Raggedy Ann - Facts, Fiction, and FAQs
The origins and history of the Raggedy Ann doll are, perhaps, the most
mysterious and unusual of all doll stories. I know of no other doll that has
been surrounded with such mythic and legendary tales, and certainly, Raggedy Ann
has achieved a global popularity with which no other rag doll can compete.
Every little girl must receive at least one Raggedy Ann at some point in her
childhood, and grown up collectors have filled whole warehouses with their
staggering collections of Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls and memorabilia.
Perhaps, it is unsurprising, then, that strange legends have
persisted for decades amongst Raggedy Ann fans. I would like to respond
to the three major questions most frequently asked about this
one-of-a-kind rag doll. To get to the heart of the matter, we have to
begin with Raggedy Ann's creator, Johnny Gruelle. Mr. Gruelle was born
in Arcola, Illinois and like the creators of Kewpie
and Dolly Dingle,
he was an accomplished illustrator who achieved recognition at a young
The basic fact is that Johnny Gruelle created the character of Raggedy Ann
around an existing rag doll that was owned by his family. The exact way in
which this moment of inspiration came about is the subject of our first
frequently asked Raggedy Ann question.
Did Marcella really bring the original rag doll to her father?
The popular tale is that Johnny Gruelle's beloved little daughter, Marcella,
came down from her grandmother's attic one day holding a tattered and faceless
rag doll she'd found. According to the story, Marcella presented the doll to
her father, who picked up his cartooning pen and swiftly gave the old doll a
charming little face. He told his child to take the doll to Grandmother so that
she might sew on a button for the doll's missing eye.
This account has gained such credibility that it is even being given in the
official biography of Raggedy Ann on Wikipedia. You may be surprised to learn
that if Mrs. Gruelle were alive, she'd be telling us quite a different story.
According to Myrtle Gruelle, the original rag doll was actually discovered
by her husband, himself, around the turn of the century, in his parents' attic.
He was actually hunting for something else he wanted, but when he saw the
old doll that his mother had sewn for his sister, he took note of it, saying it
would make a good story. While it's true that the legend is more heartwarming
and intriguing, the firsthand account of Mrs. Gruelle can hardly be ignored by
serious doll collectors.
Is it true that the Raggedy Ann doll was used to represent the
Raggedy Ann has been historically associated with the anti-vaccination
movement, and there is some truth and some fiction associated with this belief.
The tragic truth that still wrenches our hearts to this day is that Johnny
Gruelle's little daughter died after being given a mandatory smallpox vaccination
at school. The child was just 13 years old, and her loss was devastating to
Johnny Gruelle, who then became a proponent of the anti-vaccination movement.
However, there is an absurd school of thought that asserts that the Raggedy Ann
doll was created as a limp and lifeless-looking creature to symbolize Gruelle's
dead child. This is certainly not the case, and Gruelle's registered patent of
the Raggedy Ann character occurred right around the time of Marcella's death.
Evidence indicates that he had been working on perfecting Raggedy Ann prior to
this tragedy in his family.
I have never seen any documentary evidence that Johnny Gruelle, himself, used
the image of Raggedy Ann to protest mandatory vaccinations. However, he did
make his stance quite well known to the publishers of Physical Culture
magazine, who asked him to illustrate an article about vaccinations. He responded
to the request with a grim, political-style cartoon showing a small child
hanging in the balance of a scale held by an ape-like figure.
Modern anti-vaccination proponents have, indeed, used Raggedy Ann dolls to
illustrate their position, but this was certainly not the original idea behind
Did the original Raggedy Ann dolls have candy hearts sewn inside them?
This is a lovely legend inspired by two main factors. The Raggedy Ann stories,
written by Gruelle, did tell us that Raggedy Ann's goodness came from her
invincible candy heart. Additionally, Gruelle's son, Worth, shared with others
a memory he had from early childhood of being sent to a candy store to buy
sugar hearts and picking out the ones with I Love You printed on them.
Time and creativity have taken these two tidbits and turned them into an
oft-quoted myth that the dolls created by the Gruelle family to be used as a
marketing prop for the first Raggedy Ann books were embedded with candy hearts.
Sadly, no one has ever discovered a doll containing this sugary trinket, and
most serious Raggedy Ann doll collectors agree that this is simply a sweet bit of
Raggedy Ann Dolls Everywhere
As my accompanying photo shows, Raggedy Ann dolls over the years have become a
little bit like snowflakes - go to an auction, and you'll come away believing
that no two dolls are quite alike. The photo shows mainly Raggedy Ann and Andy
dolls from the second half of the 20th century. The striped socks, printed
dress, and white pinafore seem to be common across the spectrum of most
Raggedy Ann dolls, but new doll collectors are often surprised to discover
that the original Raggedy Ann doll had brown hair - not the flaming red that
has become so familiar.
The earliest Raggedy Ann dolls will bear a mark stating Patented Sept. 7, 1915.
In addition to the brown yarn hair, they have tin or wooden button eyes, and
are made completely of cloth. The nose is quite thin. The eyelashes are painted
far below the eyes, and there is no white outline around the eyes. Some of
these earliest and most highly-prized dolls have sewn knee and elbow joints.
