Call them nodders, call them bobbleheads, even call them wobblers. Whatever you call them, though, the vintage hand-painted papier-mâché and ceramic dolls depicting baseball players from the 1960s are among the most whimsical collectibles in baseball.
Nodders and bobbleheads describe any doll whose head is connected to its neck by a spring. This not-quite-solid connection allows the doll’s head to nod and wobble. These dolls have been around since the 19th century, but it wasn’t until 1960 that Major League Baseball decided to produce nodders and bobbleheads for some of its teams and players. Roberto Clemente, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, and Willie Mays were some of the first non-mascot nodders. As with baseball cards, Clemente nodders are highly collectible.
The first dolls, which were made by Lego in Japan, were hand-painted on papier-mâché. These first dolls were generic, depicting the same large-eyed boy in a different team uniform, his baseball-capped head bobbing about whenever the doll was moved. Some dolls featured team mascots—mascot dolls of the Indians, Braves, and Pirates are tough to find.
In general, the most collectible dolls are the ones from 1960-1962, with square or round orange or white bases. Dolls from 1962-1966 had green bases, while ones from 1967-1970 were painted gold.
The world of baseball nodders and bobbleheads in the 1960s was an almost exclusively Caucasian place, but in 1962, African American dolls were produced. Even then the manufacturer could not get the skin tones right—two versions of Willy Mays exist; the one with darker skin is valued more highly than the lighter-skinned version. African American dolls from the Philadelphia Phillies, Boston Red Sox, and Houston Colt .45s are especially collectible.
One of the problems with vintage nodders and bobbleheads is that they were quite fragile, which is a problem for an object that’s meant to be played with by children or mounted on the dashboard of a car. The dolls cracked and chipped easily. While repainting or repairing a doll is a relatively simple process, such changes tend to lower its value, so it’s better to find a piece “as is” than one that has been freshened up.