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Milwaukee Museum Features More Than 6,500 Collectible Bobbleheads (and Counting)

The duo behind project find the art in the unblinking figurine, displaying bobbleheads from all walks of life, including sports, pop culture and politics

The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum was co-founded by two friends who have been collecting the figures for the past 16 years (Associated Press/Carrie Antlfinger)
smithsonian.com

More than 6,500 bobbleheads wiggle their oversized craniums at the new Milwaukee National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum. The unblinking fictional and real-world characters out on view—they range from Star Wars Jedi Master Yoda to Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and Flo, the chatty star of Progressive’s TV commercials—are, impressively, just a portion of the museum’s extensive collection.

As Carrie Antlfinger reports for the Associated Press, more than 10,000 (and counting) bobbleheads from all walks of life, including sports, pop culture and politics, make up the complete collection of bouncy figures held by Phil Sklar and Brad Novak, two friends who have collected bobbleheads for the past 16 years.

The pair left their jobs in corporate finance and retail sales, respectively, around four years ago in order to launch the museum, which opened to the public on February 1.

Sharing this unique hobby with the world took a little longer than anticipated; according to a 2014 press release, Sklar and Novak initially hoped to open the museum—then billed to feature “dozens of bobblehead-related exhibits,” as well as a Bobblehead Bar and Grill—by 2016.

As the pair worked to find a location and raise the necessary funds (a Kickstarter campaign failed to reach its $250,000 goal), they shifted gears somewhat. By February of 2015, Milwaukee Business Journal’s Rich Kirchen reports, the duo decided to start making and selling their own custom-made bobbleheads. Their first design was a likeness of Demetrius Harris, a former University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee basketball player who now serves as a tight end for the National Football League’s Kansas City Chiefs.

Soon, Geoff Edgers chronicles for the Washington Post, they’d created “Lucky Beard Guy,” an homage to a fan spotlighted by Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and a figurine of Ronnie “Woo Woo” Wickers, a Chicago Cubs superfan.

Three subsequent Kickstarters have also been successful, yielding a Villanova University “piccolo girl” bobblehead (inspired by the college band player’s emotional response to her school’s basketball loss), as well as presidential candidate bobbleheads and, most recently, a series of 32 players from baseball’s Negro Leagues. The full catalogue of bobbleheads can be found on the museum’s website.

All the while, Molly Snyder notes for On Milwaukee, the duo was storing their collection in separate condos, an office space in the city and a large storage facility.

In January 2016, however, some of these bobbleheads got a chance to breathe when they hosted the museum’s first physical exhibition, a temporary show at Milwaukee’s RedLine art gallery. As Jessica Tighe of Milwaukee CBS 58 affiliate explained at the time, the exhibit featured 2,000 bobbleheads ranging from a three-foot version of University of Wisconsin-Madison mascot Bucky Badger to historical figures such as Helen Keller and Mahatma Gandhi.

Now, three years later, the permanent museum has finally made its debut. Not only does the new location feature thousands of unique bobbleheads, it also boasts exhibitions on the history and making of the toys, as well as the individuals they represent.

Collection highlights include vintage versions of Mickey Mouse and Dumbo, grinning former presidents such as Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy, and miscellaneous characters from various popular film franchises. There is also an “Apprentice”-era Donald Trump, who declares, “You’re fired” at the push of a button.

According to the AP's Antlfinger, the new institution is far more extensive than its counterpart in Marlins Park in Miami. That bobblehead collection consists of just over 600 sports-centric figurines, all of which depict baseball players, mascots and broadcasters.

While one Phil Darling of Ontario currently holds the Guinness World Record for his collection of 2,396 bobbleheads (since receiving certification in 2015, he has amassed an additional 500 figurines), Antlfinger notes that Sklar and Novak are poised to easily take the title upon completion of an in-the-works certification process—an accomplishment certainly worth bobbling one's head about.

The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum is now open in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Admission is $5.

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