Treasures: Ribbon Doll has Roots in Chic 19th-Century Magazine

Frilly and feminine, this piece was probably made in the early 20th century.

Frilly and feminine, this piece was probably made in the early 20th century.

Dear Helaine and Joe:

One of my grandmother’s aunts made this picture in Baltimore, probably in the late 1800s or early 1900s. I received it about 1955. Was the making of these a common craft, or is this a rare piece?

Thank you,


Dear K.B.:

This is a charming and attractive piece of handiwork that can trace its roots — but not its origins — back to the early 19th century.

In 1830, Philadelphia’s Louis Antoine Godey (1804-1878) began publishing Godey’s Lady’s Book. Before the Civil War, it was known as America’s most popular and one of the (if not the most) expensive magazines, with subscriptions costing $3 a year.

The editor from 1837 to 1877 was Sarah Josepha Hale, who is perhaps more famous for having written “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” and she understood what women wanted to read and even published articles written by women from time to time (yes, it was still a man’s world). The magazine was designed to attract the attention of American women and was intended to entertain, inform and educate.

Early issues included biographical sketches, articles about anything from mineralogy to hygiene, recipes and other topics Godey and Hale perceived to be of interest to the “fairer sex.” The ladies of the day were interested in the articles about creating quilts and other bed coverings, hooking rugs and stitching needlework pictures, but what really made the magazine interesting was the colorful plates and fashion descriptions of the latest styles in dress.

It is said that the issues of the magazine chronicled the history of Victorian fashion from its beginning to its close in either 1878 or 1898, depending on the source consulted. Each month’s magazine included a piece of sheet music so the household piano player could play the latest tunes (everything from waltzes to polkas), a pattern for the home seamstress to create a fetching garment and a recipe or two.

Godey’s was an urban and rural woman’s connection to what was au courant in Paris and elsewhere. The magazine’s readers were so captivated they often cut the fashion pictures out of the magazine (and others like it) and framed them for both decoration and inspiration. Sometimes, enterprising women would add fabric and ribbon to the silhouettes of the images taken from Godey’s.

This tradition continued in the first half of 20th century, when for 10 cents — or “one thin dime” — consumers could purchase ribbon kits that were sold with fashion images that were close to paper dolls. The idea was to take the ribbons plus other fabrics that might be found around the house, add human hair (or mohair) and lace adhere it to the card stock paper image to create a fashion “doll,” usually reflecting styles from the 18th or 19th century.

Today, collectors call these vintage ribbon dolls, and they can be found offered for sale in the $35 to $125 range, depending on condition and how elaborate they are. The one in today’s question from the 1920s or ’30s appears to be in good condition but is a fairly standard version. It should be valued for retail in the $50 to $75 range.

View the original article on the Lompoc Record.