Candy Hearts: Raggedy Ann and Andy, still popular after a century

Raggedy Ann, that floppy, red-headed cutie, is now 92 years old; Andy’s just a couple years younger. Their roots go back to Arcola, Illinois and a little girl named Marcella.

oldest_raggedy.jpgOne day in 1915, Marcella showed her father, Illinois cartoonist and illustrator Johnny Gruelle, a worn rag doll made by her grandmother. Gruelle drew a face on the doll, then supposedly called her Raggedy Ann from names in James Whitcomb Riley’s “The Raggedy Man” and “Little Orphan Annie”.

Realizing he could have a marketing hit, Gruelle started pitching Raggedy Ann and her adventures to publishers. P.F. Volland Co. jumped at the opportunity to manufacture rag dolls to tie in with the written and illustrated Johnny Gruelle storybooks.

Sadly, Marcella passed away from an illness before Raggedy Ann debuted in 1918. The first book, Raggedy Ann Stories, was filled with tales Gruelle had entertained Marcella with while she was sick. Copies of that book are now priced around $54.

Raggedy Ann Cover.jpgIn those stories, Raggedy Ann comes to life when humans aren’t looking and experiences wonderful adventures. By 1920, Ann is joined by her brother, Andy, in The Raggedy Andy Stories, also currently bringing in about $54.

Volland enticed the public with charming dolls of all sizes, as well as nearly every product imaginable. Children couldn’t get enough of these Raggedys.

What child (or adult) could resist a story beginning, “One day Raggedy Ann and Andy were walking in the deep, deep woods…” In this particular tale, the rag duo met their friend, the camel with the wrinkled knees. While the book sells for $16, the Knickerbocker doll camel with the wrinkled knees is $595. This camel adds variety to a Raggedy collection, so it is in particular demand.

Gruelle’s Beloved Belindy was also a hit in 1926 and remains extremely beloved to this day. Like the camel, Belindy offers a face other than Ann and Andy, making it an attractive addition. Since it also has the crossover for collectors of black memorabilia, it is another sought out favorite. An original book will cost you $135, while a Georgene Belindy doll, 18-19” tall, can go for as much as $1995.)

In 1929, Gruelle wrote and illustrated, Marcella: A Raggedy Ann Story, in memory of his daughter. Through his charming illustrations and words, we see the loving tribute unfold as Marcella takes her friends Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy, Beloved Belindy, and other rag friends to her playhouse in the orchard.

By 1934, Gruelle’s “Adventures with Raggedy Ann and Andy” became syndicated and appeared in newspapers across the country, further expanding the market. Eventually Johnny Gruelle became known as “The Raggedy Ann Man”.

Georgene.jpgWhile other dolls have been fads, replaced by the next trend of the doll-marketing world, Raggedy Ann and Andy have become an Americana image. First manufactured in 1918, it qualifies as an antique. Continuously made, it also falls in the vintage and modern categories. Raggedys have stood the test of time and remained popular licensed items, providing a wide variety for collecting, regardless of price range.

It is possible that a child today could have parents and grandparents who also grew up with Ann and Andy. No other doll claims that status. Thus there is often an emotional childhood attachment motivating adult collectors. Trina Chow is one such enthusiast.

Chow got her first Raggedy Ann when she was two. She’s now 37 and owns more than 300 Raggedys. Chow grew up reading these storybooks.

“They were my favorite childhood books,” she said. “I still admire them for their wonderful story telling, but also for their gorgeous art work.”

Chow only has a few books that do not have Raggedy Ann in their titles. A Georgene Beloved Belindy from the 1940s and “several renditions of the camel with the wrinkled knees, another childhood favorite character,” accompany her Ann and Andy dolls.

Andrew “Andy” Tabbat received a Knickerbocker Raggedy Andy in 1971 as a gift. It wasn’t until 1976, when he spotted a c1931 Volland Raggedy Andy. that the collecting bug hit.

“In that split second,” he said, he had his second doll. Soon to follow that was a Georgene Awake/Asleep Andy, a style with two faces. With a collection of only Andys, Tabbat considered collecting just boy dolls.

“That resolve melted as soon as I saw my first really early Ann,” he said.

Earliest Volland Anns 2.jpgHe currently displays about 70 Raggedy Anns and 55 Andys, as well as many dolls representing other Gruelle characters. Original books and other marketed items expand his collection.

Raggedy collectors often have a favorite era, others a manufacturer or character. Tabbat prefers those sold by P.F. Volland, 1918-1934. Even with his remarkable number of early dolls, Tabbat says he is first a Gruelle collector and secondly, a Raggedy collector.

“The Vollands really capture the way I envision the simple hand-me-downs that Johnny Gruelle wrote about,” he said.

He also collects books inscribed by Johnny Gruelle, especially those having a sketch.

In the early days of his collecting, Tabbat realized there was very little written about Gruelle, and began researching. He has since become a leading expert on Johnny Gruelle’s Raggedy Ann and Andy. In 1989, he was co-curator for a Raggedy Ann Retrospective at the Oakland Museum, and in 2004, he was the curator for a Gruelle exhibition for the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco. Tabbat has lectured extensively and authored three books about this subject.

Online buying is currently allowing buyers a vast selection of previously unknown or unavailable dolls. Chow said she has purchased some items she never would have found otherwise. Two such (separate) eBay purchases were an early 1920s Volland Ann and Andy.

Although Tabbat agrees about the availability, he says, “Online buying takes the fun out of the hunt… and the chatting with dealers.”

He also cautions that, “It can be difficult to tell exactly what one is getting. For example, I’ve received dolls and books with mildew, which is something I am extremely cautious of when buying hands-on.”

Regardless where you discover them, you will still grin at Raggedy Ann and Andy’s whimsical “floppiness,” and their charm will still melt your heart.