The 1989 Bowman set is considered by collectors to be one of the most error-filled sets ever produced by Topps or any other major baseball card manufacturer. Not only did the set feature an unusually high number of production mistakes and anomalies, but some of the errors are among the most valuable and sought after cards in the entire hobby.

The massive scale of errors in the 1989 Bowman set can largely be attributed to new printing techniques Topps was experimenting with at the time. For the first time, Topps was using photo-lithography and spot color to print the front of the cards rather than the traditional method of using several lithographic film separations. While this new process allowed for sharper images and bolder colors, it also proved far less forgiving when mistakes occurred during production. Minor flaws or defects were often reproduced across entire sheets of cards rather than being limited to just a few examples.


One of the most famous errors is the Cecil Fielder card featuring a photo of Mickey Tettleton instead. Only a handful are known to exist in mint condition and they regularly sell for thousands of dollars. Another highly valuable error is the Nolan Ryan card with a photo of Charlie Leibrandt on the back. Dozens of different blank back variations have also been found across multiple players.

Blank backs aren’t the only oddities collectors have come across. Additional photo swap mistakes inserted Sandy Alomar Jr.’s image on the Greg Swindell card and showed Mickey Morandini where Jeff Reardon belonged. Positioning errors abound as well, such as the unusual off-center Dwight Smith card. The set also featured missing facial features, upside down photos, and tinted or colorized variations.


Stringing errors led to miscut cards showing portions of 2 or even 3 different players’ photos simultaneously. One of the most visually striking mistakes is the Bo Jackson “split” error that has half of his face on the front and back of the same card stock. Other notable multiple image anomalies include the “tri-fold” Andres Galarraga/Greg Olson/Jerome Walton error.

While production mistakes are common, it’s quite rare for an entire sheet of a single card variety to have an error. That’s exactly what happened with the 1989 Bowman Cal Ripken Jr. Rookie card. Dozens of examples exist where Ripken’s name is completely missing from the front of the card. Another entire sheet variation shows his name printed in the wrong color ink.

Magnified 100x under a microscope, experts can examine ultra fine details like roller marks, die cuts, and imprint patterns to verify error cards as unquestionably genuine. While you might assume advanced printing technology would diminish mistakes, flaws became more readily apparent and reproduced on a larger scale. As a result, the 1989 Bowman set stands out as a true anomaly—filled with an unprecedented volume and variety of valuable production errors prized by sharp-eyed collectors.


Grading and authentication services like PSA and BGS regularly certify new 1989 Bowman error findings decades later. As the set appreciates with time, rarer mistakes continue demanding top dollar at auction. The eclectic assortment reflects both the flaws and artistic intrigue inherent to the handcrafted nature of mass producing sports cards. For error aficionados, 1989 Bowman simply can’t be topped.

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