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A bobblehead doll, also known as a bobbing head doll, nodder, or wobbler, is a type of collectible toy. Its head is often oversized compared to its body. Instead of a solid connection, its head is connected to the body by a spring or hook in such a way that a light tap will cause the head to bobble, hence the name.
Although bobblehead dolls have been made with a wide variety of figures such as breakfast cereal mascot Count Chocula, beat generation author Jack Kerouac, and Nobel Prize–winning geneticist James D. Watson, the figure is most associated with athletes, especially baseball players. Bobblehead dolls are sometimes given out to ticket buyers at sporting events as a promotion. Corporations including Taco Bell (the 'Yo Quiero Taco Bell' Chihuahua), McDonald's (Ronald McDonald), and Empire Today (The Empire Man) have also produced popular bobbleheads of the characters used in their advertisements.
The earliest known reference to a bobblehead is thought to be in Nikolai Gogol's 1842 short story "The Overcoat", in which the main character's neck was described as "like the necks of plaster cats which wag their heads". The modern bobblehead first appeared in the 1950s. By 1960, Major League Baseball had gotten in on the action and produced a series of papier-mache bobblehead dolls, one for each team, all with the same cherubic face. The World Series held that year brought the first player-specific baseball bobbleheads, for Roberto Clemente, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, and Willie Mays, still all with the same face. Over the next decade, after a switch in materials from papier-mache to ceramic, bobbleheads would be produced for other sports, as well as cartoon characters. One of the most famous bobbleheads of all time also hails from this era: The Beatles bobblehead set, which is a valuable collectible today. By the mid-1970s, though, the bobblehead craze was in the process of winding down.
It would take nearly two decades before bobbleheads returned to prominence. Although older bobbleheads like the baseball teams and The Beatles were sought after by collectors during this period, new bobblehead dolls were few and far between. What finally prompted their resurgence was cheaper manufacturing processes, and the main bobblehead material switched once again, this time from ceramic to plastic. It was now possible to make bobbleheads in the very limited numbers necessary for them to be viable collectibles. Possibly the first major league baseball team to offer a bobblehead giveaway was the San Francisco Giants, which distributed 35,000 Willie Mays head nodders at their May 9, 1999 game. On Aug. 2, 1997, the Birmingham Barons gave away Barons Bobblehead Doll bobbleheads at a game.
The variety of bobbleheads on the market rose exponentially to include even relatively obscure popular culture figures and notable people. The new millennium would bring a new type of bobblehead toy, the mini-bobblehead, standing just two or three inches tall and used for cereal prizes and such.
Thanjavur Dolls of India
Thanjavur Dolls of India bobblehead dolls are of a class known as "Thanjavur Thalayatti Bommai" in the Tamil language, meaning "Tanjore Head-Shaking Doll". They are a native art form in the Thanjavur region of Tamil Nadu state in South India. These dolls are usually 6" to 12" tall (15 to 30 cm). They are made of clay or wood and painted over in bright colors, and are often dressed up in fancy clothes. They form a part of an elaborate display of dolls known as "Golu (kolu)", exhibited in Indian houses during the "Dasara (Navaratri)" festival in Sep-Oct. Another type of Thanjavur Doll is the Tanjore Roundpot Rocking Doll (in Tamil, "Thanjavur Gundusatti Bommai").
Bobblehead dolls in pop culture
- Sports teams sometimes give away bobblehead dolls at their games, for example the Los Angeles Kings gave away some honoring Luc Robitaille on his induction to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
- The insurance company Churchill uses a bobblehead of a bulldog as its mascot.
- In the 1993 Wee Sing video: "The Wee Sing Train", a Sheriff Knickerbocker bobblehead is seen.
- In 2001, Audi broadcast commercials in Europe featuring an Elvis impersonator and a prototypical Wackel-Elvis ("Wobble Elvis" or "Wobbly Elvis") dashboard figure with a wobbling left arm and hip. Due to subsequent demand 165,000 Wackel-Elvis dashboard figures were produced. The figure depicts Elvis wearing the jumpsuit he wore in the 1973 Aloha from Hawaii TV broadcast.
- In 2003, TNA Wrestling released a bobblehead of D'Lo Brown. A signature mannerism of the professional wrestler was to quickly shake his head side to side like a bobblehead.
- The video game Fallout 3 used bobblehead dolls of the recurring mascot character "Vault Boy" as part of a scavenger hunt element (and as a real-life souvenir), while the game Borderlands uses them as a form of currency. Similarly, the video game RAGE featured a Vault Boy bobblehead in an obvious tribute to Fallout 3, as well as a bobblehead of the player character of id Software's previous game DOOM.
- In an episode of Scrubs, Turk bribes Dr. Kelso with a bobblehead version of himself to which Dr. Kelso replies "Ah bobbleheads, you always think you're gonna get bored with them, but you never do" before playing with it.
