For British people of my generation and before, the 'Golliwog' has just always been 'there', sitting right along with the Teddy Bears. We never wondered where he came from - just as most children don't wonder where Teddy Bears came from - we just thought they were a part of life! Only when we became grown ups did some of us wonder if these childhood treasures had really been with us since time began. I think we were all quite surprised to discover that both the Teddy and the Golly were actually 'invented' around the turn of the 20th century.
The Teddy was first designed (c1903) as a new stuffed toy, that later became a popular character in hundreds of children's story books. Conversely, the Golly began life as a story book charac- ter, and only later did he appear in the form of a toy for children to play with. Florence Kate Upton was the original creator of the story book charac- ter of the "Golliwogg". Yes, his name was originally spelt with two 'g's, and we believe that the second 'g' was eventually dropped to avoid any possible infringe- ment of copyright laws by publishers and manufacturers who were using his name for their products. Nowadays, many manufacturers and collectors prefer to refer to him by the shortened version of his name, Golly or Golli, to avoid the possibility of causing offence, as unfortu- nately the word 'wog' has often been used as a racist term in Europe.
Florence was born in 1873 in Flushing, New York. Her parents were English, who had emigrated to America in 1870. Florence became a talented young artist, who decided to try her hand at illustrating her own children's story book in order to help pay for her art education. In 1895, her first book, entitled "The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls" was published by Longman's, Green and Company in London, England. The main characters in the book were the "Golliwogg" and two Dutch Dolls, Peg and Sarah Jane. The Golliwogg was based on a toy Florence had played with as a child in New York, and was probably a black 'minstrel' type doll that came from an American fair. The wooden 'Dutch' dolls were inexpensive jointed dolls from Germany (the word 'Dutch' is an anglicization of the word 'Deutsch').
Florence created the stories with her illustra- tions, and then her mother, Bertha Upton, wrote the verse. The first book became very popular in England, and twelve more books about the 'Golliwogg' and his Dutch Doll friends were published in subsequent years. During the early 1900's many soft toy manufac- turers, including Steiff, Merrythought, Hermann and Deans, started producing their own versions of Golli- wogs. Many homemade versions were also made, as the simple, unjointed, 'rag doll' type Golliwog was easy to copy, and many sewing patterns were available. These early versions of the Golliwog are eagerly sought out by collectors today.
Thus, when the Teddy Bear was introduced in 1903, it was only natural that the two toys should become "Best Friends" in children's nurseries in the UK, and they remained 'inseparable' right up until the 1960s.
Unfortunately, Florence did not obtain a copyright for her 'Golliwogg', and consequently he, like the Teddy Bear, soon became public domain. His name was changed (by dropping the last 'g') and he became a common 'toyland' character in children's books by many different authors. However, it is a pity that these authors did not always portray him as the lovable, gallant character that he originally was, as he often appeared as a bungler, with unkind character, or he was considered undesirable because of his 'ugliness'. It is mostly for this reason that, during the 1960s, when society became more conscious of racist issues, that the Golliwog was removed from sight, as people mistakenly considered him to be a derogatory item. Consequently, many books which had the Golliwog within, including the Florence Upton books, were destroyed at this time.
Manufacturers stopped production of all items with Golliwogs on them, and even the toy manufacturers' production of the dolls dwindled to almost nothing. That is, except for the Robertson's Company. This famous English preserves company has been using the smiling Golliwog as its logo since the 1920s, and still does. Despite much criticism during the 60s and 70s, they simply changed their logo's name to 'Golly', and continued to stand by their trusty mascot. Consequently, today, the collecting of Robertson's Golly memorabilia is a hobby unto itself. 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.
We know that, although the Golly has had his 'ups and downs' over the past one hundred years, to this day he still retains the charm and chivalrousness that he was 'born' with, and I think that we can safely say that he has now shaken off his 'bad reputation', which has, in the past, been unjustly hung on him because of thoughtless storytellers. Although the Golly has not regained his popularity in the children's nursery, over the past 10-20 years, he has definitely gained a new respect amongst adult collectors. Because of this resurgence in popularity, many manufacturers and artists, worldwide, are now producing him again, both in doll form, and on other collectable items.
Fortunately, now, instead of just taking our Golliwog at his 'face value', people, especially collectors, are taking care to 'look a little deeper' before they criticize. This is a virtue that hopefully society at large is learning to apply to their lives in general.