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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article


The Rag Doll In The United States

Author: Louella Hart

( Article orginally published November 1962 )

THE advertising rag doll began to be popular as early as 1900. Aunt Jemima and her Pickaninnies have already been pictured ( August 1962), as have Buster Brown and Tige, and the Palmer Cox Brownies. The last two sets are considered advertising figures to the extent that they put into the hands of children tangible forms of characters they had learned to love in books, magazines, and comics.

Sunny Jim, well known through Minny Hanff's jingles and drawings, advertising the breakfast cereal Force, came to rag doll form in 18-inch size, printed on cloth by the Niagra Lithographing Company of New York. He was used as a premium.

Rastus the Chef, a rag doll 16-inches tall, with red jacket, blue trousers and cap, appeared in 1930 as a premium for Cream of Wheat Corporation; Puffy was a cloth premium for Quaker Puffed Wheat and Puffed Rice. The rag doll, Kookie, designed by Spence Wildey, advertised an automatic range.

Hundreds of other rag dolls were used in advertising. Uncle Sam was stamped on large size sugar sacks of the Western Sugar Refinery, San Francisco, California, under copyright taken out in 1935, Other dolls on Sea Island 10-pound sugar bags were Gobo, Minka, Scotty, and Uluk. Kellogg's cereals created little Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Collectors will find many others to add to this list.

In the depression year of 1930, dolls were made as W.P.A. projects. Mrs. Guilia Cuthbert, Charleston, West Virginia, owns one with this label: "Works Progress Administration Handicraft Project /Milwaukee, Wisconsin /Sponsored by Milwaukee County and Milwaukee State Teachers' College." This doll is 11-inches tall, of peach colored cotton, with painted features and string hair. A well-made dress and panties complete the doll; she wore no shoes.

Most collectors know the work of Lewis Sorensen. In 1930, while working for the Z.C.M.I, in Salt Lake City as designer of children's and ladies' wash dresses, he started making rag sailor boy dolls in the evenings. These sold as fast as he could turn them out. About 1935, in Los Angeles, he made a lady doll, dressed in rayon pajamas, with a bust, painted features, and yarn hair. Later he created a lavish lady doll in Colonial costume, with a profile instead of flat features. He refers to this type as "cloth sculpture." Just before composition dolls came on the market, he was making 12-inch cloth little girls with braids and roller skates. From these he went to rag dolls with pressed faces, even creating wrinkled old lady dolls. These sold for $25. He considers his Flapper his finest cloth creation. It was 12 inches tall when seated. College girls bought hundreds.

Bernard Ravca, of New York City, was another gentleman who worked in cloth sculpture, being best known for his stockinette dolls. His ability to catch likenesses of old folk won him fame. Life magazine, November 29, 1943, hailed the floppy rag doll as the newest Christmas gift. Faced again with wartime shortages, the doll industry developed the floppy rag type stuffed with cotton, with painted eyes and yarn hair, requiring neither metal nor elastic. Among them were Junior Miss, a life-size child of four, by the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company; a bride, by Madame Alexander Doll Company; a little girl with yellow yarn pigtails holding a baby doll, and a Jack and Jill, dressed-alike brother and sister pair, by the Effanbee Doll Company.

A call by the writer in June 1961 on Mrs. Marion Backus of Lanakila Craft Inc. in Honolulu, Hawaii, and a guided tour of the plant brought to light cloth dolls which, though intended for children, are already considered treasures by adult doll collectors. This firm employs only handicapped people, sells wholesale, and is self-supporting.

Talking rag dolls, in keeping with the times, appeared on the 1961 Christmas market. Sister Belle, the talking girl, Matty, the talking boy, and Casper, the talking ghost, who can each say several sentences when the magic ring at the back of the neck is pulled, were created by Mattel Inc., Hawthorne, California.

Many fine old cloth figures made by Indian tribes are to be found in fortunate collections. Some of these dolls wear real silver belts, bracelets, and trimming. The old women of the tribes were responsible for these treasures. Now they are gone, it is difficult to find present-day Indian dolls worthy to be collector items.

Appreciation is expressed to the Doll Collectors of America, Inc. for permission to use in this series several photographic illustrations which have appeared in their publications, American Made Dolls and Figurines, Doll Collectors' Manual, and the drawing of the Cinderella Sitting Doll, by Mrs, Henry Johnson, which was u,;ed in the Supplement to American Made Dolls and Figurines, 1942. Thanks go also to Mrs. Gordon Bennett for the picture of her Ida Chubb mammy doll. Full patent papers of dolls discussed here may be obtained at 25 each from the U. S. Patent Office, Washington 25, D. C, Give patent number. date, and patentee when ordering.



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