I recently decided to collect the 1948 Bowman baseball set. It has a number of things going for it. With 48 cards in the set, it’s attainable. Of those 48 cards, 18.75% of them are Hall of Famers. It’s also one of the two first postwar major-issue sets.
A partial box of unopened 1948 packs surfaced recently in Tennessee, so that’s as good of an excuse to talk about the set as any. No one knew any unopened 1948 Bowman packs survived. It sold at auction for $521,180.
What’s not to like about 1948 Bowman baseball? The cards are smaller than prewar cards and considerably smaller than modern cards. There wasn’t much room for Bowman to show off its design skills. And the design is really simple. The front is just a small black and white photo. Many of the shots are amateurish. The back is a wall of text. The writing is fairly amateurish too.
What’s to like about it?
Nine of the 48 cards are Hall of Famers. There’s no Ted Williams or Joe DiMaggio, but that’s still a lot of Hall of Famers for such a small set. Six of those Hall of Fame cards qualify as rookie cards. Yogi Berra and Stan Musial are the keys, but Warren Spahn, Ralph Kiner, Phil Rizutto, and Red Schoendienst also debuted in this set.
Besides the Hall of Famers, there are several other notable star cards. Bobby Thomson’s rookie card is here. He hit the shot heard ’round the world in 1951. Johnny Sain’s rookie card is here. The Braves’ famous postseason rotation was Spahn, Sain, and two days of rain. Marty Marion and Hank Sauer are here too. Of the 48 players in the set, 37 of them were All Stars at some point.
Although there are 48 cards, it has some challenges. Bowman printed the set in sheets of 36 cards. Later in the year, Bowman deleted 12 cards to make room for card numbers 37-48. That means half the set is noticeably more common than the rest. It also means Rizutto and Schoendienst are more expensive than Ralph Kiner. Kiner is a higher-tier Hall of Famer, but his card isn’t as rare. Rizutto was one of the early cards Bowman deleted to make room for players like Schoendienst.
Collecting 1948 Bowman baseball
If you want to collect the 1948 Bowman baseball set yourself, I have some advice. First, pay special attention to the high-number and short-printed cards. Get as many of those as you can as early as you can. I let Augie Galan and Ray Poat slip away early and it took me months to find decent examples of those two cards without paying double.
The short-print cards are Pete Reiser (7), Phil Rizutto (8), Willard Marshall (13), Jack Lohrke (16), Buddy Kerr (20), Floyd Bevens (22), Dutch Leonard (24), Frank Shea (26), Emil Verban (28), Joe Page (29), Whitey Lockman (30), and Sheldon Jones (34).
The high-numbered cards are card numbers 37-48: Clint Hartung, Red Schoendienst, Augie Galan, Marty Marion, Rex Barney, Ray Poat, Bruce Edwards, Johnny Wyrostek, Hank Sauer, Herman Wehmeier, Bobby Thomson, and Dave Koslo.
The key cards are Yogi Berra, Stan Musial, Phil Rizutto and Red Schoendienst. The cards of Berra and Musial are very popular, while Rizutto and Schoendienst are both more scarce than the other Hall of Famers. If you see any of those four cards at a reasonable price early on in the condition you’re after, grab them.
I like to source cards locally when I can, but I ended up turning to Ebay for a good number of mine.
And maybe I’m strange, but I like the set’s simplicity. It really looks like a 1940s set. The landmark sets of the 1930s featured color drawings. There are notable exceptions, but most of the 1950s sets featured color photography. Most 1940s sets featured black and white photography.
In 1948, Leaf had the much larger, more ambitious, and better-looking set. It had 98 cards with color. What else? It had DiMaggio and Williams. Not enough for you? It also had the rookie cards of Jackie Robinson and Satchel Paige. Want some nostalgia? It commemorated Babe Ruth’s death by including his card. And then there’s Honus Wagner–yes, that Wagner–loading up a nice, big wad of chaw. Someone at Leaf had a sense of humor.
But that 1948 Leaf card of Paige is one of the most valuable cards in the hobby. Its presence makes the 1948 Leaf set expensive to collect. Maybe not as expensive as the 1951 Bowman and 1952 Topps sets that sported early Mantle and Mays cards, but close.
On the other hand, most collectors can find a way to afford the 1948 Bowman set. It’s possible to put together a low-grade set for a few hundred dollars. You can even step up to mid-grade on all but the most expensive cards and still stay below $1,000. Yet a collector of means will face enough challenges putting together a high-grade set to keep it interesting.
In 1948, Bowman had the second-best baseball card set of the year, but that’s not always so bad. Bowman went on and had a few better years before calling it quits in early 1956.