Nod Your Head If You'd Go to a Bobblehead Museum

By Joe Barrett Famous for beer, brats and baseball, Milwaukee could soon add another B to its repertoire: bobbleheads.A pair of childhood friends crazy about the nodding dolls are trying to raise about $250,000 to open the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum by next fall.Museum co-founders Phil Sklar and Brad Novak, both 31 years old, quit their day jobs in corporate finance and retail, respectively, to follow their dream. The pair, who share a two-bedroom condo in Milwaukee stuffed with a few thousand bobbleheads, say the city on Lake Michigan is the perfect place for the museum. “This is a bobblehead-obsessed state and a bobblehead-obsessed city,” Mr. Sklar said. “We’ve traveled all over, and it really makes sense here. It’s bobblehead country.”To raise money for the museum, expected to house about 10,000 of the dolls, Mr. Sklar and Mr. Novak have started taking orders for custom bobbleheads, contracting with a manufacturer in China. Just in the past month, they helped bring 35 designs for 50,000 new bobbleheads into the world, Mr. Sklar said, including a portly one for a local restaurant, Chubby’s Cheesesteaks.On Tuesday, the two co-founders, along with Olympus Group, a Milwaukee-based maker of mascot costumes, announced a contest for children under 18 to design a new mascot for the museum. The design, Mr. Sklar said, will be “totally up to the kids. We love creativity in bobbleheads.”So far, the co-founders have raised about $100,000 through the custom bobblehead business and founding memberships in the museum, which they’ve sold at various price points to people in 40 states. They earlier tried their hand at online crowdfunding, which didn’t meet their $250,000 goal but succeeded in bringing in members.The plan is to locate the 7,000- to 10,000-square-foot museum near other Milwaukee attractions, like the Harley-Davidson Museum, the Fonzie statue (official name: “Bronze Fonz”), the old Pabst Brewery district and a new basketball complex for the Milwaukee Bucks.It will tell the story of the bobblehead, which starts in the late 1700s with Chinese dolls with springs under their head to create the nodding, bobbling effect. “Those go at auction for about $30,000,” Mr. Sklar said.Mr. Sklar recently purchased a collection in Lafayette, Ind., of 400 or so pop-culture bobbleheads, including the Hawaiian Punch kid, Casper the Friendly Ghost and Homer Simpson.Last spring, the pair picked up their most valuable collection from someone who had seen an article about them in their hometown paper in Rockford, Ill.: 32 bobbleheads of NFL teams, including the first made for many of the teams, dating back to the 1960s, Mr. Novak said. Some of the rare dolls are worth hundreds of dollars each. “They didn’t want to give them away, but they wanted to help us out, so we got a very good price,” Mr. Novak said.Other possible highlights of the museum collection: Around 30 presidential bobbleheads, Donald Trump, Martin Luther King and three versions of Pope Francis bobbleheads commemorating his recent U.S. trip, including one where he holds a Philly cheesesteak while wearing boxing gloves.Among other prizes, the winning designer of the museum mascot will get a free trip to the museum when it opens, a $500 scholarship and 12 copies of their design in bobblehead form.“It will definitely give them bragging rights,” Mr. Sklar said. Write to Joe Barrett at joseph.barrett@wsj.com

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