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Cabbage Patch Kids Were The Original Surprise Toys

Granted, they didn’t come in a blind box or bag. But each doll was unique and a happy surprise to the child who “adopted” it.

Geriatric millennials (sorry) spent their childhoods coveting everything from Barbie dolls to Teddy Ruxpins. We loved them; we had to have them. So, because we’re nostalgic like that, we wanted to take a look back at some of our most beloved, extremely popular ‘80s and ‘90s toys and explore why we obsessed over them and where they are now. We turned to veteran toy expert Jessica Hartshorn, who has spent her career writing about all things parenting and toys, to do her due diligence and get to the bottom of some of our most-wished-for favorites. Behold, Scary Mommy’s nostalgia & toys extravaganza. All week, we’ll be looking at the toys that made us. You’re welcome.

There were toy fads in the '50s, '60s, and '70s. But I don't think anything ever made headlines and shook the country like the Cabbage Patch Kids craze of 1983. Shoppers rioted over the dolls. I do remember that I wanted one — and didn't get one. I am sure my newly divorced mom made it clear to me that she was picking her battles and fighting for a doll was not one of them. The next year, for Christmas, I got a kit to make my own Cabbage Patch Kid (something like this). My semi-homemade doll had yellow yarn hair and green eyes, and I named her Olive. She was beloved, and the last doll I ever had as a child.

The craziest thing about Cabbage Patch Kids is that, to this day, each one is unique. When you see them lined up, they vary by hair, skin color, eye color, and outfit. Of course, this means that you might not get the doll you envision and must learn to love whichever you receive. This is easier to understand for children because the dolls come with adoption papers — and the request to swear an oath of adoption. You are being asked to parent a unique doll, and that feels like quite a responsibility. The fact that these dolls make such one-of-a-kind toys could very well be the reason they never seem to wane much in popularity.

Cabbage Patch Kids

The whole phenomenon was an early precursor to today’s “surprise” toys where kids don’t know exactly what they’re going to get. Yet today’s L.O.L. line has a finite number of possible dolls. The allure of Cabbage Patch Kids is that the possibilities are limitless.

I went down a Google rabbit hole trying to figure out what a hassle it is, in the factory, to make each doll different. No one seems to be spilling details about that. From a glance at the current mass-produced Cabbage Patch Kids, it looks like they sometimes just swap outfits and eye color. But still, that’s a lot of fussing that goes into keeping each doll one-of-a-kind.

How have Cabbage Patch Dolls evolved over the years?

There have been Cabbage Patch Kids during every Christmas season since that fateful 1983 rush. But the manufacturers have changed, from Coleco to Hasbro to Mattel and so on to today’s owner of the license, Jazwares. The original dolls were 16 inches high. They have since varied, from 20-inch dolls that marked the 20th anniversary of the line to 9-inch newborn baby dolls that are out today.

Today’s Cabbage Patch Kid

But in addition to the under-$30 imported Cabbage Patch Kids you can pick up at Target and Walmart, like the one above, you can still get exclusive Cabbage Patch Kids made in Georgia. They are either 17 or 20 inches tall and, frankly, are a little scary looking. (Sorry!) Maybe having a face that only a mother can love has always been the point of these throwback dolls? The made-in-the-USA exclusives are more like $90, and you can choose the baby’s birth date and name in advance to customize the birth certificate.

Also, the dolls made in Georgia have a fleet of “nurses” who help introduce them to customers. Visitors can shop at Babyland General Hospital in addition to adopting dolls online. You can watch the Babyland Instagram to see new dolls and, I guess, get in the Cabbage-Patch spirit.

Exclusives from Babyland General Hospital

If you are a real collector — an adult doll lover rather than someone buying for a child — there are also hand-stitched Cabbage Patch Kids dolls made by artists, starting at $260. They look even more, uh, cabbage-y, with extra pudgy, dimpled faces.

What do today’s kids think?

I doubt that kids growing up today are as worked up about owning a Cabbage Patch Kid as we were. For one thing, judging by the current Cabbage Patch Kids Instagram, many of today’s fans are babies themselves. The dolls have gone from being collectibles for older kids, like American Girl dolls, and become more of a “first doll” for toddlers. No doubt parents are excited to buy them for the ‘90s nostalgia factor.

A baby and baby Cabbage Patch doll

The '90s girls-vs-boys TV movie Cabbage Patch Kids: The Club House has not been updated for the new generation, and the Cabbage Patch cartoons never took off the way the My Little Pony shows did. But I think that's OK. The point of the dolls was always that you adopted them into your own family and infused them with special personality, not that they were represented on TV.

It's a beautiful thing that this '80s toys fad morphed into a lasting legacy of dolls that girls and boys can love. Dolls play an important role in the playroom, letting kids imagine the responsibility of being a parent. It's a lovely play pattern. And the tall tale of the babies coming from the Cabbage Patch is, well, a nice stall before you're ready or a real birds and bees talk.