International Golliwog Collectors Club Newsletter - Issue 11



In Defence of the "Golliwogg"

Recently there has been a number of articles published attacking the "Golliwogg" as being racially derogatory. Thus I feel irt necessary, once more, to justify the Golliwogg's existence, both as a toy and as a storybook character.

In one article the opening paragraph is: "Although the exact origin of the word "Golliwogg" remains somewhat shrouded, the definition of the word is unmistakable: A grotesque Black doll". I would like to point out that the"Golliwogg", and later on, the 'Golliwog' (without the last 'g') was a childhood storybook character that has been popular only in Britain (and some of the British colonies) since its creation in 1895.

Thus, more important should be the British definition of the "Golliwog" which is: A Black-faced, brightly dressed soft doll with fuzzy hair. I found similar descriptions in many English dictionaries, and none of them included the word 'grotesque'. It would be interesting to know how long the American definition of the word has been in publication, and just how the definition was derived. It seems to me that whether the "Golliwogg" is grotesque or not is purely a matter of opinion (as beauty really is in the eye of the beholder!). What is much more likely to make a character derogatory is if it were intentionally produced to be humiliating, which clearly Florence Upton's original 'Golliwogg' was not, as anyone can see if they care to read her original stories. Yes, there are some stereotypes of black people included in her books (such as the minstrel playing the banjo that appears on page 45 of her first book) but these are NOT the "Golliwogg"!

In at least two of the articles that I have read, the WRED group (World Representation of Every Content) has been very critical of RJ Wright's new 'Golliwogg' and 'Miss Golli' dolls. Well, here too, one must consider whether these dolls are meant to humiliate. It is a great disappointment to me that Mr. Wright did not create the true storybook 'Golliwogg' as he appeared in Ms. Upton's original books, especially as Mr. Wright is reputed for his wonderfully authentic representations of other storybook characters, such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and Winnie the Pooh. In this case, Mr. Wright decided to make his own interpretation of the character, and included a female version of the character also, something which did not exist in the original stories. In my opinion Wright has made these two dolls look much more like caricatures of people than of Golliwoggs, thus leaving himself rather exposed to criticism of both Golly collectors and the public at large. According to some articles, Wright likens the Golliwogg to a leprechaun character (rather than a human). this brings to my mind visions of a creature from the woods or hills, with magical powers and light of foot. The Golliwogg certainly did not have any of these qualities, as he was a mere toy with an adventurous spirit.

So what do members think of RD Wright Golliwogg pair? Are they loveable are they insulting? I would welcome members opinions on this matter. Please write to me at IGCC, PO Box 612, Woodstock,NY, 12498 or e-mail: OhGolli@aol.com.

Lastly, I would like to thank the many readers who sent me copies of these articles pertaining to the 'steaming controversy' over the "Golliwogg". I do hope that people of all colors in this nation, once they realize that the original concept of the "Golliwogg" was not intended to humiliate anyone, least of all black people, will be able to accept this black collectible toy, along with Mickey Mouse, Raggedy Anne and Winnie the Pooh, without feeling that this character was created to insult.

The public has a right to reject any rendition of a character that they consider insulting (be it a 'Golliwogg', or anything else), but I hope that groups such ar WREC will change their opinions about the "Golliwogg", once they learn of his true character, originating in Florence Upton's stories. I have not included the story of the "Golliwogg's" history in this article, as members can request a copy of "A Brief History of the Golliwogg", which appeared in Issue #4 of the IGCC Newsletter, or further information can be found in the references below.

References used for this article:
A Lark Ascends: Florence Kate Upton, Artist and Illustrator by Norma S. Davis published by Scarecrow Press.
The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls by Florence Upton published by Longmans, Green & Co.
The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1993.


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