Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Baseball Card Evolution through the 1990s - Bowman

I started collecting cards in 1985. From that vantage point it seemed that baseball cards had been pretty static for years. Sure, Donruss and Fleer came on the scene in 1981, but by 1985, they were pretty set in their ways. By 1990, we had three more major card brands, Bowman, Score and Upper Deck. The stage was set for some changes. In this series I'm going to focus on the brands that were available in 1990: Bowman, Donruss, Fleer, Score, Topps and Upper Deck. Most of these brands lasted the whole decade. Lots of other brands came (and some went) but these other brands were a reaction to the increased competition that was driving innovative design changes so they don't add anything to the story I'm trying to tell.

I'm going to do these in alphabetical order, so Bowman is first.

1990 Bowman #486 Nolan Ryan
Topps resurrected the Bowman brand in 1989 and it almost died in the crib. The cards were taller than 'normal' cards and weren't liked. In 90, Topps shrunk them to normal size. The first three years didn't have much to differentiate them from each other or from regular Topps cards. They tried some innovative stats on the back but nobody liked that either although they did it for most of the decade. Most of the cards featured a static photo of the players.

1991 Bowman #569 Chipper Jones

Although Bowman had yet to establish itself as the "Home of the rookie card", they did include an early Chipper Jones card. But there's not much seriously different about this design compared to 1990. They even have the same stats on the back. They did, however, start to mix some action shots into the selection of photos.

1992 Bowman #127 Carlos Delgado
In 1992, Bowman really upped it's game. Gone was the gray non-glossy cardboard. They went with a nice white card stock and a medium glossy finish on the front, and a color photo on the back. Another innovation was in the use of foil, with some rookie cards having foil borders. Still the same goofy stats however. I remember being in a card store in 1992 looking for Bowman and not finding any. A couple of guys commented "Why would anyone be interested in Bowman"? This Delgado card I got for free in another shop when the owner gave me a free pack for being a good customer.

1993 Bowman #511 Derek Jeter
A nice clean card front and thinner borders make this a nice design. The back features a larger photo. In those days, Bowman didn't get released until about mid-August which gave them a chance to include any rookie players who made a splash earlier in the year. Of course Jeter won't make his debut until 1995 but by 1993 everyone knew who he was and he was featured in most sets that year. Most of the cards in this set feature on-field action shots and the foil-lined cards were again featured for some hot players.

1994 Bowman #75 Cal Ripken
 Two major design changes for Bowman in 1994. Full bleeding printing and gold foil are old school today but it was cutting edge in 1994.

1995 Bowman #293 Roger Clemens
Bowman pulled back from the full bleed edge in 1995 and never went back there. But there are a number of changes here. The use of red foil for the logo will be a feature for several years. Silver foil is used for the player name. To me, this card front is too complicated. The elongated photo along the left edge is similar to what Upper Deck did in 1994 (I didn't like that much either).  Another first for Bowman this year is the use of team logos in the front, which will be a feature right up to the present. Bowman will feature another innovation, holographic foil on some cards.

1995 Bowman #246 Aaron Boone
1996 Bowman #35 Mark Grace
The red foil logo and the silver foil player name are back but the card borders are nicer than 1995. I like the effect of the player extending into the border area. The card backs are brighter as well.  The big change this year is more in focus. By now, Bowman had established itself as the home of the rookie card and a large part of the set was devoted to rookies and prospects.

1996 Bowman #346 Matt Beech
It's also the first year they used the "1st Bowman Card" logo.

1997 Bowman #232 Curt Schilling
This is the first year that Bowman used the black and red motif for veteran players and black and blue for rookies and prospects. This will be the guiding design factor in Bowman cards for the next 14 years.

1997 Bowman #411 Miguel Tejada

1998 Bowman #1 Nomar Garciaparra
Bowman used gold foil on the card fronts this year. They will switch randomly among  gold, silver, and red right up to the present. The next step in Bowman evolution is the addition of a facsimile signature. This will be a Bowman feature until 2009.

1999 Bowman #262 Dante Bichette
This year Bowman added a semitransparent signature block on the card. Most sets will have this up to 2009, except it will be at the bottom of the card. Some years it will be very obtrusive. They also dropped the performance against teams stats and opted for just showing the player's previous year and career total stats.

That's it for 1990s Bowman. Quite a lot of changes throughout the 1990s but by the end of the decade, the Bowman design will be pretty much set, with the exception of green and black cards for prospects in a few years, through 2011.

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