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With these bobbleheads, it’s personal

Ralph Trumbo is neither an athlete nor a celebrity. Nevertheless, he has a bobblehead likeness of himself sitting on his mantle.
Ralph Trumbo
Ralph Trumbo shows off  custom bobblehead that was made for him by Bryan Guise.Charlie Neibergall / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Ralph Trumbo is neither an athlete nor a celebrity. Nevertheless, he has a bobblehead likeness of himself sitting on his mantle.

Bobbleheads, those shaky-headed 3-D caricatures, have jiggled free of their mass-produced roots of an earlier generation. Once merely featureless figures decked out in team colors and handed out on game day, they now depict just about anyone who wants one.

Even Trumbo, a Des Moines letter carrier.

“It’s really cool,” he said. “I take it to work and they say ’It’s you.’ It looks just like me.”

Trumbo’s bobblehead was sculpted by Bryan Guise, who creates the toys in the cramped basement of his home.

Guise, 29, has made bobbleheads for Iowa’s governor, police officers, a woman with a deformed face, even a rush job for a dying man. Typically, he takes orders over the Internet and relies on photos of his subjects.

“It’s assuming what I’m dealing with rather than knowing for sure, but there’s that universal language in a face,” he said.

Guise, who graduated from the University of Iowa with a fine arts degree in 2002, has been drawing caricatures since he was a child. He turned that interest into a job making bobbleheads after graduation.

He won’t say how many he makes beyond “quite a few.” Prices range from $150 to $200.

At least two other companies, in California and Illinois, also sell individual, custom-made bobbleheads.

Mass-produced bobbleheads also have seen an upswing in business, said Rob Bishop, owner of the Hamilton, Ontario, Canada-based Binkley Toys Inc.

Bishop would not disclose sale numbers but said orders for bobbleheads doubled in 2006. His company requires a minimum order of 250 bobbleheads for about $2,500.

Bishop said the rise in interest is evident not only in sales but in their appearance in television shows and marketing campaigns.

Bobbleheads have appeared on TV shows such as “The Office,” which featured one made by Guise, he said. He also pointed to a Jeep TV ad that shows bobbleheads driving.

Jack Horst, a retail strategist at New York-based consulting firm Kurt Salmon Associates, said the popularity of personal bobbleheads ties in perfectly with the merchandising theme of customization, which has grown in the past decade.

“Every retailer and manufacturer is finding ways to make you think the product is customized just for you — and in many cases it is,” Horst said.

It’s an especially effective theme for bobbleheads, a nostalgic product for many baby boomers like the 47-year-old Horst.

“I’m a huge bobblehead guy. My first was Frank Howard of the Washington Senators in 1969 — I still have that,” he said. “There are a few things in life that just make you smile when you see them. My Frank Howard bobblehead is one of them.”

For Trumbo, it’s a kick to own a miniature version of himself, sitting there for all to see.

From his postal uniform to his glasses and wedding ring, it’s a perfect match.

“It’s one of a kind,” he said.