Thursday, February 7, 2013

New custom: 1954 Bowman style Aaron "rookie"

Sometimes a photo that I find on the internet so strongly suggests a custom card that I put all of my current projects on the back burner and act on that impulse.

Such was the case with a posed batting photo of a young Hank Aaron. When I saw it I envisioned how it would look as the basis for a 1954 Bowman-style Aaron "rookie card." Aaron, of course, only appeared with Bowman in 1955, a year after his Topps' debut.

I had to do more than the usual tinkering with the black-and-white photo to get the look I wanted. For those of us who grew up with '54 Bowmans in our childhood collections, or who came to appreciate the set in more recent times, the issue has a very distinct look. 

Primarily, the pictures are not photographs, but rather paintings done by commercial artists hired by Bowman to convert black-and-white photos into color artwork. Such a talent is way beyond me, but fortunately, I can  usually colorize black-and-white photos with the help of Photoshop Elements.

To more closely replicate the look of a painting, I moderately posterize the newly colored image, and sometimes add a bit of what the graphics program calls "noise" to the picture. 

Those familiar with original 1954 Bowmans, recognize that the nearly 60-year-old cards often acquire a patina that adds an ivory cast to the photo, warming slightly any coolness of color tones that may have been present at original printing.

A closer inspection of "real" '54 Bowmans shows that the card artists often muted the background to make the player image stand out more prominently. I tried to incorporate that technique with my Aaron card.

Spic and Span
Getting the "right" facsimile autograph on my card proved somewhat of a challenge. The somewhat narrow box that Bowman used to showcase the players' signatures can be confining for those autographs that have prominent ascenders or descenders. Aaron's early autographs often presented one or both of those features. Such characteristics can result in a reproduced signature that is either quite small, or on which the tails of one or more letters are cut off.

Additionally, Henry signed with a bold hand, a look that was not the norm on '54 Bowman cards. Initially I tried the signature from Aaron's 1954-56 Spic and Span postcard issue, which featured the most unanimity in letter height. That sig, however, was too "thick" and wasn't consistent with most of the original Bowmans.

I then worked up a design that utilized the signature from Aaron's early Topps cards. It, too, was somewhat bolder than I wanted, and additionally required the tail of the "y" to disappear into the bottom border.

Finally, I settled on the facsimile signature that was used on Aaron's cards in the 1954-55 Johnson Cookies regional sets. Besides being of a suitable thickness and height, that autograph includes his middle initial (L., for Louis) and thus gives my card a look distinctive than that with which most collectors are familiar.

Johnston Cookies
I should note, that many of the machinations that I went through while finalizing the front of my custom card were based on suggestions from collectors who frequent a baseball card forum where I posted the beta versions of my card.

The back of my card was comparatively easy. Most of the stats were available on That site, however, often does not offer minor league figures for runs scored, RBIs or total bases. Fortunately, Topps did that legwork for players in its 1957 set, which saved me a lot of digging on the internet.

Did you know, by the way, that for the first two Topps cards of Aaron had his birthdate wrong? They gave it as Feb. 10, rather than correct Feb. 5. 

Hank Aaron just celebrated his 79th birthday, and while the completion of my card was a few days late, I think it is a fitting tribute to the greatest player ever to wear the Milwaukee Braves uniform.

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