Wednesday, November 24, 2010

1955 Bowman Baseball Umpire Cards just got a 1955 Bowman baseball card complete set up online and we wanted to take a look at one of the features that makes this “end of an era” set so special.

Collectors of vintage cards may know the 1955 Bowman as the “tv set” but there is another distinction that sets the 1955 Bowman baseball card set apart: the umpire cards.  The set itself consists of 320 cards total with three series.  The high number series (#225-320) is the most expensive and it also contains all of the thirty umpire cards.  All of the player pictures were taken in Shibe Park in Philadelphia, the home of the Bowman Gum Company.  Many of the photos feature the characteristic green wall that is still associated with Shibe Park.  Although the wood-grain border that is the distinctive mark of this set hides corner wear fairly well, it also makes the set somewhat unappealing from an aesthetic point of view.  Color television (and color cards) were a big deal at the time, but they quickly lost their novelty.  The 1955 set would be the last for the floundering Bowman Gum Company.  Topps bought them at the end of the year and immediately began their monopoly on the hobby.

As for the umpire cards, they were, understandably, unpopular with kids, the primary purchasers of baseball cards.  Part of what makes the umpire cards so difficult to find is that they were the first to be thrown away by kids looking for their baseball heroes.  Curiously, the Bowman Company put the umpires in the last series, which historically competed with the football cards sets that were being released at the same time.  Kids had already bought the previous two series full of players and had no interest in the coach and umpire-heavy last series.  Topps was busy releasing the 1955 Topps All-American football card set that featured outstanding college players and Bowman was releasing their last football set, so kids would have probably been interested in those sets instead.

The umpire cards themselves were similar to the other 1955 Bowman cards, but had a few key differences.  As previously mentioned, the players’ photographs were taken with Shibe Park as a background, while many of the umpires had head shots with a solid color background.  On many of the players’ cards, Bowman had the interesting idea to ask them to write about their biggest thrill in baseball, made famous by Eddie Waitkus’ story that was the basis for The Natural, the most exciting game in which they had ever played, or the best pitcher or hitter they had faced.  However, the umpire cards feature short biographies written by the Bowman Gum Company.  The Bowman writ
ers included facts such as the national heritage of the umpires as well as personal hobbies, family, and professional sports or umpiring experience.  

Currently, the Bowman umpires set is so hard to complete that they have their own PSA set registry category.  They represent a fun challenge to collectors and another example of baseball cards that went from wildly unpopular to considerably valuable.  There are no parallels to this unique set and we hope you find it as interesting as we do.

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