When the NFL and MLB began using bobblehead dolls as promotional tools in the early ’60s, they sparked an obsession with the trinkets. After a two-decade slump in popularity beginning in the ’70s, the bobblehead stormed back after the San Francisco Giants distributed a Willie Mays figure at a 1999 game.
Today, the bobblehead business is anything but wobbly. John Brey, who runs auction Web site nodderexchange.com and deals exclusively in these “cute and innocent” vintage dolls, says that most sell for $200, but a limited-edition Washington Redskins figure brought in $18,000 last year. The Missouri company TheBobblehead.com offers customized figurines (it costs $400 to turn yourself into a bobblehead) and “heroic-size” dolls — 8 feet tall and $7,600.
But the average new bobblehead now retails for $20, making it “all about kitsch and affordability,” says Brian Mariotti, president of Washington firm Funko, which makes Star Wars and Marvel dolls. Coming soon: Jersey Shore bobbleheads. “Put a bobblehead on your desk, and it’s funny,” he says. “Put a plain action figure on your desk, and people think you live in your mom’s basement.”