When Was the Rag Doll Invented?

rag doll

As rag dolls are traditionally made of scraps of materials it’s very hard to determine when or where they were “invented”.

Handmade and often given as a first toy not many examples of early rag dolls have survived. Their very nature means they would disintegrate over time. But this is also part of their appeal. The fact that they can be carried around loved and patched up when they get tatty makes them perfect toys for little ones.

Despite not many examples surviving there are examples of early rag dolls including an American rag doll named Bangwell Putt thought to date back to around the 1770s. As well as a Roman rag doll housed in the British Museum that was found in a child’s grave and believed to date somewhere between the 1st and 5th century AD.

The earliest known rag doll was discovered in Egypt and dates back to the 1st century AD made from scraps of rags and papyrus. Corn husks were also a popular material for doll making in other parts of the world.

It is generally thought that rag dolls would have been given to children to act as comforters as well as toys. And that they would also have been used as educational toys to teach children about nurturing and also to teach sewing skills as children would be able to make new clothes for their dolls with small scraps of material.

Rag dolls also have a long history in Mexico and have been revived as part of the tourist industry in the 1970s as part of a program to support the local economy.

Commercially produced Rag Dolls

Mass production of rag dolls started around 1830, roughly the same time that colour printing of fabric began. Yet despite being mass-produced, the dolls retained their simple features, soft bodies and often even the patchwork clothing.

Now there are many companies making soft dolls. Some are designed to look like more traditional rag dolls with hair made of yarn and colourful patchwork clothing. Others are still hand made even if this is on a commercial basis. We love the bright colours of the Big Jigs dolls as the simple colours and organic cotton of the Rubens Barn eco-buds dolls.

Rag dolls in popular culture

The rag dolls universal appeal to young children has led them to be featured in a number of children’s books and TV series.

Golliwog was a 19th-century rag doll character as was Raggedy Anne, a rag doll with red yarn hair and a triangle nose, who may have been the inspiration for the TV show Rag Doll Anna in the 1980s.

The Raggy dolls was a popular TV series in the 1980s and Rosie and Jim another child’s TV show in the 1990s. And of course, there’s the slightly spooky-looking Sally from the nightmare before Christmas.


Next Up: How Do You Make a Rag Doll?