6.24.2009

Tuning in to 1955 Bowman baseball cards.

At a recent trip to our nearest card shop, Derek's Dugout in Albuquerque, we found three 1955 Bowman baseball cards. They are mesmerizing.
Let us count the ways. For starters, from what few we've seen, several 1955 Bowman cards depict the same radio/TV tower and lights in the backdrop. Bowman's headquarters existed in Philadelphia at the time, the home of Shibe Park, and looky there in the background of this old photo (below) of Shibe: aren't those similar to the towers behind Mr. Shantz? It seems safe to assume that at least some of the 1955 Bowman baseball card photographs were taken at Shibe Park.Then there is the greatness of these Bowman backs...two of the three we own include biographical "statements" by the players. We'll get to that in a moment. But for now, here's an oddity: Mr. Shantz is identified as a Kansas City Athletic on the back, but the bio refers to his 1954 record with Philadelphia.
Well, Athletics underwent some changes, eh? Mr. Nieman is perplexed, too. Look at him staring up at the Wilmer "Billy" Shantz card! By the way, whenever you see that formulation...Broadhead "Dickie" Smith or whatever...the implied absolute is that the actual first name is so awful, a nickname was produced and is in fact what the player is called because the given name is too embarassing to utter on a day-to-day basis. We'd say this is true 95 percent of the time (and you may verify that estimate when we get to the Drake's card list below).

Here is one of the 1955 Bowman autobiographical statements--this one is called "My Biggest Thrill in Baseball." The players probably didn't actually write the remarks, but perhaps tossed out an idea and little Bowman Card Bartlebys wrote the text. Do you agree that the concept is pretty fantastic? THIS CONCEPT SHOULD BE REVIVED. Nowadays, prospects and little guys can write their own autobiographies, and maybe that's where they can autograph the card, too. SHAKE IT UP A LITTLE, CARD COMPANY PEOPLE; throwback and update.

Stats are also included on these backs of these cards. And so is ©B.G.H.L.I., which stands for Bowman Gum Haelan Laboratories Inc. (Here's a link to Contested Culture by Jane M. Gaines, a book that briefly discusses the lawsuit between Bowman and Topps when Topps challenged the exclusivity of Bowman's player agreements.)

This is a fellow who was certainly born to play baseball: Matt Batts. Glorious! He also was born to appear on a baseball card. His Eddie Joost story:

is fair dinkum. Does anyone have 1955 Bowman #4? The Eddie Waitkus text, also titled "My Biggest Thrill in Baseball," begins with: "In 1949 I was shot by a deranged girl." Not sure about you, but I'd like to read that whole story.

As a lunchbox collector, I was interested to discover that the 1955 Bowman cards were designed well before the 1959 American Thermos Looney Tunes lunchbox, which also used a TV screen motif:


By the way, beware of dispiriting modern Hallmark imitiations:


This is the classic 1954 first-RCA-color-television upon which the 1955 Bowmans likely were based, don't you think?:


There certainly weren't many shows broadcast in color that year or the next, though, so the

1955 Bowman cards were a cutting edge design. And although it's true that 1955 Bowman beat Looney Tunes lunchboxes to the TV design punch, the regional Drake's cake company beat national Bowman with the overall TV concept, in this 1950 set:

Not color of course, because these Drake's cards were produced in 1950, well before color television was a twinkle in RCA or Philo Farnsworth's or whoever's eye. Still, the TV presentation is innovative and nifty. Here's a slightly better shot of the Gil Hodges card:

So, if you're tracking, it was five whole entire years before Bowman used the TV motif that Drake's plastered players on TV screen cards. These are 2 1/2" square with a back displaying an ad that says "TV Baseball Series...Save 'em, Trade 'em, For a limited time only in...Drake's Oatmeal or Jumble Cookies."

1. Elwin "Preacher" Roe
2. Clint Hartung
3. Earl Torgeson <---he's the one who looks like George Reeves
4. Leland "Lou" Brissie
5. Edwin "Duke" Snider
6. Roy Campanella
7. Sheldon "Available" Jones
8. Carroll "Whitey" Lockman
9. Bobby Thomson <---our favorite Giant!
10. Dick Sisler
11. Gil Hodges <---became a great Mets manager!
12. Eddie Waitkus
13. Bobby Doerr <---excellent TTM signer!
14. Warren Spahn
15. John "Buddy" Kerr
16. Sid Gordon
17. Willard Marshall
18. Carl Furillo
19. Harold "Pee Wee" Reese <---subject of one of the great Bowman cards (see below)
20. Alvin Dark
21. Del Ennis
22. Ed Stanky
23. Tommy "Old Reliable" Henrich
24. Larry "Yogi" Berra
25. Phil "Scooter" Rizzuto <---Scooter?
26. Jerry Coleman
27. Joe Page
28. Allie Reynolds
29. Ray Scarborough
30. George "Birdie" Tebbetts
31. Maurice "Lefty" McDermott
32. Johnny Pesky
33. Dom "Little Professor" DiMaggio
34. Vern "Junior" Stevens <---grandpa John's favorite player
35. Bob Elliott 3
6. Enos "Country" Slaughter

Eldon, Leland, Sheldon, Vern, Carroll, George, Harold....see our point re nicknames?

1955 Bowman also put 31 umpires on their card TVs:

We're very pleased with the 1955 Bowmans. True, 1953 is probably the Bowman masterpiece year, as it includes such gems as this 1953 Bowman Pee Wee Reese, the "holy grail of midair cards":

But nevertheless, 1955 Bowman is pretty darned good. Whenever we get miffed with Topps, the respite we seek is not in modern Upper Deck technopop baseball cards. It's in some soothing Bowman art.

9 comments:

White Sox Cards said...

Funny you should mention those Drakes. I just ran across them in my SCD Standard Catalog this morning, while looking at Durochromes.

Great post!

MattR said...

Mr. Nieman's card reminds me of the opening credits of The Brady Bunch.

Kevin said...

Ooh, nice to see a real live scan of the Matt Batts card! He never played a game for the O's, much like Johnny Pesky, another ex-Red Sox hero pictured in orange and black for 1955 Bowman. As soon as I get my want lists up to date, I'll begin pursuit of Mr. Batts.

csd said...

Since I saw the reprints in a Baseball card magazine as a kid I have loved this set. I am glad that others are still enjoying it today as well. What a design.

BASEBALL DAD said...

Wow ! I hadn't seen the peacock for years !

Matthew Glidden said...

...and if you want a Mickey Mantle that year? ONLY ON BOWMAN TV CHANNEL #202, BABY! (He was an exclusive in 1954 and 1955.)

Nice detailed post! Old cards = great cards.

lonestarr said...

Wow, there be some interesting nicknames there. How does someone get the nickname "Available"?

Word Verification: ovensad

mikepelfreyshouse said...

Wow, That is a pretty nice set! And that Pee Wee Rese is pretty epic!

zman40 said...

Gotta love that set. I only have one card, but it is signed by Carl Erskine.

I also love the Eddie Joost quote. I have one card form the '52 Topps set and it is an Eddie Joost card.