Let’s start with a brief history of bobbleheads. Chinese nodding-head figures are documented in England and Continental Europe as early as the 1760’s and 1770’s and Johann Zoffany’s famous portrait depicting Queen Charlotte in her Dressing Room at Buckingham Palace painted in 1765 shows two such figures in the background (see C. Saumarez Smith, Eighteenth Century Decoration, New York, 1993, p. 255, fig. 246). Nodding-head figures were imported into England, Europe and America from Canton in large numbers from the 1780’s. The great interest in these figures in England is derived in large part from the personal tastes of the Prince of Wales (later George IV) during the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. The Prince’s interest in Chinese decoration was first expressed in his Chinese Drawing Room at Carlton House; however his sudden inspiration to achieve an Oriental interior at Brighton Pavilion was prompted in 1802. The final achievement, an ornate palace of fantastical proportions and exotic furnishings, was due to the combined efforts of the Prince himself and his principal designers, John and Frederick Crace, over the next twenty-five years. A number of Chinese figures of this type were prominently displayed in the corridor of the Pavilion (see J. Morley, The Making of the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, Boston, 1984, pp. 169-176).
How are bobbleheads made? We begin with the head of the bobble head doll. The body is made of hollow plastic that is covered by felt cloth. On the head, a metal clasp is connected to the downward portion of the head to connect into the bobble head dog’s body. At the far end of the body is a bolt that acts as a weight for the head. When attached to the body, this allows for the bobble head to sway and bob around. Without the weighed bolt at the end, the bobble head would simply rise to the top of the body in a fixed position. Next up is the body of the bobble head doll. The body, which in this case is about 4″ (10.16cm) in length, is made of a hollow core like the head, but the mold is not enclosed in order to allow space for the head piece to attach to the body. To attach to the body, a small metal anchor is attached inside the upper portion of the body to allow the clasp from the head to rest in the center of the anchor. When the head is attached to the body, the bobble head bobs and glides with ease. The movement can be endless as long as the bobble head doll is in contact with motion to jostle the parts enough to cause movement.
The modern bobble head doll typically consists of two styles of body mold: A plastic body or ceramic body. The advent of the plastic mold over the past three decades allows for more unique designs and lightweight body styles. The time tested ceramic bobble head doll remains popular, but is more delicate in nature. There are generally two subsets of design of the plastic bobble heads doll. One style is a durable, sturdy plastic mold. The second is not only sturdy, but also covered in a “flocked” material, which is generally a cloth, fuzz material.
In 1960, Major League Baseball decided to give away a series of papier-mache bobblehead dolls for each team with the same cherubic face and imported from Japan. That same year World Series was held and first bobblehead dollswere made specifically for players but they still had the same faces. The players that had bobbleheads made for them were Roberto Clemente, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, and Willie Mays. Beside of players, teams made and gave away as souvenirs bobblehead dolls in the shape of their team mascots. When material of making bobblehead dolls was changed from papier-mache to ceramic they were made in likeness of players of other sports too and of cartoon characters. The Beatles bobblehead set, which was made in the next decade is still a very valuable collectable. In time production and interest for bobblehead dolls again waned and by 1970s it almost disappeared completely.
Alexander Malcolm would become one of the largest bobblehead sellers and a key figure in the history of bobbleheads, producing 48-49 million of these sentimental nodding heads. But he did not know it at the time when he sat down at a business meeting with the San Franciscio Giants during the 1990s. He was just hoping to sell some sort of promotional item for them. When Malcolm asked what they were looking for, The San Francisco Giants replied, “bobbleheads”. Malcolm agreed to provide thousands of Willie Mays bobbleheads to the professional baseball organization to be passed out to their fans for free. Malcolm went to work, but did not know he could get away with using the traditional cartoonish boy bobblehead. Instead, he made a much more real version of Mays (although Mays would disagree). So, on May 9, 1999, to celebrate the anniversary of Candlestick Park, the last year the Giants would play at this stadium by the bay, 20,000 visitors each received the Willie Mays bobblehead. It was a success! The crowd loved the semi-life-like yet cartoonish novelty item. That one game made way for the bobblehead era revival. The next year, eight Major League Baseball teams had bobblehead giveaways. And Malcolm’s small business in the 1990s flourished into the global enterprise it is today.
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