I was browsing through my Twitter feed the other day, and a fellow hobbyist shared a photo of a recent 1951 Bowman Warren Spahn baseball card they picked up for their collection. It reminded me of three things:
- Early Bowman baseball cards are incredible.
- The hobby underappreciates Warren Spahn (and pitchers in general).
- The image Bowman used to produce the 1951 Spahn card was used in multiple other years.
So I was encouraged to do a little research on Spahn’s career and his early cards.
Warren Spahn won 363 games in Major League Baseball, the most by a left-handed pitcher in the game’s history. He made 16 All-Star Games for the Boston/Milwaukee Braves, leading the team to three pennants and one World Series Championship in 1957, the year he won the Cy Young award. He had remarkable longevity, proven in 1963 when he threw against Juan Marichal in the greatest game ever pitched. He retired in 1965 with those 363 wins, 2583 strikeouts, and a 3.08 ERA. Spahn was a first-ballot hall of fame inductee in 1973 and, to me, is one of the game’s most underappreciated players.
In researching Spahn’s early cards, I ran across an original news photo (7 x 9 inches) sold in the summer of 2019 ($960) at Robert Edward Auctions.
It probably stood out because I’ve been talking about the photos used in the production of sports cards a lot lately. Anyway, the photo’s letter of authenticity from PSA describes the photo as being from the 1940s and the one used in the production of Spahn’s 1950 Bowman baseball card.
But, that famous pose, featuring Spahn as a member of the Boston Braves (hence it has to be pre-1953), was also used for the 1949 and 1951 Bowman baseball cards.
In terms of early Bowman baseball cards, I’ve written about how I think their 1950-52 run was the hobbies best. I didn’t include the 1949 Bowman set, but many people like it. And the 1949 Bowman Warren Spahn’s bold red background pops and gives the card a great look. This PSA 9, which uses the same image as the Type 1 photo described above, sold for $9k in the Fall of 2021 by Robert Edward Auctions.
Spahn’s next card in this identical photo run is his 1950 example, card #19, which is a more complete replica than the 1949 example. There aren’t a lot of high-end copies of early post-war cards, and this 1950 Bowman Spahn example is the only Gem Mint 10 around. Memory Lane Inc sold it for $28k in their Spring 2021 Rarities Auction.
Finally, let’s chat about the 1951 Bowman #134 Warren Spahn card, an extended version of the 1950 example. Collectors generally prefer the larger-sized 1951 Bowman design to the 1950 design. Memory Lane Inc sold the pictured PSA 9 in their Winter Classic 2019 auction for $3888. The same card, cert 02107600, was resold on eBay for $5500 in February 2021. One PSA 10 does exist and appears in Donald E. Spence’s collection on the PSA Set Registry; I’ve never seen a picture of it. By the way, I mentioned the 1951 Bowman Spahn in my article about 10 Cards of the Greatest Post-War Pitchers in MLB History.
It certainly would have been nice if Bowman had found a few different photos of Spahn to produce baseball cards, particularly between the incredibly artistic 1950 and 1951 sets. And despite Spahn’s popularity being limited by not being an everyday position player on a small market team, his incredible accomplishments warrant any of these cards additions to a post-war baseball card collection, happy collecting!
Great article! Warren Spahn was a humble war hero who happened to also be one of the greatest pitchers in the history of the game. His ’51 Bowman is one of my cards (along with his ’53 Bowman color). Love to see the original picture used by Bowman!
Here is a link to him talking about his service in WWII: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3pVuXHiaD8
Very interesting. Thanks for sharing that video