The ragman used to be a common sight in New Hampshire. If you grew up in the 1960s or earlier, then you remember a man with a horse and wagon (or possibly an antiquated pickup truck) who would drive through your neighborhood collecting old clothes and rags. If you had knives to be sharpened, he could do that for you.
Often the wagon had a scale. Before weighing them and making payment, the ragman would check to see that the rags weren't wet, or that the customer hadn't placed a stone inside the bag of rags “by mistake.”
It used to be that every proper home had a rag bag. In my parent's house it was a large blue cotton duffel bag that sat on the cellar landing. It held all the odd bits of clothing material (especially from old, white t-shirts, towels or pillow cases). The material was cut into 8-12 inch squares before going into the bag.
These rags were used throughout the house for every conceivable washing and drying need from dishes, to windows, and of course the family car. I still call wash cloths and dish cloths, “wash rags,” and “dish rags.” Rag strips were also tied to a mop handle to make a wonderful cleaning tool.
My grandmother Webster used rags to create lovely rugs. She cut the rags into strips, and dyed them. Rag rugs lasted forever (or so it seemed).
Rags were washed and reused until finally they became so threadbare and useless that they were saved for sale to the ragman [or rag merchant]. He would, in turn sell the rags–sometimes to companies who needed rags for their paper-making process.
Our frequent use of paper towels is wasteful (of forest resources), and harmful to the environment (taking up landfill space, and they are costly). In this case we really should be emulating the habits of our ancestors.
-History of Paper-