Ten Tidbits about 1953 Bowman Color

The 1953 Bowman Color baseball card set is one of the most beautiful issues ever produced. The issue was the first major set to use actual color photographs. 

The cards, which measure 2-½” × 3-¾”, feature vivid four-color photographs unspoiled by facsimile autographs, logos, positions, and even player names. As such, the release has been celebrated by collectors by its uncluttered design. However, that’s not all the 1953 Bowman Color set represents. Did you know the following? 

10. The return of dual-player combo cards 

Did you know that #93 Billy Martin/Phil Rizzuto and #44 Hank Bauer/Yogi Berra/Mickey Mantle marked the return of multi-player cards, which hadn’t been part of a major release since the Old Judge cards of the 19th century (unless you count 1948 Swell Sport Thrills cards or the 1912 Hassan Triple Folders, which had one player on each end and an action scene, often multiplayer, in the middle.

Another notable exception was an extension of the 1934-36 National Chicle Diamond Stars in 1937. Although that set was never completed, one of the cards included would have been a multiplayer card featuring Rogers Hornsby and Jim Bottomley.

9. No expense spared

The Bowman Card company went to great lengths to put out a great looking product. In fact, the company nearly went bankrupt from production expenses. Using top-notch photographers from the New York Times, Life and other big-time New York media outlets, no expenses were spared. Although the finished product sizzled, the financial impacts of using color photography put a strain on the company. 

8. New York state of mind

Hiring New York-based shutterflies only made more sense when you consider that most of the ballplayers were photographed in the two area ballparks: The Polo Grounds, located in Manhattan, and Yankee Stadium, located across the Harlem River, in Bronx.

As both venues no longer exist, the set represents an enduring window to a bygone era of flannel uniforms, sharp spikes and bulky gloves. The best examples being card #7 Harry Chiti and #96 Sal Maglie at the Polo Grounds and card #105 Eddie Joost at Yankee Stadium. [Fun Fact: Like the Statue of Liberty, the Yankee Stadium frieze was made of copper, and when exposed to the elements the metal turns green.]

7. Spring fling

Not all the player photos in the set were taken at Polo Grounds or Yankee Stadium, however. Some were taken during Spring Training, including the Dodgers ballpark in Vero Beach. Card #114 of Bob Feller is emblematic of the rush to get the cards ready for release.

6. Pee Wee

One of the spring training photos, #33 Pee Wee Reese, is one of the most famous cards of all-time.

The photo depicts Reese, suspended in air, trying to complete a double play. A subject of great debate among collectors is the identity of the player sliding underneath. Was it a coach, Bobby Morgan, or Gil Hodges? Whoever the baserunner, the debate lives on.

5. Small-ish set

 At 160 cards, the 1953 Bowman set is smaller than many of Bowman’s issues of the era. However, a 90-card black and white set was issued the same year. Therefore, when taken together, Bowman issued 250 cards during 1953, a standard sized offering for the time. 

4. Defending champs

Look closely at Billy Martin, card #118, and Allie Reynolds, card #68.

The patch adorning their sleeve celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the legendary team. The set also celebrates the dynastic Yankees at the height of their powers. Alas, in 1953, the Yankees were nearing the end of their five-year reign as defending World Series champions. 

3. Stars, but not everyone

With Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, Warren Spahn and Bob Feller, 1953 Bowman Color does not lack star power. However, 1953 Bowman is missing Ted Williams, who was off flying combat missions in Korea, and Willie Mays, who was under contract with Topps. 

2. Stats

The set was also Bowman’s first issues with player statistics on card backs. It is widely speculated that Bowman (left) copied the idea from Topps (right), which had put statistics in its debut issue. 

1. Bowman’s answer

Nearly 65 years later, it can get lost that the iconic 1953 set was the company’s response to Topps’ equally iconic release the year before. Both sets are remarkable in their own right – plenty of innovation and star power in each of these releases. It’s not often that two iconic sets come off production lines within such a short time. However, that’s precisely what happened in the early 1950s.

8 thoughts on “Ten Tidbits about 1953 Bowman Color”

    1. Yes, that Musial is amazing! One of the few vintage cards I’ve upgraded from my earlier collecting years. I had a decent one from college but decided to splurge on a really, really nice one last year.

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  1. A fun feature, that I assume was a first, was the blank stat line for adding the player’s 1953 season stats. I haven’t personally seen any cards with the blanks filled in, but I sometimes wonder if Bowman was setting the table for a 1954 series that would be a continuation of 1953 rather than something brand new. The blank stat line would allow collectors to turn their 1953 cards into 1954 cards and then just add on to the set with whatever new players were produced in 1954.

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  2. The best set ever! Those cards were like color portraits similar to those in SPORT magazine in the ’50’s. I had read the reason they came out with the B/W set was because it was too expensive to continue with color.

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  3. I would like to add that card #92 Gil Hodges was photographed in Ebbetts Field with a clear view of the right field fence area. Also, the Black & White set contained 64 cards .

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