History of Golliwogg

Golliwogg Doll

Golliwogg is a type of a rag doll. It is also known as golliwog or golly. It is made from black fabric and has black eyes bordered with white, red lips with white teeth and frizzy hair.

Inspiration for gollywogg dolls came from Florence Kate Upton who was born in 1873 in Flushing, New York and was daughter of English parents. Her father died when she was 14 and she moved back to England. To be able to afford art school she illustrated book “The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwogg”. It was a children’s book which 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 and frizzy hair and was dressed in traditional minstrel cloth. Golliwogg proved very popular and book was sold very well in England along with its sequels. Similar dolls and images started carrying name gollywog because of that popularity and because Florence did not patented the name. This made the doll a popular children’s toy during large part of 20th century. It fame was so wide that it spread to advertising and other selling items like children's china and other toys, ladies' perfume, and jewelry. James Robertson & Sons, British jam factory, used Gollywog as a mascot from 1910 until 2001. “Blackjack” - aniseed candy made in United Kingdom used gollywog’s face from 1920s until 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 laborers 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. That dolls were later called “Ghuliwogs” and later “Golliwogg”. How much truth is in this theory - it is not known.

“Golliwogg” doll in time became very controversial. While some see it as a part of tradition and part of childhood other 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 possibility that “golliwogg” evolved into “wog” which is a racial slur applied to dark-skinned people.