Update: The jumbo NFL bobblehead sold for $19,600.
What you see: A jumbo NFL bobblehead, made in the early 1960s and styled as a player for the San Francisco 49ers. Huggins and Scott estimates it at $15,000 to $25,000.
The expert: Bill Huggins of Huggins and Scott.
The lot notes say the jumbo NFL bobblehead was distributed by the Otagiri Mercantile Company. What do we know about the company? Is it still in business? As far as I can tell with our research, it is not. It’s a company out of Japan in the 1950s, when these bobbleheads were mostly made. Then it kind of went away. I didn’t find out what else they might have made.
So it pretty much disappears by the 1970s? I believe so, or the dolls weren’t being produced by then.
Why might the Otagiri Mercantile Company have wanted to make jumbo NFL bobbleheads for the 14 American football teams that existed in the early 1960s? At that time, the NFL wasn’t anywhere near as dominant as it is now, and the first Super Bowl was years away. What convinced the company that it could turn a profit off these toys? I’ve been doing this for 40 years now, and have sold several of the jumbo NFL bobbleheads. The story among hobbyists is these were promo dolls sold at airports in the United States, probably in the 14 cities that were home to the teams. They [the airport stores] would put the big bobblehead up, and little bobbleheads around it, and you could buy the little ones.
So the jumbo versions were display-only? Yes, I believe the big ones were not designed to be sold. I think they were designed to be eye-catchers for the little guys.
These jumbo NFL bobbleheads stand about 15 inches tall. Is that what qualifies them as “jumbo”–being 12 inches tall or taller? Yes. The regular ones were about five to six inches tall.
Do we have any notion about how many of these jumbo NFL bobbleheads were made, and how many survive? The lot notes say the company might have produced as many as five jumbos per team. Five is a guess. Very few were produced, and very few survive. I’m in the Baltimore area. We’ve sold half a dozen of the Colts ones, but that’s the area we’re in. They were very, very regional. I think this is the first San Francisco 49ers one we’ve ever handled.
I see an NFL logo on the bobblehead’s left foot. Did the Otagiri Mercantile Company get the league’s permission to use it, or not? I think they just stuck the logo on. Today, if you were to reproduce a logo owned by a team without permission, you’d get sued real quick. Nobody cared back then. Probably, the league was happy that somebody was promoting the sport.
The jumbo NFL bobblehead has the words FORTY NINERS written on its chest. Did the team not have a logo then? I’m not really sure, but the red and silver coloring of the uniform is consistent with the 49ers colors.
Do the jumbo NFL bobbleheads look basically the same–same face, same pose, but different colors of uniform and helmet? Yes, and I believe the numbers on the backs of the players are always double zeroes.
How might these jumbo NFL bobbleheads have been made? They probably poured ceramic material into a mold of some sort. It hardened, and then it was painted.
Painted by human beings? I would think somebody painted them individually. When you get the smalls, they’re a little bit different in the painting. You can tell they’re not rolled out on a factory assembly line.
And the jumbo NFL bobbleheads are 100 percent ceramic? Yes. Today, bobbleheads are made out of hard plastic. You can throw them against the wall and they won’t break. These, they’re very fragile. You drop ’em, you have a pile of dust.
How did these toys manage to survive at all, given that they were made in such small numbers, from a highly breakable material, and were never meant to be sold? I don’t know. When the promotion ran out, whoever ran the gift shop or the hobby store might have given them to someone, or taken them home. [The world auction record for any bobblehead belongs to an early 1960s jumbo Yankees bobblehead from the same Japanese company. It sold for $90,000 at Heritage Auctions in October 2019.]
What is the jumbo NFL bobblehead like in person? What aspects elude the camera? The crudeness of how it was made. If you held it in your hand, you could tell it’s very fragile.
What condition is the jumbo NFL bobblehead in, and what sorts of condition issues do you tend to see with these oversize vintage toys? We’ve found indentations on the shoulders and flaws at the backs of the heads, where there are hairline cracks from people pushing the head down to make it bob. This one is described as being in “near mint” condition. That’s very rare to find, based on what they’re made out of.
Why will this toy stick in your memory? For the size of it. It’s so unique, compared to thousands and thousands and thousands of other bobbleheads that we sell all the time. We see so few of the big ones. It’s rare to find a jumbo at any time.
Images are courtesy of Huggins and Scott.
Bill Huggins appeared on The Hot Bid previously to discuss a 1903 World Series program printed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
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