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Golliwogs for sale, in 2008, in the United Kingdom

The "Golliwogg" (later "Golliwog", "golly doll") is a character of children's literature created by Florence Kate Upton in the late 19th century, inspired by a blackface minstrel doll which Upton found as a child in her aunt's attic in Hampstead, North London. The character, depicted in the books as a type of rag doll, was reproduced, both by commercial and hobby toy-makers as a children's toy. The toy was known as a "golliwog", and had great popularity in North America, the United Kingdom, Europe and Australia, into the 1960s. While home-made golliwogs were sometimes female, the golliwog was generally male. For this reason, in the period following World War II, the golliwog was seen, along with the teddy bear, as a suitable soft toy for a young boy.

The image of the doll has become the subject of heated debate. One aspect of the debate in its favour argues that it should be preserved and passed on as a cherished cultural artifact and childhood tradition, while opponents argue it should be retired as a relic of an earlier time when racism against those of African descent was blatant.[1] The word "golliwog" has from the 1950s onward been used as a term of racial abuse directed at black people. This has reduced the popularity and sale of golliwogs as toys. Manufacturers who have used golliwogs as a motif have either withdrawn them as an icon, or changed the name. There has been wide press coverage of incidents in which the term "golliwog" has been applied to a well-known personality. The association with the also-abusive "wog" has resulted in many extant Golliwogs not being referred to as such, or being simply "Golly". Later it became popular as the "golly doll".



Florence Kate Upton's Golliwogg in formal minstrel attire in Golliwogg and Friends in 1895.

Florence Kate Upton was born in 1873 in Flushing, New York, the daughter of English parents who had emigrated to the United States three years previously. Following the death of her father, she moved back to England with her mother and sisters when she was fourteen. There she spent several years drawing and developing her artistic skills. In order to afford tuition to art school, she illustrated a children's book entitled The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwogg. The 1895 book included a character named the "Golliwogg", who was first described as "a horrid sight, the blackest gnome", but who quickly turned out to be a friendly character, and is later attributed with a "kind face". A product of the blackface minstrel tradition, the character was classic "darkie" iconography. The Golliwogg had jet black skin; bright, red lips; and wild, woolly hair. He wore red trousers, a shirt with a stiff collar, red bow-tie, and a blue jacket with tails — all traditional minstrel attire.

Upton's book and its many sequels were extremely successful in England, largely because of the popularity of the Golliwogg. Upton did not trademark her character, and its name, spelt "golliwog", became the generic name for dolls and images of a similar type.[1] The golliwog doll became a popular children's toy throughout most of the 20th century, and was incorporated into many aspects of British commerce and culture; for instance, some of Enid Blyton's books feature them, often as a villain and sometimes as heroes. Upton's Golliwogg was jovial, friendly and gallant,[1] but some later golliwogs were sinister or menacing characters.

Modern-day painting showing the golliwog as a children's toy.

The golliwog contributed enormously to the spread of 'darky' iconography in Europe. It also made its way back across the Atlantic in the form of children's literature, dolls, children's china and other toys, ladies' perfume, and jewellery.

British jam manufacturer James Robertson & Sons used a golliwog called Golly as its mascot from 1910, after John Robertson apparently saw children playing with golliwog dolls in America. Robertson's started producing promotional Golliwog badges in the 1920s, which could be obtained in exchange for tokens gained from their products. In 1983, the company's products were boycotted by the Greater London Council as offensive, and in 1988 the character ceased to be used in television advertising. The company used to give away golliwog badges playing musical instruments or sports and other such themes. The badge collection scheme was withdrawn in 2001.

In a statement reported by the BBC, Virginia (Ginny) C Knox, previously brand director for Robertson's and now Chief Operating Officer of the Culinary Brands Division of RHM, told the Herald Newspaper in Scotland in 2001 that the decision to remove the Golly (Golliwogg) symbol from Robertson's jam and marmalade jars was taken after research found that children were not familiar with the character, although it still appealed to the older generations. "We sell 45 million jars of jam and marmalade each year and they have pretty much all got Golly on them," said Ms Knox. "We also sell 250,000 Golly badges to collectors and only get 10 letters a year from people who don't like the Golliwogg image".[2] Today, Robertson's Golliwog badges remain highly collectible, with the very rarest sometimes selling for more than £1,000, and even comparatively common and recent badges being worth £2.00–£3.00.

Golliwog as racist insult

After the publication of Upton's first book, the term "golliwog" was used both as a reference to the children's toy and as a generic, racist term for Black people. In the UK and the Commonwealth, "golliwog" perhaps became "wog," a racial slur applied to dark-skinned people worldwide, especially those from the Middle East or Far East.[3] In Australia many young people of Greek, Lebanese and other Mediterranean descent have adopted the name "wog" as a humorous identifier. An example of this from popular Australian culture is the 2000 movie The Wog Boy starring the actor Nick Giannopoulos.

