Was the 1957 Topps Design a Response to the 1953 Bowman Color Set?

I was reading hobby Twitter the other day, and someone commented that they thought 1957 Topps was a response to the 1953 Bowman Color set. The thing is, Topps already owned the Bowman brand since early 1956, so they didn’t need to “respond” to anything. However, I think the classic Bowman set likely influenced Topps’ designers.

1953 Bowman Color #32 Stan Musial
1957 Topps #2 Yogi Berra

Let’s start with some background info about the sets.

The 1953 Bowman Color set has 160 2-1/2″ by 3-3/4″ cards; the Pee Wee Reese is one of my favorites. Today’s collectors consider it one of the most gorgeous post-war sets because of the photographic images Bowman’s designers chose to use. Also, be sure to check out my articles about the set’s One Hit Wonders.

1953 Bowman Color #97 Eddie Mathews

Hobby historians consider the 407-card Topps 1957 set revolutionary since it was the first year cards were made in the now standard 2-1/2″ by 3-1/2″ size. Topps also chose to use full-color portrait/action poses instead of hand-painted photos on the front.

1957 Topps #25 Whitey Ford

Obviously, the two sets share a similar design aesthetic with full-color action poses on the front, so it’s possible Topps’ designers took a look at the Bowman cards and said “good idea!”

However, one difference is that Topps chose a two-line text design for the player’s name and team on the front, while Bowman went with a “pure format” of just the photograph within the white border. Bowman also had a second, black inner frame around the player picture.

1953 Bowman Color #117 – Duke Snider
1957 Topps #18 Don Drysdale

Some say the backs are also similar, but most designs at the time had basic player vitals, followed by a short biography and then statistics. Maybe it’s the pair of red background cells? I think Topps’ inclusion of a small cartoon and some baseball trivia along with the statistics being broken down by year, differentiate the backs pretty substantially.

1953 Bowman Color #59 Mickey Mantle – Reverse
1957 Topps #95 Mickey Mantle – Reverse

Of note, one interesting similarity is that both sets feature a card with Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra; the Bowman Color example also includes Hank Bauer.

1953 Bowman #44 Berra/Bauer/Mantle
1957 Topps #407 Mantle/Berra Yankees’ Power Hitters

The fact that Topps owned Bowman at the time of the 1957 sets printing makes it hard to say the design was a response to Bowman’s refined 1953 design, especially with it coming out four years later. Plus, printing presses were more limited technologically, so there weren’t as many innovations that could lead to striking design changes. However, I think it’s fair to believe that Bowman influenced Topps to use photographic images for the fronts of cards.

Whatever the truth may be, we as collectors win by having two incredible sets to admire and study; happy collecting!

If you want to see a copy of the 1953 Bowman color set, check out my write-up on the 1979 TCMA Baseball History Series – The Fifties.

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