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by Patricia Hall

Peering down from atop a shelf, their tousled yarn-haired heads bent to one side, the funny rag dolls look as though they could have been tossed up there yesterday. But their knowing smiles, wise shoe-button eyes and the smudges of many childish hugs and kisses give away the true age of these little dolls. Through many decades, and in multiple forms, this duo has been around for, it seems, nearly forever. If only they could speak, what a tale they could tell--one that goes back almost 100 years, when a gentle, spiritual artist named Johnny Gruelle first created them. Johnny Gruelle (1880 - 1938) began his career as a newspaper cartoonist, working in Indianapolis, Cleveland, and New York City. With talents perfected early on at his drawing board, Gruelle eventually became a book illustrator, an author, and a toy designer who created lovable playthings for children, the best known being Raggedy Ann and Andy. Raggedy Ann came first, and her beginnings have been documented in many fanciful legends. By most accounts, the idea for Raggedy Ann was sparked in Gruelle's imagination by an old family rag doll he had found in his mother's attic. With a new face (expertly painted on by Gruelle himself) the doll became a favorite plaything of Gruelle's daughter, Marcella.

Several years later, Gruelle supposedly wrote some poems about the little rag doll, which were never published. However, he had begun including rag dolls in many of his cartoons, usually trailing from the hand of a little girl. Then, in 1915, Gruelle created a specific design for a stylized doll he called "Raggedy Ann." Being a businessman as well as an artist, Gruelle saw commercial potential in his comical plaything, and secured both a design patent and a trademark for his Raggedy Ann. That same year Gruelle (with the help of his family) handmade small quantities of his rag doll to sell. In 1918, the P.F. Volland Company of Chicago published Raggedy Ann Stories, written and illustrated by Johnny Gruelle, and also began selling commercially manufactured Raggedy Ann dolls. In 1920, Volland published Gruelle's Raggedy Andy Stories and offered a Raggedy Andy doll---a huggable version of Raggedy Ann's saucy, but good-hearted brother. Many believe that Gruelle's Raggedy books were written as a tribute to his late daughter, Marcella, who had died tragically several years before, of an infected vaccination.

In the years that followed, Johnny Gruelle's Raggedy books and dolls became very well known. Children loved the dolls because they were bright and huggable and adored the stories because they told of wonderful adventures in magical places such as the Deep Deep Woods. Parents and teachers liked Gruelle's dolls and stories because they conveyed solid values and virtues such as kindness, generosity, and compassion. Even during the Great Depression of the 1930s, when people had little money to spend, the Raggedys remained popular. Although Johnny Gruelle had to work even harder to keep his books in print and his dolls in production, everyone still looked to the Raggedys for the cheer and good values they represented. Following Gruelle's death in 1938, the public love for the Raggedys and their special spirit continued, and his books and dolls have remained popular during ever since.

Today, as Raggedy Ann approaches her 90th birthday in 2005 (and Andy, his 85th), Johnny Gruelle's Raggedy books and dolls are prized by collectors who continue to marvel at his artistic abilities and uncanny ability to capture a whimsical, make-believe world. Raggedy collecting is a passion for many old and new fans, who comb flea markets, dolls shows, and on-line auction sites for the familiar yarn hair and triangle noses. Most importantly, in these very modern times children, parents, grandparents, teachers, librarians, and collectors still adore Johnny Gruelle's whimsical Raggedys for their old-fashioned looks, kindly playfulness, and gentle spirit.

To order Patty's BOOKS about RAGGEDY ANN AND ANDY and JOHNNY GRUELLE, visit Patty's Products.

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Raggedy Ann® and Raggedy Andy® are registered trademarks of Simon& Schuster and United Media. All rights reserved.

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