Card of the Day: 1997 Bowman Chrome Promo Sheet

OK, so technically this is a promo sheet and not a card. Sue me. Mario over at Wax Heaven got me thinking the other day about the popularity of Bowman Chrome — a topic that I’m sure has been covered ad nauseum throughout the blogosphere — but I figured this would give me an opportunity to drag out the original promo sheet for the inaugural product and add my two cents.

Anyone who collects baseball cards these days is aware of Bowman Chrome (and it’s Draft/Prospects edition), and recognizes it as the product to bust when you’re in search of rookie cards, signed or not in some cases. And a large majority of the people who used to frequent the old Beckett Message Boards basically lived by the adage that “Chrome is King.” But what’s interesting to note is what made Chrome king as opposed to high-end sister products like Bowman’s Best.

In Mario’s piece he basically discusses the 1996 Bowman and Bowman’s Best products, and in a nut shell questions what prompted Topps to create the Bowman Chrome product the next year, which of course went on to outsell the “Best” line despite its name.

If you ask me, the creation had everything to do with greed — or smart business — from Topps. But the popularity the line of cards gained upon its birth had even more to do with the fact that Bowman Chrome is a marriage between what modern collectors want in a baseball card — high quality, good design — and what some of our fathers used to collect.

Since the late 1940s, Bowman has been synonymous with the term “rookie card.” And when Bowman returned the card market in 1989 after a 34-year hiatus, it was chalk full of rookies. Ken Griffey Jr. Andy Benes. Ty Griffin. Robin Ventura. The list goes on. And the list went on in 1990 and 1991. Especially 1991, a heavily produced product that features rookies of dozens of career Major League hall of famers, stars and semi-stars.

By the time the 1995 product came out, as collectors were still trying to figure out which new “common” from the rare super premium 1992 Bowman release would become the next $10 card, Topps began branding Bowman as “Home of the Rookie Card.” And truthfully, they picked a hell of a year to start that slogan as the product introduced to the market rookie cards of Vladimir Guerrero, Andruw Jones, Scott Rolen, Hideo Nomo, Bobby Abreu and many more. Even Chris Weinke. Yes, that Chris Weinke.

But while the love for Bowman was in full swing, another product with even newer technology was gaining momentum.

In 1993 Topps introduced it’s first chrome card to the hobby in the form of Topps Finest. The cards were beautiful, shiny and thicker than everything else on the market. Topps then used the chrome technology to create Bowman’s Best in 1994, and then Topps Chrome in 1996. And it was at this point, I believe, that chrome fever really began to catch on. Why? Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant.

Initially Topps produced 1996-1997 Topps Chrome basketball as a retail-only product, and as fate would have it, the set featured perhaps the most important basketball rookie card since the 1986 Fleer Michael Jordan. Because of its perceived scarcity and Kobe’s incredible talent, Bryant’s chrome rookie was a hit, and if my memory serves me correctly, was the first card since the Jordan rookie to top the $1,000 mark.

So when Topps later that year produced Bowman Chrome baseball (Note: 1996 Topps Chrome baseball was a dud due in part to the lack of rookies — I think Matt Morris was the only one.) collectors found themselves with the perfect marriage: Bowman (aka Home of the Rookie Card) and Chrome (aka home of the potential $1,000 card.)

At the time 1997 Bowman Chrome baseball was released it was a high-end product that fetched a few dollars more per pack eventhough you received less cards. Travis Lee and Jose Cruz Jr were the Bowman poster boys, and both still could be had for relatively cheap prices, albeit two or three times more than the base Bowman card. But it was not until May 6, 1998, that the product really took off.

With his 20 strikeout performance, Kerry Wood’s Bowman Chrome rookie went from a $3 card sold in dollar bins to the first $50 baseball rookie produced in years. And the chase for the Cubs phenom’s best card, the Bowman Chrome, drove prices through the roof. With packs at a high price point, collectors then started paying more for rookies of Eric Chavez, Vernon Wells, Miguel Tejada and so on. The trend was born, and Bowman Chrome was solidified as the card to own.

So what about Bowman’s Best?

Once Bowman Chrome hit the market and collectors had a choice between two ultra-premium Bowman brands, I think collectors sided with the one that looked more like the base Bowman product — the Home of the Rookie Card. Why? Simplicity. The brand was what collectors had for years recognized as the one to turn to when looking for a player’s first MLB-issued card.

Since 1997, there have been many other factors that have fed into the brands’ popularity, particularly because of the pack-inserted autographed rookie cards and Albert Pujols.

In closing, I want to turn the focus back to this 1997 promo sheet. The sheet itself is about 8.5 by 11 inches and in many ways looks and feels like a giant-sized chrome card. My favorite part of the sheet used to be the Travis Lee image, but now its the slogan: “An American Institution Is Born.”

2 Responses to “Card of the Day: 1997 Bowman Chrome Promo Sheet”

  1. That is an awesome promo sheet and even better article!

  2. […] Mario found my blog that interesting. I think it may have had to do with a post I wrote about this 1997 Bowman Chrome promotional piece; Mario seems to have an affinity to all cards created that […]

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