- The Futurama episode "The Farnsworth Parabox" depicted an alternate universe in which everyone appears as giant rude bobbleheaded versions of themselves.
- In the popular NBC television show The Office, the character Dwight K. Schrute has several frequently mentioned bobblehead dolls of himself on his desk. On the NBC The Office website, customers can purchase bobblehead doll versions of all of the main and supporting characters.
- A number of bobbleheads of popular political figures were added to the set of NBC's Meet the Press when its set was redesigned in early 2010. Bobblehead figures of Bill Clinton, Tim Russert and John F. Kennedy can be seen on the set.
- In 2010, 14-year-old Henry Ermer of Brooklyn, New York, attempted to enter the Guinness Book of World Records by building what is believed to be the world's largest bobblehead, standing 16 feet tall.
- On July 17, 2011, MC Hammer was honored by his hometown baseball team with a bobblehead doll of him given to fans before he threw out the ceremonial first pitch. A "batboy" and clubhouse assistant for the Oakland Athletics between 1973 and 1980, this is the first MLB team to award a bobblehead to a rapper (they usually only feature former players and Hall Of Famers).
- During a Chicago visit of Conan in June 2012, a 17-foot tall bobblehead statue in Conan O'Brien's likeness was unveiled to the audience and given/donated to the city for display.
- On June 12, 2011, the Detroit Tigers distributed a bobblehead doll depicting Max Scherzer, with the heterochromia iridum correctly portrayed. This condition means that one iris is a different color from the other; his right eye is blue and his left eye is brown.
- On the 2012 season premiere episode of ABC's The Bachelorette, contestant Chris Bukowski presented bachelorette Emily Maynard with custom bobbleheads of the two of them in an attempt to impress her and further himself in the competition.
- Ian Hecox and Anthony Padilla from Smosh sell bobbleheads of themselves after they released the episode "My Bobblehead Is Evil".
- The 2013 science fiction film Oblivion, starring Tom Cruise, features a bobblehead with the likeness of Elvis Presley that is named "Bob" by his character, which is placed in the cockpit dashboard of his bubbleship.
- Scherzer has heterochromia iridum, which means that one iris is a different color from the other; his right eye is blue and his left eye is brown.  On June 12, 2011, the Detroit Tigers distributed a bobblehead doll depicting Scherzer, with the condition correctly portrayed
The Personalized Bobblehead
2014 saw the rise of a competitive market for personalized, on-demand bobbleheads, typically 6-7” tall, from a number of on-line vendors. To order, a customer uploads one or more facial color photos (with front view required, profile view optional) and chooses from a catalog of "stock bodies". Other order information includes color choices (e.g., of eyes, clothing), quantity desired, and billing/shipping.
Available stock bodies span both popular and niche themes. These include professions, sports and hobbies, adult and child fashions (and plus-sized), weddings, graduations, awards, super-heroes, sexy (e.g., domatrix, topless), holiday, zombie, and funny. Sports regalia may be generic or licensed. Poses are standing, with some exceptions (e.g., astride a motorcycle, on a toilet). Besides statues of individuals, poses of couples include two adults (e.g., wedding-cake toppers) or parent-child. Family or small-team groups are possible. Statue bases are generally simple, but elaborations allow words or logos, or represent vehicles, sport playing areas, or bookends.
Personalized bobblehead production lends itself to low-volume manufacturing, and, as with other figurines and vinyl toys, typically occurs in Asia. To create a “stock body”, a master is first designed, with elongated neck pillar. It is then sculpted by an artisan with a modeling compound. A mold of this is taken, for casting mono-color poly-resin end units (just-in-time or for inventory). These are custom painted for appropriate skin tone, and for desired (or default) colors of clothing, accessories, props, and base. (At a higher price, a customer can have a “custom body” designed… which might become a future stock item.)
The head may also be done by the foregoing method, particularly for volume orders wanting identical deliverables. An alternative, especially for single pieces, is to directly sculpt the end-unit head from “polymer clay”, a colorized modeling material. The artisan uses one color of polymer clay for skin, another for hair. Painting if any is limited to eyes and feature enhancements. Finally, a less-common, higher-tech approach is to computer-design the head and generate it on an industrial 3D printer. This may then be painted, or, if the printer allows, texture-mapped from features derived from the original photos.
- Nodding Dogs
- History of Bobble Head Dolls
- Ticket Information, Birmingham News, Apr. 3, 1997.
- Luc Robitaille Bobblehead Night
- Fans Waiting in Line for Release of Wackel-Elvis, 06/11/2001, Die Welt (German)
- Audi Wackel-Elvis commercial (2001, British version)
- Audi Wackel-Elvis commercial (2001, German version)
- Brooklyn Boy builds world's largest bobblehead
- On 'The Bachelorette,' Emily's beguiled by Chicago man’s bobble-head
- Hunter, Tim (2000). Bobbing Head Dolls: 1960–2000. Krause Publications. ISBN 978-0-87341-802-7.