By Ross Forman
Phil Sklar has a long lineage in the collectibles industry. His dad collected baseball cards and one of his grandfathers has a collection of memorabilia and artifacts.
Sklar himself has been collecting baseball cards for as long as he can remember.
“I used to know the prices of all of the cards I had, and my dad and I still have a massive card collections dating back to the 1950s,” said Sklar, who also collected, bought and sold Beanie Babies as a teenager.
Then there’s Sklar’s childhood friend, Brad Novak, who he went to high school with in Rockford, Ill. Novak – a year younger than Sklar, and both are in their early 30s – worked at a minor league baseball team in Rockford in the early 2000s, and one of the team’s promotions was bobbleheads.
In 2003, it was the bobblehead of the team mascot, Roscoe the Riverhawk.
Novak snagged the Roscoe bobblehead … and so was born a bobbling collection and seemingly brilliant brainstorm for the duo.
The former college roommates started circling bobblehead giveaway dates on the calendar and would try to get a few extras that they could trade for other bobbleheads.
The collection grew, quickly – from 1 to 10 to 100 to 1,000 and now approaching 5,000.
By 2016, that total will be about 10,000 – and that’s when the bobblehead bonanza really kicks in.
Sklar and Novak are planning to open the first-ever Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum in Milwaukee. A preview exhibition at RedLine Milwaukee (www.redlineartmke.org/bobbleheads) will run from Jan. 22-April 30, 2016.
RedLine is a diverse urban laboratory where art, education and community converge. According to its Facebook page, the vision “is to foster forms of social practice in the arts that inspire inquiry and catalyze change.”
“When the bobbleheads started piling up in the kitchen, we knew something had to be done,” Sklar said. “I had recently transitioned to a new job; I have a CPA and was working in corporate finance and had a longer commute. I had been thinking of potential opportunities to turn this into a sustainable business that gave us a competitive advantage, and we developed this concept.”
Sklar and Novak spent the second half of 2014 focused on the project.
“I had two full-time jobs for a while, as I would come home and work on this at night and on the weekends. Brad gave up his full-time job (in the fall of 2014), and I gave up mine (in late 2014),” Sklar said.
They plan to open the Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum in 2016, although they may open a gift shop with a smaller display in 2015 in anticipation of the 2016 opening.
On Sept. 28, it was announced that they launched a National Mascot Design Contest, sponsored by Olympus Group. The contest gives children across the U.S. a chance to design the Hall of Fame and Museum’s mascot, which will be turned into a physical mascot by the Olympus Group. (More information can be found at www.bobbleheadhall.com/mascot.)
And in October, the duo will launch its “Calling All Bobbles” campaign, encouraging people to contribute bobbleheads and other bobblehead-related items to the Hall of Fame and Museum’s collection.
The museum will, naturally, showcase thousands of bobbleheads – and more. There will, for instance, be an area detailing the history of bobbleheads, as well as one that tells how bobbleheads are made and the story behind the bobbleheads.
“In addition, we’ll have several interactive features and people will be able to select any bobblehead to learn more about it and the story behind the person or character portrayed,” Sklar said.
“Another really fun attraction will be the ability to get a custom 3-D bobblehead printed of you while you are at the Hall of Fame and Museum. Visitors will be able to get their picture taken and by the time they leave, they can take home a custom bobblehead in their likeness.”
There also will be a gift shop featuring merchandise, bobbleheads and other bobblehead-related items.
The museum will be able to host events and private parties, and they are planning for a Bobblehead Bar & Grill — a bobblehead-themed sports bar.
“They’re fun, unique and bring people together,” Sklar said. “The Hall of Fame and Museum will be a fun environment where people can enjoy anything and everything bobblehead-related.”
Plus, bobbleheads have staying power, he noted.
“They are much more like Barbie than Beanie Babies, as the possibilities for more are limitless,” Sklar said. “The fact that in most cases you have to attend an event to get them adds to the collectability because you have people in Los Angeles that want a bobblehead given away in New York City, and vice versa. Plus, if there’s a museum for mustard and SPAM, a bobblehead museum is a no-brainer.
“We envision an entrance featuring one bobblehead from every team displayed, and then different exhibits featuring bobbleheads from different sports/genres,” Sklar said.
“There will be a political section, movies and TV, etc. There truly will be something for everyone. We also hope to build in many of the interactive components that we’ve observed at other hall of fames and museums across the country. We’ve been to 25 of the 30 MLB stadiums and have covered a lot of hall of fames and museums. This was before we ever knew we would be in the business, but we know what we like and some of the unique features that made the visits memorable.”
