I present to you The Opium Nodder or as the modern day would have it, the Bobblehead!
According to Wikipedia, a Bobblehead is a toy, constructed by using either a hook or a spring, to connect the head to the body. Only a light tap is needed to set the contraption in motion, making the doll’s head sway in agreement.
Nodders, also known as bobbleheads, bobbing heads, moving head, wobblers, Thanjavurthalayatti bommai (a popular Indian bobble head), Tanjore head-shaking dolls, and akabeko (specifically named so for a Japanese nodding cow, originally constructed in the ninth century) had their humble beginnings in ancient Japan and China, where they were known as String Dolls. The first Western mention of Bubbleheads can be found in a story entitled “The Overcoat”, by Nikolai Gogol, c. 1842. In it, Gogol describes the main character as having a neck of a plaster cat which moves its head around.
Germany also produced a large number of Bobbleheads, or as they are known in Germany, Nodders, exported primarily in the 1920’s and 30’s. One such company, responsible for the manufacture of these unique items, is the porcelain factory of Conta & Bohme, which was founded in Possneck/Thuringia in 1790. By 1893, the factory was known to produce such items as bathing dolls, fancy articles, and various knick-knacks. Although the company is well known for their china heads, they also produced very special items. My Opium nodder hails from this prestigious company.
The darling figural stands at a mere 2 ½” in height, and has been referred to as the “Opium Nodder”. Her presence, despite being made in a smaller size, is much grander in stature! The body is molded as a one piece, with great relief detailing to the outside construction, and painting allotted to it. The doll sports a white, pale blue and sky blue color scheme, with gold accents throughout the bodice. The head is a separate piece, which moves with the movement of the doll. In her hand, the nodder holds a molded fan, and her hair is decorated with an elaborate braid and a blue molded ribbon.
She is marked on the bottom with number 5887, and a bent arm with a sword design inside of a shield, a known Conta & Bohme registered trademark. The unique feature of this little nodder though is the tongue. Depending on how she is positioned, the tongue darts in and out of her mouth, creating quite a stir amongst the onlookers.
Bobbleheads held their popularity here in the US in the early 1930’s, with a large number of imports coming out of Germany. This phenomenon continued to ‘turn heads’ in the baseball and basketball field, producing nodders made out of papier mache, bisque and later on, plastic. The New York Knicks basketball players had bobbleheads produced of the team. In 1960, MLB gave away papier mache bobbleheads of their players as souvenirs during the World Series. These nodders were produced in Japan. Other bobbing heads followed, made in the likeness of The Beatles, other celebrities, and cartoon characters.
Collectibility of these amusing toys fell in and out of favor throughout the years, waning in the 1970’s, when they almost disappeared completely, to making a comeback once cheaper materials became available for manufactures, such as plastic and poly-resin. These bobbleheads are still being produced today, and represent a variety of characters, ranging from dolls to animals, sports figures and even custom made, portrait nodders. Today, they are firmly planted in our culture, culminating with an official National Bobblehead Day, founded on January 7th, 2015. To that, I give my nod of approval.
About The Author: Marina Tagger has been collecting antique dolls for over 30 years. Although she loves and collects a variety of dolls, her passion lies in the items made by the German firm of J.D. Kestner. She is working on a book about this company, and has traveled to Waltershausen, Germany to conduct her research. Marina has written articles for a variety of magazines, including Doll News and Antique Doll Collector, has presented numerous seminars and programs for UFDC and other organizations, and is a judge for UFDC; Antique dolls in the Competitive Exhibit. Marina is also a skilled doll doctor, specializing in antique doll and toy restoration. She resides in California with her family.
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