January 7 is National Bobblehead Day. Early versions were called wobblers, bobblers, nodders, and head-shakers and had a head connected to a body by a spring so it would bounce around. The most popular were cats. In 1842 Russian author Nikolai Gogol described a main character in his short story The Overcoat as ‘having a neck like those of the plaster cats that wag their heads.’ In 1970s in Germany, a wackeldackel was a bobblehead dachshund for the dashboard. Today wackeldackels are also spineless toadies who dutifully nod their heads whenever the the boss speaks.
In the 1960s, bobbleheads with ceramic bodies and papier mâché heads arrived with the introduction of baseball players Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente and Roger Maris. The heads were cartoonishly outsized. The generic bodies were made with very little detail and painted with team uniform colors and logos. There were no action poses and the athletes’ faces were such rough representations that many were hardly recognizable.
Bobbleheads had a resurgence in the 1990s when they began to be made with materials that allowed for figures to be accurately proportioned, highly detailed and more lifelike. Resins are used to make solid figures and plastic is used for hollow ones. The more expensive resins allow for the most detail and the most accurate likenesses.
The Fab Four is one of the most collectible sets of bobbleheads even though they were sold separately. John cost the most and Ringo the least. All four in original packaging fetch as much as $2,000.
Next time you’re in Milwaukee, drop by the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum. They say their more than 6,500 bobbleheads makes up the world’s largest collection.
In 2003, the Guinness Book of Records acknowledged the largest bobblehead in the world was an 11 foot tall, 900 pound bobblehead of Chuck Woolery, the original host of Wheel of Fortune. Since then, bigger bobbleheads have been built, including Conan O’Brien and a St. Bernard.
Today, character bobbleheads have taken over. Nowadays bobbleheads include just about every ensemble cast television show, like the Addams Family, Friends, Duck Dynasty, the Office (UK and USA versions) and many more.
Nowadays you can have custom bobbleheads made of yourself or of friends to give as a one-of-a-kind gift. Dozens of online companies will make you a realistic-looking bobblehead from a photo. Most of these cost around $100. Some require only a mug shot. Better ones ask you to submit side and rear views, too.
The most famous hip-shaking wobbler of all time isn’t a bobble head – it’s a bobble hip dashboard Hawaiian hula girl. Speaking of Hawaii, Jimmie Rodgers recorded this song about a hula hula girl in 1929. And in 1986, John Prine wrote his classic Let’s Talk Dirty in Hawaiian on the balcony of a Nashville hotel. Rolling Stone called it one of the greatest vacation songs ever written – and one of the greatest sex songs, too.
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