Hall of Fame Boston Red Sox outfielder Ted Williams’ career lasted 19 seasons from 1939 to 1960. He didn’t play in 1943, 44 and 45 because of the war. He didn’t have a Topps baseball card until 1954. Prior to that the man known as “Teddy Ballgame” was under an exclusive agreement with the Bowman card company through 1953.
The Pioneers of Baseball Trading Cards
The Bowman Company, like Topps and Fleer, began its life as a bubblegum maker going by the name Gum, Inc. They produced the Play Ball sets from 1939 to 1941. These were sets filled with various rookies, stars, and Hall of
Famers. They stopped production due to the war, and resumed in 1948 under the Bowman name. Bowman printed cards from 1951 to 1955. Probably the single greatest early Bowman Card is the 1951 Mickey Mantle rookie card, though it is not as widely regarded as the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card. In 2001 a Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) Near Mint-Mint 8 1952 Topps Mantle broke new ground with a final bid of $57,560 making it the highest price every paid for a 1952 Topps Mantle in NM-MT condition at that time. A 1952 Topps #311 Mickey Mantle PSA 8 NM-MT sold for a staggering $72,056! in 2006.
The 1954 Bowman Set
During the first half of the 1950’s competition between Bowman and Topps was intense that Bowman in its haste to get the 1954 set printed made several statistical errors on some cards. Variations exist in this set because the statistical errors that were eventually corrected.
In addition, they started printing a Ted Williams card (#66) before they realized that Williams had signed a contract with Topps. As a result, Bowman had to pull the card early in the print run. Bowman had been the leading producer of baseball cards until Topps entered the market in 1951. For several years, the two competitors fought hard against one another by signing players to exclusive contracts.
The 1954 Bowman Baseball card set consisted of 224 cards that measure 2 ½” by 3 ¾”. The front is a color photo of the player with a colored box containing an autograph. Backs are numbered and have the player’s bio and stats. When Bowman pulled the #66 Ted Williams card it was replaced with a Jim Piersall card, making the Ted Williams #66 card extremely rare and valuable.
Bowman eventually ceased operation in 1955 and was bought by Topps in 1956. Topps re-introduced the Bowman brand in 1989 with the idea that the set would be the ‘Home of the Rookie Card.’
Ted Williams Was Now With Topps
With Williams under contract in 1954, Topps decided to have Williams be on the
first (#1) and last card (#250) in the set. This is the only time a player has ever had this honor. Williams would end up being on Topps cards from 1954 through 1958.