For 1953, Bowman Gum answered Topps' "Giant Size" challenge with clear and crisp pictures from life - the first of their kind seen on cards! The company's new, up-sized color release, featuring exquisite, photographic images, has been widely heralded for generations as standing among the most beautiful modern-era set of baseball cards ever made.
Lofty accolades indeed, for the product of a manufacturer who'd so recently faced a rude awakening in its merchandising strategies. The company had been content for five years to create and distribute cards that, while attractive and visually engaging, were still, well - small. Topps' inaugural effort in 1952 proved evidently, size does matter. To its credit, Bowman wasted no time pondering the situation, and fired back hard in the very next season.
Bowman's 1953 cards measured 2 ½" by 3 ¾", slightly narrower than Topps 1952 collectibles but for all practical purposes like-sized. The backs presented layouts that were doubtless inspired by Topps' prior-year model (with content to match), and they bore little resemblance to their Bowman antecedents. The cards' reverse sides, however, were merely an afterthought to the awestruck consumer: the first-time buyer of 1953 Bowman Color cards, one imagines' would have been hopelessly transfixed by their fronts.
No captions, no team logo devices, no manufacturer's legends - just fabulous pictures! An observer could easily become immersed in the sight of a favorite player, as the set allowed full expression of each athlete's facial details and uniform features. In some of the highest-quality photographs ever presented on baseball cards of any kind, before or since, 1953 Bowman brought the viewer "up close" to Mickey Mantle's graceful followthrough, Stan Musial's relaxed humor, and Allie Reynolds' resolute gaze. The renderings seem to have been selected with their subjects' personality traits in mind - as these aspects were effectively transmitted and brought to the forefront without benefit of embellishing descriptions - and they were executed with every bit of the depth and clarity enabled by the technology of the day.
Priceless images abound among Bowman's 1953 Color cards. Pee Wee Reese's leaping in action portrayal is an all-time favorite among hobbyists. Hank Bauer, Yogi Berra, and Mickey Mantle, in one of the first multi-player shots to grace a cardfront, appear together, all smiles, on card #44, in acknowledgement of the clientele's presumptive New York leanings, Billy Martin and Phil Rizzuto share the set's other card of this type (#93). Classic single-player depictions are plentiful in the release, but those of Whitey Ford, Gil Hodges, Warren Spahn and Roy Campanella are also popular on the basis of their aesthetic merits as well as the respective prowess of their subjects.
Interestingly, Bowman also put out a 1953 Black & White counterpart to its marvelous color effort. Although less than half as many ballplayers were included in the company's less flamboyant version, the Black & White series did cover a different group of athletes, and it afforded an intriguing comparison in terms of style.
Bowman clearly did its homework and came prepared to meet its competition in 1953. The company's Color issue gave the hobby yet another high point to be enjoyed in its own right, and several of its features would inevitably serve as models for the refinement of future products.
Composition - The 1953 Bowman Color issue held 160 cards, and the separate Black & White series accounted for 64 more. Although sometimes lauded more for its design than its content simply because of its extraordinary appeal in that realm, the issue delivered plenty of star power: Mantle (on his own card #59, as well as the aforementioned #44), Campy, Ed Mathews, Yogi Berra and Duke Snider are just a few of its big names. (Black & White's highlights included Casey Stengel, Bob Lemon, Hoyt Wilhelm and Johnny Mize.) Incidentally, the 1953 Color card of Stan Musial, arguably one of his most prized ever, would be his last regular-card appearance until 1959. And the series' conspicuous omissions were few. Ted Williams was still away fighting for his country in Korea as a Marine pilot, while Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays were under contract to Bowman's new nemesis, Topps.
Key Features and Rarities - Collectors of 1953 Bowman's Color or Black & White versions don't have to worry about obscure print variations or troublesome rarities, but the Color issue's "High Numbers" (113-160) are somewhat more challenging than the preceding run of 112 cards. So although Berra, Ford and Gil Hodges are found in the release's scarcer group, great solace can be taken from the realization that Mantle, Musial, Reese, Campanella and the two multi's are harbored in the set's easier component!
Bottom Line - Bowman's 1953 response to Topps, in the form of the older company's Color gallery, remains unmatched in the esteem of many enthusiasts. Upon the Bowman product's release, the series quickly earned an enduring nickname - "Pure Cards" - that would eventually come to be applied to later-issue productions, from any manufacturer, that adhered to 1953 Bowman Color's simplicity in design. A foundation piece of the 1950s-era hobby, 1953 Bowman Color is one of its period's defining gum card efforts and one of its most cherished, nostalgia-inspiring mementoes.