Sklar said countless sports teams have sent them their team-specific and/or team-issued bobbleheads, and in return, they provide a certificate to teams who contribute. They also have received numerous inquiries and interest from private collectors who want to donate bobbleheads to the Hall of Fame and Museum.
“The bobbleheads (for the museum) range (across) all sports, as well as pop culture, politics, advertising and anything else you can imagine,” Sklar said. “Right now I’m looking at a bobblehead of the inventor of a fire suit, a speed skating bobblehead, a bobblehead of Hank the Dog that wandered onto the Brewers’ spring training field, a bobblehead of a vendor from the Madison Mallards and one of the Miller High Life beer guy from several years ago. Those are all mixed in with sports bobbleheads.”
When asked his favorite bobblehead, Sklar hesitated. “That’s the toughest question that I get, and I’ve given a few different answers,” he admitted. “I think it would have to be the Michael Poll bobblehead that we created a little over a year ago. Michael is a great friend of ours who we met during our freshman year in college. He has been a manager for several of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee sports teams since 2001 and has been participating in Special Olympics for 30 years. His passion, enthusiasm and high energy is contagious and he is an inspiration for so many, including us.
“One thing I tell people is that this isn’t just about the bobbleheads – it’s the story behind the bobblehead that is really important. And that is something we hope to showcase in the Hall of Fame and Museum.”
Sklar said he has his eyes set on acquiring a 17-foot-tall bobblehead of Conan O’Brien.
“It’s funny that the large bobbleheads seem to go missing or get lost in storage. The studio that owns it is trying to track it down,” he said.
Sklar and Novak certainly showed the bobble madness when they launched the inaugural National Bobblehead Day on Jan. 7, 2015, and it quickly became a viral sensation.
“It was a smashing success,” Sklar said. “We knew that maybe a dozen or so teams were going to participate based on replies to an e-mail that we sent out to all teams nationwide. We were hoping it would spread to other teams as the day went on, but we never imagined it would spread like wildfire this year. By our count, every Major League Baseball team and most other professional sports teams posted at least one thing related to National Bobblehead Day, with most having some sort of contest, giveaway or bobblehead reveal for the upcoming year. The prize component that we built in a few days before National Bobblehead Day helped, as teams were competing for what we hope will become the coveted #BobbleDay Champions prize – the Bobbly Award.”
More bobblehead madness
– On the rare/special bobbleheads that will be in the museum: “We’ll have a lot of the older bobbleheads from the ’50s and ’60s. We’re also looking to acquire or have on loan some of the original bobbleheads from the early 1900s.”
– Personal bobblehead: Yes, Sklar and Novak have their own. “The ones that we have now were made on one of many custom bobblehead websites about three years ago,” Sklar said.
– Sklar’s Top 5 bobbleheads: Michael Poll; Rick Monday (in his Chicago Cubs uniform, yet a giveaway away by the Dodgers to commemorate when he saved the American flag from being burned); Racing Sausage bobblehead featuring all five Racing Sausages the Brewers did this past year; the 1999 Willie Mays bobblehead that started the craze when the Giants made it the first stadium giveaway bobblehead; and the Rick Sutcliffe first night game bobblehead, which has real lights in the background.
– Top 5 most valuable bobbleheads overall, and the Top 5 that will be at the museum: “The black versions of the 1950s and 1960s bobbleheads of the generic boy are very rare and often command several thousand dollars,” Sklar said. “There is also the Elvis Presley bobblehead that the Memphis Grizzlies gave away, with only one of the bobbleheads encrusted with a carat of diamonds. That one has been listed on eBay at over $36,000 for many months. I’m guessing a rich Elvis fan may buy that one of these days. The Supreme Court justice bobbleheads are also very rare.”
– Founding Member Bobblehead: The first 1,500 members get a gold jersey edition, “and we hope those will sell out. After the gold jersey edition sells out, members will get the standard jersey edition. Only members who join before the grand opening will be able to get those bobbleheads. Additionally, founding members will have the ability to visit the Hall of Fame and Museum before it opens to the general public, which will be a real treat.”
– Lifetime Membership: Comes with two custom bobbleheads of the member – one for them to keep and one that will be permanently displayed in the Hall of Fame and Museum. “That membership comes with all the perks we can dream up as well,” Sklar said.
Ross Forman is a freelance contributor to SCD. He can be reached at Rossco814@aol.com.