Very little information is available about nodding figurines. Essentially, nodders consist of two or more components, designed to fit together and balanced to create movement. A true nodder is kept in motion by the force of gravity alone. A counter-balanced weight inside the body helps produce movement, therefore, it is neither mechanical, electrical, nor frictional. A nodder's movement can be enhanced in various ways by the maker's creativity. Head hangers, swayers, knotters, bobbin' heads, and springers are examples of some of the ingenious techniques developed by craftsmen to produce movement.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, artisans in Germany manufactured many types of nodders for export. They selected materials ranging from bisque and porcelain to metals, plastics, celluloid, and wood. Papier-mache and pressed paper composites were also used. Nodding figurines were fashioned in a variety of styles to represent modest folk, fine aristocracy, children, caricatures, and different animals. They were used as prizes in games of chance or as giveaways at circuses and fairs. Many of the finer samples were sold through shops and catalogues.

Unlike the typical statuesque figurine of the time, nodders required patience and skill to shape the separate parts to completion. To produce movement, the counterweights needed to be balanced with a precision and dexterity not germane to every artist. A collector who attempts restoration of a damaged nodder soon learns that repositioning the counterweights is no small achievement. Many antique nodders did not survive to present times and therefore, exist on the serious collecto's endangered list.