In the early 1980s, revised editions of Enid Blyton's Noddy books replaced Mr. Golly, the golliwog proprietor of the Toytown garage, with Mr. Sparks.

In March 2007, Greater Manchester shop seized two golliwogs from a shop after a complaint that the dolls were offensive.[4] In September, 2007, retail chain Zara put a T-shirt on sale in its UK stores with a Golliwog-looking little girl printed in the front.[citation needed] The design spurred controversy, coming only weeks after the company had been forced to pull a swastika-emblazoned handbag from its shelves, although the swastika is also a religious symbol for Hindus and Bhuddists.[5]

In September 2008, Amanda Schofield, a woman living in Stockport, was arrested and figure printed for DNA by the police for keeping a "golly doll" in her window. She claimed that it was her daughter who put it there after she found it in a bag of toys. Greater Manchester Police described the incident as "the latest in a number of previous incidents that the victim perceived to be race-related".[6]

In February 2009, Carol Thatcher, in an off-air conversation at the BBC, referred to the black French tennis player Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, competing in the Australian Open, as looking like a golliwog.[7] The comment was considered by the BBC as "wholly unacceptable" and Thatcher was informed that unless she apologised she would no longer be a reporter on BBC's The One Show. Thatcher stated that it was a silly joke and declined to make an "unconditional apology". Thatcher claimed that her comment was a reference to the golliwog motifs that she saw in her childhood on "jars of jam" (Robertson's Marmalade).[8] In April 2009 she appeared on the BBC in an interview on The Andrew Marr Show for the first time since the scandal, defending her use of the word.[9] The French publication Sportsweek claimed that Thatcher, in talking about a previous competition, referred to another player as "the one who was defeated by the golliwog in the previous tour". The French publication, which showed a picture of Tsonga above a picture of a toy golliwog, claimed that Thatcher was "mortified" and that her comment was about the similarity of Tsonga's appearance to the doll that she had as a child.[10]

Other meanings and in popular culture

  • "Golliwog" was World War II British naval slang for a Gauloises cigarette, which had tobacco that was nearly black in colour. It is also however possible that the etymology came from a mispronounciation of "Gauloises" -> "golwas" -> "golleys", with the last syllable retrofitted by way of a folk etymology.[11]
  • Golliwog is the former name of a popular line of cocoa biscuits in Australia, released by Arnott's in the 1960s. The biscuits' name was changed to Scalliwag for a period before being dropped completely from the Arnott's product range.
  • "Golliwog" is a solo-single by ABBA member Agnetha Fältskog from 1974.
  • A Golliwog features heavily in the pseudo-biographical novel Caucasia, by American author Danzy Senna.
  • Golliwogg's Cakewalk is part of the 1908 piano suite Children's Corner by Claude Debussy.
  • The Golliwogs were an American rock band and predecessor of Creedence Clearwater Revival.
  • "The Golliwog" is a pivotal character at the end of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier. This graphic novel imagines a world inhabited by a wide variety of fictional characters, especially from Victorian England. The Golliwog is not mentioned by name but is obviously the same blackface doll. He is portrayed as the pirate captain of a balloon airship. His crew on the ship are female puppets exactly like those shown in the photo above, although they are heavily sexualised.
  • Golliwog is a female-fronted Slovenian punk rock band that formed in 1998.

See also


  1. ^ a b c The Golliwog Caricature (2000) by David Pilgrim, Ferris State University. Retrieved 18 March 2010.
  2. ^ "'Controversial' golly to be shelved" BBC News 23 August 2001
  3. ^ Wog, Merriam-Webster Online etymology, "perhaps short for golliwog".
  4. ^ Golly dolls seized by cops Manchester Evening News. Retrieved 18 March 2010.
  5. ^ "Zara withdraws swastika handbags" BBC News 19 September 2007
  6. ^ Manchester Evening News
  7. ^ Carol Thatcher 'golliwog' jibe referred to black tennis player Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Daily Telegraph. The comment was made as 55-year-old Thatcher chatted with presenter Adrian Chiles and guest comedian Jo Brand after a recording of the show last Thursday. A BBC source, who was in the room at the same time, told the Evening Standard: “The tennis was on one of the monitors. When Tsonga came on, Carol said he looked like a golliwog.”
  8. ^ Thatcher axed by BBC's One Show 4 February 2009
  9. ^ Thatcher interview on The Andrew Marr Show
  10. ^ Sportsweek- Jo-Wilfried Tsonga insulte
  11. ^ Furst, Alan (2004) Dark Voyage, Random House, Random House, ISBN 1-4000-6018-4: "It was a Gauloise — what British seamen called a golliwog...".

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