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About the Author Greetings! This is me when I was 3. And, as you can see from the photo, I was very happy when playing with my dolls. Decades later, dolls still hold a fond place in my heart. I have created DollKind in order to publish my doll history research articles and to share my enjoyment of dolls with you.

  closeup image of Raggedy Ann Doll Face

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 age.

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.

Original Johnny Gruelle Raggedy Ann Illustration 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 anti-vaccination movement?
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 the doll.

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 fiction.

Raggedy Ann Dolls of the Late 20th Century 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 hair.
  • Applause Dolls, 1981. Tag sewn in seam.
  • Hasbro, 1983 - Onward. Marketed under the Playskool label.

Example of vintage Raggedy Ann book 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 of adventures.

Vintage Raggedy Ann Plate, 1979 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 or another.

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 others.

Primitive Raggedy Ann Doll 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 onward.

R John Wright Raggedy Ann and Andy 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.