Golliwogg.co.uk - An independent guide to Golliwogs


An independent guide to golliwogs, including golliwog history, golliwog books/stories, golliwog dolls and golliwog collectables

In defence of Upton's Golliwogg...

Florence Kate Upton's career as an illustrator lasted less than thirty years - 1895 until 1922 - during which time she illustrated many joyous books for children of the wild adventures of Golliwogg and his friends, five wooden Dutch dolls. The original books and dolls are now eagerly sought by collectors.

Florence Kate Upton was born February 22, 1873, in Flushing, Long Island, New York. After the death of her father the family eventually returned briefly to England, but returning to New York in 1894, Florence completed her first story about the Golliwogg.

Florence Kate Upton

The origin of Golliwogg, as Florence herself said in an interview, "is passing simple. He was born of no deep, dark intentions, nor was he the product of a decadent craving for ugliness on the part of his creator. He simply walked quietly side by side with me out of my own childhood...Tracing him back to as near the beginning as I can get, he came from an American Fair. Farther we cannot go, and must fall back on the Topsy theory - 'he growed'." Florence's mother, Bertha Upton, wrote the verse text for the books, following the plot set by the illustrations. Florence then hand-lettered the text on separate pages and drew small figures around the margins.

Florence Kate Upton's Golliwogg in formal minstrel attire in "The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwogg" in 1895

Florence set the first story, "The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwogg" in a toy shop where all the toys come alive on Christmas Eve. This is a familiar scenario in children's books today, but Florence was among the earliest to use it. Golliwogg displays a sensitive and chivalrous side, but more importantly is his love of adventure. Throughout the entire series, the basic plot and the principal characters' personalities vary little from the first book. The Golliwogg is a mischievous, headstrong, gallant, lovable hero who initiates every adventure.

The first book was tremendously successful and quickly went into additional printings. For the next fifteen years, Longmans published a new Upton book for children every December in time for the Christmas market.

Golliwogg's adventures followed the development of all the latest ideas; when the first bicycles appeared, Golliwogg built some and led his friends on a long, adventurous trip. The invention of the automobile followed and Golliwogg built his own, treating his friends again to new adventures. Two years after the first Zeppelin was launched Golliwogg and his crew took off in their airship. They discovered the North Pole and hung a sign from it saying: "This pole has been discovered by Golliwogg, Peggy, Sarah Jane, Meg and Weg and the Midget." This was some twenty-six years before Christopher Robin, Winnie-the-Pooh, and their 'expotition' arrive to repeat the deed.

Distinguished art critic Sir Kenneth Clark's words on his benighted childhood echo the sentiments of many readers in the early 20th century:

"Like Charlemagne, I thought I would never succeed in mastering this difficult art (reading) but in the end I succeeded, and what joys were available to me. The chief of these was a series of illustrated books, by Florence and Bertha Upton…which recount and illustrate the adventures of a Golliwogg and five Dutch dolls. I do not think it an exaggeration to say that they influenced my character more fundamentally than anything I have read since… He was for me an example of chivalry, far more persuasive than the unconvincing Knights of the Arthurian legend. I identified myself with him completely, and have never quite ceased to do so."

Upton's books have no evil creatures, no scheming witches. There are dangers to face and challenges to be met, but they are usually based on a misunderstanding and solved through learning to see another character's viewpoint.

The phenomenal success of the books and the popularity of the protagonist did not escape the attention of toy manufacturers. For the first time in the history of children's literature, a storybook character was reproduced as a doll and the first to do so was Steiff of Germany, many others quickly followed. Children of every class rejoiced in the possession of their very own rag doll and waited anxiously for the new book relating his latest adventure.

Unfortunately, Florence neglected to patent the Golliwogg and this cost her a considerable fortune in royalties. Golliwogg became the first 'named' soft toy, closely followed by the Teddy Bear and Raggedy Ann.

Upton's Golliwogg was a gallant fellow, but other writers - particularly Enid Blyton - stole the name and used "golliwog" to describe a race - there's no other word for it - of shiftless, Sambo like caricatures who had little in common with the Golliwogg except his colour.

Cover of "The Three Golliwogs", by Enid Blyton

Enid Blyton's"The Three Golliwogs" (1944) is a collection of eleven stories all utterly dependent on not being able to tell Wiggie, Waggie and Wollie apart. How many times have you heard, "I can never tell them apart" used in describing Chinese, or any ethnic group? Enid Blyton is simply by repetition reinforcing this belief.

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