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The History of Golliwogs or Golly Dolls

The History of Golliwogs or Golly Dolls

Published: Apr 19th, 2022 11:23 AM

I would just like to point out right from the start of this article, that I am in no way racist towards anyone.

So why do I make Golliwogs, or as they are now known as Golly Dolls (let's just call them Golly's from here)?

Well, for me, it's about preserving history, and they are a great way to teach children that we are all the same, which is why I felt it was important to write this article to demonstrate the history of Golly's and to show, that originally they weren't meant to be a tool for racism, which unfortunately they did become.

Golly's are a type of rag doll. They were originally made from black fabric and black eyes bordered with white, red lips with white teeth and frizzy hair.

Florence Kate Upton
Florence Kate Upton's book "The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwogg".

Inspiration for Golly's came from Florence Kate Upton who was born in 1873, in Flushing New York and was the daughter of English parents. Her father died when she was 14, at which point she moved back to England. To be able to afford art school she illustrated the book "The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwogg". It was a children’s book that had a character by the name of Golliwogg, who looked scary but was a positive character. Inspired by blackface minstrels he had black skin, red lips, frizzy hair and was dressed in traditional minstrel clothing. Golliwogg proved very popular and the book sold very well in England along with its sequels. Similar dolls and images started carrying the name Golliwog because of that popularity and because Florence did not patent the name.

This made the doll a popular children’s toy during a large part of the 20th century. Its fame was so wide that it spread to advertising and other selling items like children's china and other toys, ladies' perfume, and jewellery.

Roberton's & Sons Jam
James Robertson & Sons, a British jam factory, used the Gollywog as a mascot from 1910 until 2001.
Blackjack Aniseed Wrapper
“Blackjack” - aniseed candy made in the United Kingdom used a gollywog’s face from the 1920s until the 1980s.

One theory of the origin of the name “Golliwogg” says that while British soldiers held Egypt in the second half of the 19th century, they had Egyptian labourers that worked for them. Workers wore insignia W.O.G.S. on their armbands which meant “Working on Government Service”. British troops spoke of them as “ghouls” - which is an Arabic word for a desert ghost. Egyptian children played with black dolls which they would sometimes give to British soldiers or they would buy dolls from children. Those dolls were later called “Ghuliwogs” and later “Golliwogg”. How much truth is in this theory - is not known.

The “Golliwogg” doll in time became very controversial. While some see it as a part of tradition and part of childhood others see it as racist. That is why they started disappearing from shops and advertisements but they still can be found especially on the Internet. There is the possibility that “golliwogg” evolved into “wog” which is a racial slur applied to dark-skinned people.

Whatever you think, they are a part of our history, one that should be preserved.

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