The taking of the Bowman set to the so-called superpremium level really began in 1994 with the birth of 1994 Bowman's Best. Half prospects/half veterans, $5.00 packs, and the first prospect refractors was a recipe that yearned for success, but only filled a small niche in that market.
The Bowman set collectors wanted an abundance of prospects to feed their once and future hype machine and the new superpremium collectors wanted refractors of stars like Finest gave them. It split the middle between the two, and people liked it...to an extent. I don't remember anyone clamoring for the next Bowman's Best release.
In 1995, the set followed the same pattern, but the greatly loved and invested in rookie class buoyed the set value to never before seen levels. Vladimir Guerrero, Andruw Jones, Scott Rolen, Richie Sexson, Bartolo Colon, Bobby Abreu..Any prospector worth his salt knew at least 3 of those names. I never saw a pack of this for less than $10.00. The relative scarcity compared to the previous year's set thanks to the baseball strike, the strong rookie class, and the continued love of refractors kept this product off the remaining hobby store shelves.
There was nothing special about the 1996 release on the surface. The rookie class was considered weak even at the time. Anyone remember the draft from 1995 off hand? The guaranteed value didn't extend to the Bowman's Best set. There was one aspect which has remained a staple of the hobby; multi-layered refractor parallels. These were the first of their kind, introducing the so-called atomic refractor. I have one from 1999; I want an original before the design was changed.
Another innocuous event was the introduction of Topps Chrome in 1996. I was a very traditional set-builder at the time. I thought that was a waste. More money for less cards per pack for the same cards you could get before except with a different finish. Why not just call it, "Topps printing presses are down, let's put some metal on the card."? It was a fad that became a revolution.
Bowman Chrome debuted in 1997. 4 card packs for $3.00. 4 cards! For a 300 card set! What's the point? The popularity expanded as well as the price. It helped that the 1997 rookie class had some strong characters in it (though not the same ones we'd think are strong today). There were refractors, there were refractors of parallels, there was chrome in its infantile glory. I succumbed to the hype; I bought a card of some one I ever heard of (Derrick Gibson) because it was a 1997 Bowman Chrome card, and it wasn't even a proper rookie.
Through the end of the '90s, the king of Chrome remained atop the heap of the Bowman offerings. This is when I left the collecting game for awhile. But Bowman and its offspring continued to evolve as the millennium turned.