The Ginghams Paper Dolls from the 70s and 80s
If you were a seventies child or seventies mother, chances are you remember Becky, Sarah,
Katie and Carrie - The Ginghams Paper Dolls. These cheery little girl paper dolls played
in perfectly to the old-time country style made popular in this decade by TV shows like
Little House on the Prairie and fashions like the Gunnie Sax peasant dress. Dressed
in Victorian-esque clothing, trimmed with that trademark gingham fabric, these paper
dolls were among the very favorites of so many little girls of this era.
First published in 1976 by Golden, The Ginghams were introduced to the world in a little
book called The Backward Picnic.The Whitman Western Publishing Company then published
the first paper dolls in a simple, brown gingham paper doll book consisting of the
four dolls and four pages of cut-out clothing (see photo below). Subsequent
Ginghams publications were created by Golden and Rainbow Works. The second booklet-form
publication was entitled The Ginghams at Home and at School. It was published in 1980 and included
not only the 4 dolls and their costumes, but also play-set rooms including
a parlor, kitchen, bedroom and school room. The third booklet publication was released in 1981 and
was entitled The Ginghams Visit Grandma. It contained the 4 girls plus a grandmother
paper doll, clothing and little paper accessories.
Several artist were credited with drawing The Ginghams including Susan Morris and Joanne E. Koenig.. The style of illustration
is simple with the black pen-and-ink outlines typical of cartoonists of that period, but brought
to colorful life with plenty of pretty hues and detailed patterns. The Gingham's were available
at toy stores and neighborhood five-and-dimes, and for about $1, they offered little girls hours of
wholesome enjoyment. To me, the overall feeling of this well-loved paper doll collection was so friendly, playful and fun.
Did The Ginghams remind you of Holly Hobbie dolls? I know they did me. I thought that the Holly Hobbie Amy doll
was like a cloth version of The Gingham's Sarah. I've always wondered if any other little girls noticed that!
In addition to the three rectangular paper doll booklets, The Ginghams appeared in a thrilling
series of boxed play sets, each complete with a background scene, special clothes, accessories
and even pets. Each boxed paper doll set featured one of the little Ginghams girls.
Carrie was the brunette girl with the bun on top of her head. She always struck me as
a very tidy little girl and I sensed she had refined tastes. It's funny to think of the personal
characteristics I imbued each of The Ginghams with, but their faces, hairstyles clothing and
accoutrements seemed to send me little signals about the paper dolls' personalities. Carrie
appeared in these 4 boxed sets:
- Carrie's Bedroom (1976)
- Carrie's Birthday Party (1978)
- Carrie's Boutique (1979)
- Carrie's County Fair (1980)
Katie's hair was an Irish red-brown, and she was a lucky little girl. Not only
did she get to run an ice cream parlor (what right-minded child wouldn't LOVE that)
but she also went on a trip to the seashore and had her very own artist's studio. I
always thought that Katie and Sarah looked rather alike, but could never really decide
whether they were sisters, cousins or just good friends. Katie appeared in these 4 boxed sets:
- Katie's Ice Cream Parlor (1976)
- Katie's Country Store (1978)
- Katie at the Seashore (1979)
- Katie's Artist Loft (1980)
It was very hard to decide which one of The Ginghams was my favorite. Maybe it was Sarah. I
like the fact that her hair was longer, like my own! And, I simply could not resist
the pretty look of the green gingham dress she was first featured wearing. I think I really liked
what a country girl Sarah was, with her farm and country kitchen. She appeared in these 4 darling
- Sarah's Picnic (1976)
- Sarah's Farm (1978)
- Sarah's Country Kitchen (1979)
- Sarah's Pet Shop (1980)
While I admired Becky's lemon-yellow hair, I confess, the story of Little Women had
prejudiced me against blonde girls as a child. Becky reminded me of Amy March and I'm afraid
I felt she was rather vain. Still, she had wonderfully charming clothes and loads of fun. I
recall that sometimes her hair was shown up in a bun like Carrie's and other times it was
half-up/half-down like Katie's. Sarah was featured in these 4 boxed sets:
- Becky's Playroom(1976)
- Becky's School Room (1978)
- Becky's Winter Carnival (1979)
- Becky's Tea Party (1980)
The Ginghams Clothing
As with so many paper dolls, half the fun of playing with them was in trying on their clothing.
The tabbed clothing of The Ginghams featured fluffy party dresses, patchwork prairie dresses,
hats, hairbows, and of course, lots of gingham prints. All of the clothing created for each of
the 4 dolls tended to coordinate around a single color such a green, blue, red, pink or yellow.
Where The Ginghams Played
Just look at the festive details in this Christmas-time parlor scene! Children often notice details
better than adults do, and though simple, the rooms designed for these paper dolls to play and work
in had such a charming, welcoming feel. The accessories of the Christmas tree, crackling fire and
other decorations only added to the real 3-d feeling of play with The Ginghams.
The Ginghams enjoyed a strong but rather brief popularity. Between the late 1970s and early 1980s,
they appeared in 3 paper doll booklets, 16 boxed play sets, and at least 2 illustrated children's books.
Additionally, there was a booklet of punch-out Ginghams Christmas tree ornaments, coloring books,
painting books and a puzzle book. One vintage Gingham's collectible item that I've never been able
to find mention of, but which I remember well, was a The Gingham's Colorforms set. Do you remember
Colorforms - those sticky, flat vinyl images that you stuck to an adhesive background. I have a
very clear memory of looking at sets of The Ginghams Colorforms at my neighborhood Sprouse Reitz
five-and-ten store. Does anyone else remember these?
The Value of The Ginghams Today
Your best hope of buying and selling vintage Ginghams paper dolls and toys is to be found on
eBay. Current value for these collectibles is around the $20 - $30 price range, with nostalgia
sometimes fueling bidding wars for items in good condition. It can be tough to find mint
condition Ginghams. As with so many paper dolls, even gentle play resulted in tears and creases,
and I often see Ginghams at auction with deeply creased necks. Only good luck or persistent
searching will yield unopened, good-as-new sets of these cherished paper dolls.
In the story of girlhood, paper dolls have a special place. Their inexpensiveness meant that we girls could
often save our own allowance money to get the ones we most longed for, and their simple nature inspired
us to create whole wonderful worlds for them to inhabit. So many of today's popular toys leave nothing
to the child's imagination and I think that's a shame. I remember spending hours developing engrossing
scenarios in which Becky, Sarah, Katie and Carrie overcame challenges, solved problems, learned life
lessons and, most of all, had oodles of fun. Paper dolls invited me to play quietly by myself, learning
that I could make my own entertainment. That's a quality I've carried with me into adulthood, and if you
were a Gingham's fan, I bet you have, too.
I hope you've enjoyed this glimpse of The Ginghams and that it's brought back many sunny memories.