Bobbing Head Dolls
& Character Nodders
Bobbers, Nodders, Bobble or Bobbing Head Dolls .they go by many names. Look around at any collectibles or antique toy show and you will see them. Cute paper-mache, ceramic or plastic dolls with those bobbing heads. They come in all varieties.cartoon and advertising characters, sports teams and mascots, famous athletes, Hollywood movie personalities and holiday figures to name a few. There seems to be a nodder for everybody. With their whimsical hand painted look, nostalgic subjects and wide variety, it's easy to see why these pint-sized characters are so appealing to the fans that collect them.
One of those fans is Lou Criscione. He and his wife Sharon are dealers of fine collectible dolls, vintage toys and sports memorabilia. I recently had a chance to talk with Lou about his twenty year collecting passion.
"There is a whole culture of collectors who love these little guys." he says. "Nodders (their heads go back and forth) have been around since before the turn of the last century. They were made to depict comic characters, animals and all sorts of professions. The bobbing head craze (their heads bounce up and down) started in the 1950s with various comical dolls. There were dolls for countries, advertising and again, funny animals and people."
"In 1960 Major League Baseball got into the act. They started with a series of "white base" dolls for each team. These 6 & ½" bobbers were made of paper-mache and all the teams were represented. Most of these were made with little boy heads wearing baseball caps with the team logo. The logos were repeated on the chest and the name of the city the team hailed from was on the base. A few were made with figural mascot heads (Indians, Braves, Tigers, Orioles, Cardinals, Colt 45s, Pirates and the Reds). With their very colorful look these are quite desirable among collectors and command the highest prices. The white base baseball dolls are the most sought after series."
But what about the bobbers depicting famous people?
Lou continues: "In 1962 there were a few changes in the baseball dolls. Cashing in on the great home run race of 1961, four actual player's likenesses were used on bobbing heads. Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente each had their own dolls. These command very high prices. The "Holy Grail" is Clemente. In mint condition, this doll can fetch $2000."
"The bases also changed from white to green in 1962 and the dolls have a slightly different look. Again, all the teams were represented and this year there was an entire series of black players from each team. At the time, these were not very popular and were only made for one season. As a result, they are very rare and depending on condition can sell anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000."
"1967 brought another series of baseball dolls, the gold base series. There were more teams by then and they were all represented. This series was produced until about 1972 and are also quite collectible. The dolls made since 1972 are a heavier ceramic and are not as sought after by advanced collectors."
During that same period between the early 1960s and 1970s there were various series done to represent the NFL, AFL, NHL and NBA. According to Lou, aside from the earliest AFL series "they usually take a back seat to the baseball dolls". However, they are still quite collectible.
Throughout the 60s a number of character bobbers were also produced. These included comic characters like Dick Tracy, Elmer Fudd, Popeye, Porky Pig, etc. The Universal Monster dolls were made at this time and are very rare and highly prized. Some of the actual "real people" dolls that were produced include The Beatles, Dr. Kildare, Ben Casey and Charley Weaver. Advertising nodders like Mr. Peanut, Big Boy Restaurants and the NY World's Fair can also keep collectors busy and be an entire collection unto themselves.
I asked Lou what collectors of these dolls look for. "Because of their delicate composition, most of the bobbing heads of the 60's will have problems. Common problems are hairline cracks (caused by the bobbing action of the head) and chips. Minor hairline cracks are usually accepted as a "can live with" flaw and a near mint doll can still have 2 to 3 light cracks. A chip is an actual piece that is missing from the doll (usually the back of the head). This is considered a major flaw and devalues the doll greatly. Pristine mint dolls are few and far between and tend to bring values way above book prices.
Another consideration is the quality of the paint and color. Some dolls still retain their original bright sheen and hues, while others that have been subjected to light and bad environments will fade, discolor and even flake.
A word of caution. Many dolls have been repainted and repaired. This of course will devalue the doll. Check inside the head to make sure that the composition is consistent. Sometimes repaired bobbers will have a residue or clump of paper-mache inside the head and also some overspray of paint. Cracks that have been repaired on the outside sometimes can be seen on the inside."
What are some of the places a new collector can find these guys?
"Of course, the Internet has opened up a new area of finding dolls. But honestly, the best way to find them and learn about them is to have a "hands on" experience. If you are into the sports bobbing heads, a number can usually be found at any of the larger sports memorabilia shows. The personality dolls are sometimes found at toy shows and collectible & antique shows. The best and most fun place, is a good old-fashioned flea market. My best prices and finds have been at local markets that provide a real treasure hunt for any collector. Of course, when you get more advanced, you'll find dealers that you will feel comfortable with who can help you find the "tougher" dolls."
Any advice for folks thinking of starting a collection of bobbing head dolls?
"The most solid advice that I can give to any new collector is to buy what you like. Don't be persuaded by the book value of the doll. If it is a common one with little value, but you like it, then buy it. These are for display and you don't want to get stuck with something that is not appealing to you."
These guys have definitely found a place in the contemporary collector's marketplace. SAMAC (http://www.bobbing.com) and Sideshow Toy (http://www.sideshowtoy.com) are two of the companies producing wonderful sports and character nodders for today's market. Vintage or new, there are bobbing head dolls for every taste and wallet.
For more information on these great collectible dolls you can check out the new book "Bobbing Head Dolls : 1960-2000" by Tim Hunter. (Krause Publications)
The official website of the National Bobbin Head Club can be found at http://www.nationalbobbinheadclub.com/