Sunday, June 16, 2019

Modern for Vintage

A few months ago I saw a local craigslist offer for two shoeboxes filled with Bowman baseball cards, the years of which ranged from 1997 to 2015. There were about 1,200 cards in all. Stacks of Regular Bowman, Bowman Chrome, Bowman Gold, Bowman Hometown, Bowman Top Prospects, Bowman Chrome Prospects, Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects, Bowman Top 100 Prospects . . .


I haven't collected Bowman cards since I was a middle-schooler (circa 1991), and clearly times have changed. But the seller's location was easy to get to and his asking price was difficult to pass up, so I decided to venture into unknown card-collecting territory. I figured if nothing else, maybe I'd be able to trade the cards for something that's more in my wheelhouse, such as vintage cards or set-collecting needs.

So, I contacted the seller and we arranged a time to meet. The transaction was easy, and soon I was back home, flipping through the cards. 

The first big stack I picked up consisted of the same card over and overa pitcher who, after I looked him up, had spent the past four years bouncing around in the minors, with a few MLB innings pitched here and there. 

Swing and a miss.

Next, I opened a separate 100-count plastic case. It was filled with dozens of copies of another card featuring another player who hadn't made much waves over the past few years, and who didn't exactly appear to be zooming up the minor-league ladder. 

Two swings, two misses, and I began to wonder what I'd gotten myself into.

But the images in the original listing featured some good rookies and household names, and thankfully, as I kept flipping through the loose cards, I saw that there was quite a bit of star power and variety among the collection. There were even some refractors and other fancy inserts. Best of all, most of the cards had already been sorted by year and by number. (Yeesh, the numbering/lettering system of Bowman cards...)

Still, I didn't know much about the brand's popularity or staying power from season to season. Unsure if I'd be stuck with the cards for a week or a year (or more), the first thing I did was to enter each one into the Trading Card Database and post a "for sale/trade" thread on a couple of trading card sites. To my delight, within 24 hours the offers began coming in, and soon I was setting up a handful of trades.

Now from what I've read on other trading card blogs, there seems to be a prevailing thought when it comes to the way today's collectors go about collecting. They're team collectors and individual player collectors more than they are complete set collectors. That's because it can be near-impossible to complete an entire set of modern cards if you include the hundreds of short prints, super-short prints, parallels, variations, deliberate error cards, serial-numbered cards, and other inserts that are issued these days. 

Conversely, if you're a player collector there's a tremendous amount of variation for each player, and you can choose only the cards you want for your personal collection. Similarly, if you're a team collector, completing your team set—even with some short prints, parallels, and inserts—is much more feasible than completing the overall set, which will include dozens and dozens (if not hundreds) more of them.

Well, if my first few Bowman trades are any indication, the prevailing thought holds water. Five of the first seven trades involved collectors who were interested in cards from one specific team. The other two collectors asked for prospects and stars from various teams and years.

As a whole, I think all seven trades have worked out well. I've sent more than 200 Bowmans out the door, and in return I've picked up some great vintage cards and set needs. Here's a brief summary of each trade, saving the best for last.

Note that none of these traders are fellow bloggers, so I'm going to keep their names private and just refer to them by trade number.

Trade #1: For about 20 Bowmans (mostly mid-career cards of stars like Griffey, Chipper, Yelich, Goldschmidt, Kershaw) I received a small stack of 1970s commons and semi-stars, plus these:

Two needs for my 1978 Topps set build (which is now complete)

Same two players from the 1977 set

1962 Dick Donovan and 1957 Willie Jones

Trade #2: For about 25 Bowmans (all Blue Jays stars and prospects like Carlos Delgado, Marcus Stroman, R.A. Dickey, Edwin Encarnacion) I received:

1973-74 O-Pee-Chee Goal Leaders (Phil Esposito / Rick MacLeish)

  Two Mike Bossy League Leader cards from the 1981-82 O-Pee-Chee set

The Trottier second-year card is the highlight among these three.

Trade #3: For 4 Bowman Gold cards (all Royals—Moustakas, Hosmer, Butler, Perez) I received:

1972 Topps Harmon Killebrew and a card for my 1980 Topps set build

Trade #4: For about 40 Bowmans (mostly cards of Astros like Altuve, Verlander, Beltran, Berkman, Pettitte), I received:

A near-complete set of 1987 Topps Kay-Bee Superstars of Baseball (25 of 33)

1985 Topps Traded Vince Coleman and 1983 Topps Traded Keith Hernandez

1976 Crane Potato Chips Greg Luzinski (had to show the back, too)

 1974 Topps Greg Luzinski

 Rough condition, but it's still a 1963 Topps Rocky Colavito

Trade #5: For about 50 Bowmans (all Yankees stars and prospects like Robinson Cano, Masahiro Tanaka, Tyler Austin, Dante Bichette Jr.) I received:

Almost 50 cards from the 1988 Topps Mini UK set, which I'm getting much
closer to completing thanks to this trade. (Here's just a sampling.)

