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3/21/2004

Noble bobbles

By Mike Lawrence
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — Ludwig van Beethoven, the brilliant 18th-century composer, probably never imagined that people would one day create a jiggling, oversized rendition of his head for a novelty collectible.

But sure enough, two local companies — in Longmont and Lyons — are now producing bobblehead dolls of famous musical composers, including the famed Beethoven.

An Internet search revealed only one other company, at www.bobblekingdom.com, that sells a composer bobblehead, making Boulder County the world leader in the composer bobblehead market.

Asking which of the two local companies thought of the idea first, though, could burst somebody’s bobble.

Longmont resident Nancy Holland, who has taught students to play the violin for more than 30 years, runs Holland Arts and Studio Inc. with her husband, Michael, a stained-glass artist.

The bobbleheads in Holland’s “great composer series” — including Brahms, Mozart, Bach and Beethoven — were designed by artist Grace Larralde of Fort Collins, with close attention to details.

“We made an effort to be authentic,” Holland said, pointing out personal features such as Mozart’s hook nose and Bach’s short, thick legs.

Holland said she and her husband sell the dolls as a hobby and originally designed them to fill what they thought was a gap in the bobblehead market.

But were Holland’s dolls the first composer bobbleheads?

Robert Auman, president of the distribution company Peak Fulfillment, doesn’t think so.

Peak Fulfillment is a sister company of VisAbility — they share a street address and post office box in Lyons — and officials at VisAbility say they began designing Beethoven bobbleheads in spring 2003.

“We began dealing with clients and with our factory in China last May,” said John Burke, a founding owner of VisAbility and chairman of Peak Fulfillment.

Burke said VisAbility— which creates promotional materials for public radio stations nationwide — began creating prototypes for the dolls last March, after classical public radio stations in Cincinnati and North Carolina contacted VisAbility to request the bobbleheads for station promotions.

“The idea was brought to us by our clients,” Burke said, displaying e-mails from WGUC that are dated in March and April 2003.

Auman said that Holland asked him “sometime around September (2003)” for help with the packaging and distribution of the dolls, and he declined because Peak Fulfillment already was producing composer bobbleheads.

Neither Auman nor Burke have any problem, however, with Holland’s composer bobblehead series.

“We sell these things to radio stations by the hundreds,” Burke said. “She’s selling to individuals. It’s two different markets.”

So far the smaller-quantity market has suited Holland very well. She said the Music Stand catalog, made by Concepts Direct Inc. in Longmont, has sold nearly 50 dolls of each composer.

The dolls can be bought for $14.95 on the Holland Art Studio Web site, www.greatcomposerbobbleheads.com.

Holland said she and her husband will soon develop a new set of bobbleheads, using lesser-known musical composers.

“We’re going to do composers that no one else is thinking about,” she said.

Better check up in Lyons first.

Mike Lawrence can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 218, or by e-mail at mlawrence@times-call.com.