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Bowman: The Bowman Gum Company produced the first true post-war baseball cards set in 1948. And would produce cards until they were bought out by Topps in 1956.
In 1989 Topps revived the dormant Bowman name with a 484-card set. Billed as the "Comeback Edition," the cards were slighty over-sized (measuring 2 ½" X 3 ¾"). Despite having over 40 rookie cards, including Ken Griffey, Jr, the '89 Bowman set was not all that well received.
In 1990 Topps repositioned Bowman as the "Home of the Rookie Card." By exploiting a loophole in the Major League Baseball Player's Association licensing agreement, Topps was allowed to include rookie cards of 120 different players in the 1990 Bowman set. For the 1992 Bowman set, Topps upgraded the quality of the set to a Stadium Club-esque "premium" level, and printed the set to order resulting in a drastic cut in production. The set has 183 different rookie cards including Manny Ramirez, Mike Piazza, Carlos Delgado and second-year cards of Chipper Jones and Pedro Martinez.
In 1994 Topps introduced Bowman's Best, a hybrid of Bowman and Topps Finest. The 1995 Bowman's Best set may go down as one of the greatest products for rookie cards ever. '95 Bowman's Best was loaded with key rookie cards of Andruw Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Scott Rolen and Bobby Abreu.
In 1996 Topps added a new gimmick to Bowman, a money back guarantee. Collectors could send away for a certificate that would give them the option to sell back a complete set of 1996 Bowman baseball for $100. The buy back program would only be valid during a four-month window in 1999. The "Bowman Guarantee Value Program" has been a part of every Bowman release since, although it should be noted that very few collectors have actually taken Topps up on its offer.
1997 brought us Bowman Chrome, a parallel brand of Bowman. A decent (but in retrospect, not all that great) selection of rookies, combined with very a low production run, led to Bowman Chrome being one of the hottest products of '97.
Since then, both Bowman and Bowman's Best have both taken a back seat to Bowman Chrome. With the recent trend towards short-printed and serial-numbered rookie cards, Topps has managed (wisely) to keep these "gimmicked rookies" out of Bowman Chrome. In fact, despite the lack of serial-numbering, Bowman Chrome rookies are in just as much demand, even more in demand, than numbered ones.
Unfortunately with the dominance of Bowman Chrome, The Hobby's focus shifted away from Bowman and Bowman's Best (especially Bowman). To compensate, in 1999 Bowman's Best included 50 short-printed rookies, inserted at the rate of one-per-pack. When that didn't work, Topps went the extra step and serial-numbered all 50 "rookies" in the 2000 set to 2999 copies. Although the serial-numbering did help to "pop a big number" in the price guides, many collectors weren't all that pleased with Topps' decision. Beginning in 2000, in an effort to help prop up the struggling Bowman brand, Topps made certain player's rookies exclusive to the Bowman brand. Topps designated five player's whose rookies would be available in Bowman, and Bowman only, and whose cards would be replaced by five other players in Bowman Chrome. Also in 2000, Topps issued Bowman's first "traded" style boxed set. The 2000 Bowman Draft Picks and Prospects set featured the first cards of the 2000 class of draftees, and had an autographed card packed away in every set.
But regardless of whether it is the regular brand, Best or Chrome, the Bowman name means one thing: rookie cards. Between 1998 and 2000, 818 different players had their rookie card issued by one of the major manufacturers. Of those 818, Topps had the exclusive rights to 400 of those players, the vast majority of whom were in a Bowman set. Of the 363 different players who had rookie cards issued in the year 2000, 259 were in Topps products, 107 were in Pacific, 104 in Fleer and only 69 in Upper Deck. The 115 true rookie cards in 2000 Bowman alone, were more rookie players than Fleer, Pacific and Upper Deck featured in all of their products that entire year! And that doesn't even include the 90 additional rookies in the post-season Bowman Draft Picks and Prospects set.
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