I’ve been seeing, “Corn Dollies go back to antiquity!” for a darned long while. I originally got to trying to find out how yarn/grass dolls evolved and stuck in the early 1800’s for the earliest dates on those. There are comments about grass dolls being made in the Colonial era, but I haven’t found any references in Europe…. certainly no primary source material. “Antiquity” and “Traditional” sometimes don’t go back very far at all!
There are lots of “folklore” references to the corn dollies from the harvest, or the last sheaf. Lots and lots of modern stuff.
There are lots of straw weaving/braiding references.
I don’t know that these things are period at all!
Kids, though…. Children who lack toys make them. There’s a wonderful reference in the chapter, January Thaw, from Little Town at the Crossroads (ref2, below) about a family of little girls making dolls from grass, seeds and pinecone bits, and how they did them with “found materials”. These would have been ephemeral toys disintegrating as they were played with, but such was surely the fate of most toys in period, as well.
Here are a few very modern examples that I found. Obviously, I have much more research to do….
Some finds on Pinterest
I did find one book and now have a copy of it, but a quick read didn’t give me anything primary or even secondary. I’m hoping to do a more in-depth read and see what I can wring out of it. (Golden Dolly ref1) [as of 11/15]
[8/16] I went through the book in-depth. Nope, nothing in the least period. I still have found nothing more. At this point I have to assume that corn dollies, as we know them, don’t date back past the Victorian “pagan” revival.
Ref 1 – Minnie Lambeth, Golden Dolly: Art, Mystery and History of Corn Dollies, December, 1971, ISBN-10: 0212983652, ISBN-13: 978-0212983650
Ref 2 – Maria D. Wilkes, Little Town at the Crossroads, Dan Andreasen (Illustrator), Little House Series, HarperCollins, April 17, 1997, ISBN-10: 0064406512, ISBN-13: 978-0064406512