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Should the 1948 Bowman Baseball High Numbers be Considered Short Prints?

The 1948 Bowman baseball set is one of the first significant post-war card sets. It features 48 black-and-white cards with player photos on the front and some basic player information on the back, in black ink on a gray cardboard stock. The major cards include, Stan Musial, Warren Spahn, Yogi Berra, and Phil Rizzuto. Historically, major publications say there are 12 short prints in the first 36 cards and then 12 high numbers (cards 37-48), but some people have a thesis that the high numbers are just as rare as the short-prints. This article will first explain what a short-print is, then discuss the consensus opinion about the 1948 Bowman baseball set’s printing, and finally explore the card market with a bit of quantitative data to compare short-print and high-number availability.

A short-print is any card printed in lower quantity than the majority of the cards in the same set. With vintage cards from the 1950s through the 1970s, short-prints came from an uneven total number of cards that didn’t divide into the sheet size. Say a set of 55 cards and a print sheet of 132 cards. This could also lead to a double print situation where certain cards were printed in higher numbers as they filled out the sheet with that particular card.

Let’s use a very simple example. Let’s say an entire set only had eight cards. But the print “sheet” was a strip seven cards wide. And the company decided to print one strip as cards [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7], and the second strip as [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8]. In this case, assuming they printed the same number of each strip, there would be half as many of cards 7 or 8 compared to the first six, and cards 7 and 8 would be considered short-prints.

In another example, say an entire set only had eight cards, and the print sheet was a strip eight cards wide. But, the 8th card wasn’t approved for printing right away. So the company, to release the product on time, printed an early-season strip as cards [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 1]. Then a second strip, later in the year as [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8]. In this case, presuming an equal print run, card 8 is a short-print, and card 1 is a “double” print (theoretically triple) as for every 16 cards printed, there are three cards 1’s and only one card 8 compared to two cards of the other six numbers.

Often, by the time Topps released high-number series, they printed fewer total sheets than earlier series; that’s not what is meant by a short-print.

One of our best sources of information and conclusions regarding the 1948 Bowman Baseball is from Bill White, who wrote the following letter to Lew’s Corner in the September 1978 issue of Trader Speaks.

Bill White Letter on 1948 Bowman Baseball Uncut Sheets

The consensus is that:

  1. Bowman’s first print runs were only cards 1-36
  2. A sheet was 144 cards, made up of 4 sets of 36 (4*36=144)
  3. Later, cards 37-48 were printed.
  4. In that switch to a 48 card set from the original 36, they inserted those 12 high number cards into the 36 card format and dropped out 12 other numbers, which are now considered the short prints.

To specify, the 12 short prints in the 1948 Bowman set are card numbers: 7, 8, 13, 16, 20, 22, 24, 26, 28, 29, 30, 34. And in the following image of an uncut sheet with the high numbers on it, you can see that none of those short-prints are present. In my research, I haven’t been able to find an uncut sheet with short-prints on it. 

1948 Bowman Baseball Uncut Sheet

Commonly, you see 1948 Bowman sheets that are 36 cards in size on the market, but below, you can see another 36 card sheet in a different order top-to-bottom and likely cut from the 144-card full sheet differently. But each strip, the cards that go across, is the same.

1948 Bowman Baseball Uncut Sheet 2

We can then conclude that the 1948 Bowman set ended up with 24 cards printed and distributed from all sheets, 12 short-prints from the first part of the year, then replaced with the 12 high-numbers. Bill White wrote that the short-prints were harder to come, and he felt this way at the time for two possible reasons: they printed fewer early-season sheets, or there were so many later season sheets that were left uncut that it created scarcity even if Bowman printed the same of each sheet.

Later in the post-war era, high-number baseball series tended to be printed in lower quantities than low number series since they were released as the season went on, and collectors started focusing more on football cards or started losing interest in later series. But in this early era, as cards were becoming popular, we can’t conclude the same between the 1948 Bowman printings.

In opposition to Bill White’s opinions, both PSA and Dean’s Cards have articles suggesting that the short-prints aren’t any more scarce than the high-number cards. But both articles agree with the make-up of Bowman’s print sheets. PSA quoted a collector who said he was “really surprised that the entire high-number series isn’t listed as short prints.” since some of the high-number cards, to him, were tougher to track down than short prints. And Dean wrote that, in his inventory, there appeared to be an equal number of short-print and high-number cards. So he concludes that half the set had twice the number of cards printed as the other half of the set.

What can we learn about the set from today’s PSA population report? If we compare the short-prints to the high-numbers, maybe a pattern will emerge?

Short Print PlayerShort Print PSA Pop.High # PlayerHigh # PSA Pop.
Pete Reiser382Clint Hartung260
Phil Rizzuto882Red Schoendienst554
Willard Marshall321Augie Galan289
Jack Lohrke299Marty Marion340
Buddy Kerr292Rex Barney284
Bill Bevens315Ray Poat273
Dutch Leonard282Bruce Edwards258
Frank Shea306Johnny Wyrostek241
Emil Verban283Hank Sauer314
Joe Page351Herman Wehmeier267
Whitey Lockman332Bobby Thomson371
Sheldon Jones284Dave Koslo286

That’s 4329 graded short-prints and 3737 graded high-numbers. So there are more graded short-prints than high numbers, which seems odd. What if we try to normalize by popularity and remove the two most and two least graded cards from each set? There are then 2500 graded short prints and 2313 graded high numbers, still a lower number. So perhaps it’s true, the high numbers and short prints are BOTH short prints, and the different printings were made in approximately equal numbers. It doesn’t seem that people are THAT much more likely to send a short-print in for grading than a high number. There are significantly more graded cards in the population report of the 24 cards that were in both printings.

The reality is, no one knows the actual print numbers, and we have no idea how Bowman released the separate printings. But from this cursory analysis, it seems that the high-numbers and short-prints are available in similar quantities, meaning that perhaps the 1948 Bowman set has 24 double prints and 24 short prints. What do you think? Do the short-print and high-number designations for 1948 Bowman baseball cards, as depicted in most catalogs, stand? Let me know your thoughts in the comments or over on Twitter.

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