Trade #6: For about 25 Bowmans (all Braves prospects and stars like Martin Prado, Julio Teheran, Andrelton Simmons, B.J. Upton) I received:

$8.00 payment, which covers more than half of what I paid for the Bowmans.

Trade #7: For about 50 Bowmans (various stars, prospects, and top-100s like Dylan Bundy, Joc Pederson, Xander Bogaerts, Miguel Sano) I received:

1989 Donruss Ken Griffey Jr. RC

 1987 Jiffy Pop Series Fernando Valenzuela and Jack Morris

1985 Fleer Ryne Sandberg, 1984 Topps Andre Dawson (All-Star), and 1984 Topps Cal Ripken

And this:

1965 Topps Billy Williams

And this! 

1962 Topps Ernie Banks

As someone who's not into modern cards, I almost feel like I've gotten away with something here. But different types of card collectors like different types of cards, of course, and that's what's so great about trading. The cards you send out might not have much meaning or significance to you, but for the person on the receiving end, those same cards might be huge acquisitions.

Speaking of which, there's an update: An eighth trade happened while this post was sitting behind a couple of other posts in my blogger queue. A collector looked through my Bowman list and asked me if I'd consider sending him all the remaining cards (about 1,000 total). He mentioned he'd be willing to (1) make a trade or (2) work on a sale price that we both felt would be fair. 

After looking through the cards he had available, I decided on a trade. So I packed the remaining Bowmans (prospects, stars, no-names, busts, and all) into a medium flat-rate box, sent them out, and a week or so later I received these cards in return:

1989 Bowman Ken Griffey Jr. and 1970 Topps RBI Leaders McCovey/Santo/Perez

1961 Topps Willie McCovey

 1959 Topps Milwaukee Braves Team Card

1959 Topps Ernie Banks NL MVP

And so, a big box of unwanted Bowman cards is no longer taking up space in my house, and eight collectors (nine including me) are pretty happy.

Was it worth it, though? 

Difficult question to answer.

Sure, I landed some great vintage cards, including the first graded cards I've ever owned. But it also took quite a bit of time to enter 1,200 Bowman cards into a database, arrange the trades, pull the specific cards for each one, and mail them out. 

I guess the question is, does the excitement of the treasure hunt outweigh that effort?

What do you think? Have you done these sorts of things before? Was it worth the effort? 

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section. And thanks for reading! 


  1. You have definitely gotten away with something. I wish I could find people to take my surplus Bowman nobodies.

    1. Yeah, I think it really was a matter of catching the right person's attention at the right time.

  2. I picked up a collection (around 20 binders filled with baseball, football, basketball, and hockey) on Craigslist about five or six years ago and pulled out the stuff I wanted. I ended up trading them for some 1994 World Cup pin sets and $20 to a buddy. Then I turned around and sold the pins for $140 on eBay. Although I walked away with more money in my hand and a bunch of free cards... it did suck having to store those binders in my garage for a long time.

    1. There's definitely a trade-off involved, isn't there?

  3. I haven't ever done anything like this, so I can't really add to that part of the conversation, but I do think that you did really (really) well with your trades. Getting vintage cards of Banks, Colavito, and Williams for a bunch of modern Bowman is just bonkers!

    1. Agreed! Hopefully the guys I traded with feel an equal but opposite way about the Bowman cards I sent them in return.

  4. That sounds like hard work that really paid off. I'd love to know exactly which cards you traded, but even with the general description I think these were great deals - the last two in particular.

    I did something similar via eBay - had a few sets of 2013-15 Bowman prospects taking up space and sold them all in one lot..then I used the money to buy a 1956 Topps Ernie Banks. It sounds like you spent a lot less and got a lot more. Well done!

    1. Thank you Chris! You know, I hadn't thought about scanning the specific Bowman cards I sent out until afterward. But I'm sure there was some value there. Nice job turning the Bowman prospects into a '56 Banks, too!

  5. I can say with certainty that the cards you got beat the tar out of anything Bowman related.

    1. Thanks Nick! It was quite the experiment and took some doing for sure, but I'm very happy with the end result.

  6. Wow - those are some great deals you have gotten. I have thousands of Bowman's I'd love to get rid of, I should probably start becoming active on TCDB but it's so time consuming when you have a lot of cards. I'd love to make a trade with #7 and even #4 or #1 - feel free to steer them my way if you think it's appropriate.

    1. Time consuming for sure, especially if you have thousands of cards. But so far I've found TCDB worth the effort. As for trades, I'm definitely keeping the Williams and Banks cards (those are my spoils of victory, after all!). Maybe I'd let some of the other stuff go, however.

  7. New Bowman doesn't begin to compare to the vintage trades. What a gorgeous lot of old cardboard!