Understandably, these rare and fantastic antique Raggedy Ann dolls are worth
many thousands of dollars at auction.
A single article cannot hope to list all of the types of Raggedy Ann dolls
that have appeared on the market during the past century, but here is a short
list of a few of the most widely recognized ones that appear at auction:
- Volland Co. 1920 - 1934. Brown or red hair. Outward-turned feet. Lashes
low on cheeks. Three different recognized mouths.
- Georgene Averill, Mid-1930's - 1963. Red yarn hair. Painted face.
Cloth label sewn in side seam. Both asleep and awake dolls.
- Knickerbocker Toy Co. 1963 - 1982. Printed features. Red yarn hair.
Tag sewn in seam. 1974 doll talks. 1965 Afro-American beloved Belindy.
- Nasco/Hobbs-Merrill, 1973. Plastic and vinyl dolls with rooted yarn
- Applause Dolls, 1981. Tag sewn in seam.
- Hasbro, 1983 - Onward. Marketed under the Playskool label.
In addition to the myriad dolls manufactured, both for children and doll
collectors, dozens of Raggedy Ann books have been published over the past
century. Johnny Gruelle authored and illustrated the very first, Raggedy Ann Stories,
in 1918, and this was followed in 1920 by Raggedy Andy Stories.
Over the next 40 years, Gruelle would illustrate and author the books that
introduced us to the Camel with the Wrinkled Knees, the Hobby Horse, Grandpa
Hoppergrass, and of course, the fictional Marcella. They are tales of magic,
fun, and kindness that enchanted children around the world with the
thought that even a little rag doll was capable of having the most imaginative
As with the abundance of dolls that have been created for generations, the
profusion of memorabilia and collectible items with a Raggedy Ann theme is
simply too vast to encompass in a single article. My baby blanket was made of
a soft yellow thermal knit with a satin edge, and featured Raggedy Ann and
Andy printed in the middle of it. I loved it to shreds. In addition to this,
pillowcases, sheet sets, and quilts were embellished with this beloved
rag doll. Lamps, calendars, games, toys, dishes, clocks...Raggedy Ann and her
spunky brother are everywhere. In fact, I think it might be shorter to make
a list of collectibles that haven't featured a Raggedy Ann at some time
The value of both dolls and memorabilia will be based upon age, rarity, condition,
and desirability. Some dolls' faces simply seem to have more emotional appeal than
Sometimes, rag dolls simply beg to be handmade.
For hundreds of years, loving mothers have skillfully turned old scraps into
beloved dolls for their children. Handmade rag dolls have a special quality that
simply cannot be reproduced on a factory assembly line. Women handy with a
needle have been handcrafting their very own Raggedy Ann dolls either from
patterns or completely freehand for generations. And, I have been truly pleased
to see American Primitives artists taking Raggedy Ann to heart. She seems ideally
suited to the folk art sphere, and the truly raggedy, toned down primitive
Raggedy Anns I have found do seem to capture something of the original doll
that is hard to describe. Perhaps it is the slightly worn quality that comes
from dolls being well-loved that I think of when I see excellently designed
primitive Raggedy Ann dolls such as the one shown here at left.
The doll artist has taken liberties with the traditional costume, but as you can
see, the red, white, and blue flavor is still there. It has simply been made more
subtle. The face, too, being handpainted, is probably more akin to Johnny Gruelle's
original doll than many of the printed face dolls created from the mid-20th century
Who is making the best Raggedy Ann dolls today?
Taste in dolls will always be subjective, but I believe that most Raggedy Ann
doll collectors will agree with me when I eagerly share this link with you
to R John Wright's Raggedy Ann Dolls.
I was stunned when I first saw these exquisitely made dolls. Look at their
wonderful clothing. Raggedy Ann even has a blue trimmed handkerchief in her
pocket. The dolls are 17" tall, and made of wool felt. Their hair is of wool
yarn, and is a nice compromise, in my opinion, between the original brown and
fire engine red that has appeared on Raggedy Ann's head over the last 100
years. Perhaps the thing to give the doll collector the biggest smile about these
wonderful new Raggedy Ann dolls is that a wooden 'candy' heart, detectable to
the touch, has been sewn inside of them! Old legends can be powerful things.
It is such a pleasure when a modern doll designer shows such evident dedication
to the quality of what they create. Dolls as splendid as these can reverse the bad
teachings of our throwaway culture, and teach us to treasure special works of love
and art as true keepsakes.
I have always been a decided fan of cloth dolls for children. I believe that
soft dolls evoke our wish to give hugs and to be gentle. Raggedy Ann deserves
a special place of honor in the doll world for all of the happy play she has
brought to children over many decades past.
My special thanks to the eBay store http://stores.ebay.com/SOMETHING-2-CROW-ABOUT
for their generous donation of the photos shown above of the primitive
Raggedy Ann doll. If you are a fan of primitives, you won't want to miss
a visit to their wonderfully stocked eBay store.