The Golliwog (originally
spelled Golliwogg) began life as a story book
character created by Florence Kate Upton. Upton was born
in 1873 in Flushing, New York, to English parents who had
emigrated to the United States in 1870. She was the second
of four children. When Upton was fourteen, her father died
and, shortly thereafter, the family returned to England.
For several years she honed her skills as an artist.
Unable to afford art school, Upton illustrated her own
children's book in the hope of raising tuition money.
In 1895, her book, entitled "The
Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwogg", was
published in London. Upton drew the illustrations, and her
mother, Bertha Upton, wrote the accompanying verse. The
book's main characters were two Dutch dolls, Peg and Sarah
Jane, and the Golliwogg. The story begins with Peg and
Sara Jane, on the loose in a toy shop, encountering "a
horrid sight, the blackest gnome." The little black
"gnome" wore bright red trousers, a red bow tie on a high
collared white shirt, and a blue swallow-tailed coat. He
was a caricature of American black faced minstrels - in
effect, the caricature of a caricature. She named him
The Golliwogg was based on a Black minstrel doll
that Upton had played with as a small child in New
York. The then-nameless "Negro minstrel doll" was
treated roughly by the Upton children. Upton
reminiscenced: "Seated upon a flowerpot in the
garden, his kindly face was a target for rubber
balls..., the game being to knock him over
backwards. It pains me now to think of those
little rag legs flying ignominiously over his
head, yet that was a long time ago, and before
he had become a personality.... We knew he was
Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwogg" was
immensely popular in England, and Golliwogg became a
national star. For the next fourteen years, Bertha and
Florence Upton created a total of thirteen
books featuring Golliwogg and his adventures,
travelling to such "exotic" places as Africa and the North
Pole, accompanied by his friends, the Dutch Dolls. In
those books the Uptons put the Golliwogg first in every
The Uptons did not copyright the Golliwogg, and the image
entered into public domain. The Golliwogg name was changed
to Golliwog, and he became a common toyland character in
children's books. The Upton Golliwogg was adventurous and
sometimes silly, but, in the main, gallant and "lovable,"
albeit, unsightly. Later Golliwogs were often unkind,
mean-spirited, and even more visually hideous.
The earliest Golliwog dolls were rag dolls made by
parents for their children. Many thousands were made.
During the early twentieth century, many prominent doll
manufacturers began producing Golliwog dolls. The major
Golliwog producers were Steiff, Schuco, and Levin, all
three Germany companies, and Merrythought and Deans, both
from Great Britain.
The Steiff Company is the most notable maker of
Golliwog dolls. In 1908 Steiff became the first
company to mass produce and distribute Golliwog
dolls. Today, these early Steiff dolls sell for
$10,000 to $15,000 each, making them the most
expensive Golliwog collectibles. Some Steiff
Golliwogs have been especially offensive, for
example, in the 1970s they produced a Golliwog who
looked like a woolly haired gorilla. In 1995, on
the 100th anniversary of the Golliwog creation,
Steiff produced two Golliwog dolls, including the
company's first girl Golliwog.
Golliwogg doll, circa 1880
During the first half of the twentieth century, the
Golliwog doll was a favourite children's soft toy in
Europe. Only the Teddy Bear exceeded the Golliwog in
popularity. Small children slept with their black dolls.
Many White Europeans still speak with nostalgic sentiment
about their childhood gollies. Sir Kenneth Clark, the
noted art historian, claimed that the Golliwogs of his
childhood were, "examples of chivalry, far more persuasive
than the unconvincing Knights of the Arthurian legend."
The French composer Claude Debussy was so enthralled by
the Golliwogs in his daughter's books that one movement of
Corner Suite is entitled "The Golliwog's Cakewalk."
The Golliwog was a mixture of bravery, adventurousness,
and love - for White children.
A national institution
A classic Robertson's Jam Golly
badge from the 1970s
The Golliwog is inextricably linked with the
famous English preserves company, James Robertson
Jams has been using the smiling Golliwog as
its logo since the 1920s, and still does. Despite
much criticism during the 1960s and '70s, they
simply changed their logo's name to 'Golly', and
continued to stand by their trusty mascot.
Consequently, the collecting of Robertson's Golly
memorabilia is a hobby in itself, with a vast
array of promotional material and items to be
Over the last seventy years Robertson's must have given
away (in return for 'Golly' tokens collected from their
products) hundreds of thousands of Golly items. A good
proportion of these are Golly pins (or brooches), which
were the first type of premiums they produced, and they
are still making today. Serious Robertson's collectors may
have thousands in their collections. Other Robertson's
Golly memorabilia includes such things as clocks, watches,
tableware, porcelain figurines, jewelry, aprons, knitting
patterns, dolls, pencils, erasers, and, of course, the
Golly tokens themselves.
Nevertheless,Robertson's Golly badges still remain highly
collectable, with the very rarest sometimes selling for
more than £1,000, and even comparatively common and recent
badges being worth £2.00–£3.00.