Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Tallying the Votes: Vintage Bowman Versus Vintage Topps

It's November 6th, and it's time to decide between the two most important candidates out there...when it comes to vintage...of the '50s. This is a serious decision, and the Vealtones will make a decision today! Topps and Bowman, I'm often torn between the two, as I'm sure many of us are when considering picking up vintage cards. Maybe some recent trades from Garvey Cey Russell Lopes and Heartbreaking Cards of Staggering Genius can help solidify who wins the vintage battles.

This 1951 Johnny Groth comes from GCRL, and it's a beauty. I'm not a fan of headshots, but Bowman does it well with their painted renditions, the thick black lines, the pops of color. And you have to love Bowman's backgrounds. The crowds here are great. I dig the detail, that I can almost make out the faces. And the crowds seem to be voting for Bowman.

This one's also from GCRL. And speaking of backgrounds, how about those trees? I love the stadium backgrounds Bowman frequently used, but I love the random backgrounds that show up even more. Pine trees? Where the hell is Bob Cain? This doesn't look like spring training. So, I guess Bob just got lost in the woods and is winding up to pelt a squirrel with his fastball. Great background, but Bowman goofed on the uniform. Cain's listed as a Tiger on the back, and I kind of admire that Bowman decided not to airbrush the current team, even though they wouldn't have been airbrushing, just painting. I'll take this card completely as it is: a work of art.
Here we have yet another work of art from Mark at Heartbreaking Cards of Staggering Genius. Now this card has everything: cool pose, great painted design, Detroit uniform, stadium background. How could anyone not love this set?
In 1951 Topps was still in utero as a card company, and their '51 set was cool but not really much of a real set yet. Funny to think that they'd go from a tiny cardboard game set to swallowing up Bowman and every other company and conquering the cardboard world. So, 1951 has to go to Bowman.
Onto 1952, then, through some more cardboard Tigers.
With their 1952 set, Bowman pretty much kept their design the same, with the only real change being the name on the front, which changed from a black box to a facsimile signature, as seen on Don Kolloway's card that Mark sent me. So not much changed, but why change such a good thing? A lot of vintage collectors don't seem to like this set as much because the signature is hard to read and the set feels redundant. But to me, I feel like Bowman was perfecting a great design, and this is the pinnacle of their vintage sets. The art and the pose are just perfect on Don's card.
 And '52 was a big year for Topps. It was the year of the first full baseball card set. I only own one card from this set, this Ted Gray, and it came off of eBay. Topps got a lot right. I dig the star-bordered marquee name box, with the facsimile sig. The old school Tigers logo is especially great. I even like the filter on the camera. But I can't stand all the headshots in this set.
For me, 1952 also goes to Bowman. This was my favorite Bowman set of all.
And we push onward. 1953:
 Apologies for the COMC hi-jacked photo here. I don't have a Tigers card from this set. 1953 marked Bowman's foray into photography, and the end of an era as they move from their mini cards to these over-sized ones. There are some great photos in this set, and probably Bowman was ahead of their time, doing a photo-based design that would become standard for decades. But this set never struck my fancy.
 And Topps answers Bowman with this! Are you kidding me? One of the most beautiful vintage sets ever made, and just a wonderful use of the art card design. Sure, we still get a bunch of headshots, but they look awesome. The prominent team logo and red name box is just the icing on the cake.
1953 goes to Topps. By the way, Mark also sent me Ned Garver here.
And for 1954:
Jim Delsing is our impromptu poster child for Bowman's 1954 design, and the card comes from GCRL.  I like the pose here, and this is a pretty dandy-looking card overall, but there was something about the '54 design that always rubbed me the wrong way. It seems a little lazy, like the name box at the bottom that feels kind of slapped on. Here, it's actually serving the purpose of censoring Delsing's crotch, so it's actually serving a purpose on this card.

Topps answered in '54 with some brightly-colored backgrounds that would fill up their cards throughout a lot of the rest of the '50s. I got this Kuenn rookie for a song off eBay. And it's a great-looking card. I hate to say it, but Topps has an early lead for 1954. Maybe I'm a bit biased since Bowman missed Kaline's rookie year and Topps caught one of the most iconic Tigers' rookies of all time.

And, there it is, Topps wins 1954 and ties up the race. That makes 1955 our metaphorical Florida or Ohio or...

Woodgrain TVs! 1955 brought the beloved woodgrain TV border. Who can't love the cheesiness of it all? Charles King was surprised by such a weird concept. Just look at those startled eyebrows. This card came from GCRL.

As did this absolutely awesome card of Yogi. Bowman featured a lot of stadium backgrounds and a lot of the old school lights in this design. This card features everything you could ever want on a piece of vintage cardboard. Yogi is creased and trimmed and I couldn't love it more.

Topps had a good year in 1955. It's a favorite vintage set of mine, and would set up the design for 1956, which we all know is one of the best, if not the best, design of the '50s. Frank House shows us how Topps combined the old-school headshot with the posed action shot. The colors are bright, the team logos prominent. But can Topps beat the woodgrain?
Hell no! Bowman wins 1955, thus wins the vintage race.
At least with the Vealtones.
Thanks for the great trade, Mark and Jim. You guys rock. And thanks for reading, everyone, about the most important (OK not the most important) race going on today.


  1. Some beautiful vintage pieces there! Love the '55 Bowman Berra and Kaline.

  2. 1955 is my all time favorite card design, but prior to '55 Topps had the upper hand. Though the '51 was not really too much of a card, I think that is another one of my all time favorites. I would love to see a heritage of the 1951 Red and Blue backs! CLASSIC!

  3. Glad you like em. Yogi is so nice even i considered keeping him.