. There are only 17 PSA 8s and one only comes up for sale every two or three years," explained Taylor. "The thing with the Doak Walker is that it's the No. 1 card in the set, so what would happen was collectors would put a rubber band around their cards and that card would always be on top. So there's often rubber band damage on that card."
A PSA 8 sold for $5,958.36 in a Mile High Card Company auction in January 2016.
Similarly, the last card in the set, Knox Ramsey, which appears to have been located on the bottom-right corner of the fourth print sheet, has also proven to be evasive in flawless form. It also sustained additional wear and tear being at the bottom of collector piles. There has been one PSA GEM-MT 10, three PSA 9s and 14 PSA 8s. The PSA 10 fetched $5,923.13 in a Mile High Card Company auction in January 2016.
Smith notes that cards #140 through #144 are frequently found with poor centering. Both Taylor and Smith cite Jim White (#140) as one of the set's most elusive cards.
"That Jim White card is by far the most difficult card in the set," said Smith.
Smith hasn't noticed a consistent condition issue with the White card, but he remembers a collector hoarding high-grade examples of it in the early 2000s.
But it's the challenge of tracking down these tough commons, combined with the wealth of Hall of Fame rookies and the colorful design of the cards, that appeals to this set's followers. And while this set is not as coveted as the 1935 National Chicle or 1957 Topps issues, its popularity seems to be growing.
"I think there has been a spike in demand for the rookie cards in this set," said Taylor. "Some of the prices of the vintage rookies, like the Elroy Hirsch, are definitely going up ... Some of the Hall of Fame rookie cards have doubled in price. So those have been moving, but as far as commons, I haven't seen a big demand for commons."
Taylor believes more collectors will pursue this set in the future.
"I think the 1950 Bowman set is going to come back in vogue eventually," he said. "I can really see that happening just because of the beauty of the set, because the cards are getting older and because of the [growing] popularity of football as a sport in general."
Smith shares similar thoughts.
"I think this set has a good future because it's a great looking set," he said. "The cards are like little pieces of art and the set is just loaded with good players. And it's a nice compact, little set that's not overwhelming to put together.'"
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Selected Off-Season Player Jobs (According to Card Bios)
#10 Larry Craig - Farmer.
#20 Jerry Nuzum - Car salesman.
#25 Bosh Pritchard - Singer, disc jockey and TV emcee.
#28 Bulldog Turner - Rancher.
#33 Travis Tidwell - Sports broadcaster.
#62 Bob Perina - Radio salesman.
#63 William Wightkin - Engineer.
#68 Joe Scott - Rancher.
#87 Robert Reinhard - Does Public Relations work.
#90 Jerry Shipkey - Gas and oil distributor.
#92 Garrard Ramsey - Works for hometown radio station.
#98 Fred Morrison - Construction worker.
#100 Sammy Baugh - Competes in rodeos.
#105 Eddie Price - Recreation supervisor.
#107 Leo Nomellini - Professional wrestler.
#110 Joe Watson - Lifeguard at Houston Country Club.
#127 Elbert Nickel - Contractor.
#133 Joe Muha - Civil engineer.
#135 Washington Serini - Landscape gardner.
#137 Ken Kavanaugh - Cattle rancher.
#139 Joe Tereshinski - Car salesman and baseball umpire.
#140 Jim White - Operates a restaurant.
#141 Gene Roberts - In the Accounting business.
#144 Knox Ramsey - Engineer.
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For more information on the 1950 Bowman football card set, please visit http://www.psacard.com/cardfacts/football-cards/1950-bowman/52.
Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. Thank you to Paul Taylor for providing cards for this article. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted and Set Registry rankings reported are those as of October 2016.
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