Golly saving lives

08 Apr

Golliwoggs get a rather bad press these days, but they were very popular back at the start of the twentieth century. In 1917, the original Golly raised nearly £500 for the Red Cross, enough to kit out an ambulance for use on the Western Front.

The Golliwogg ambulance

American-born illustrator Florence K Upton wrote the Golliwogg books with her mother, Bertha. The Golliwogg first appeared in one of these books, when two Dutch dolls encounter ‘The blackest gnome’. At first, the two dolls are frightened (“E’en as she spoke,/ Peg’ Deutchland broke/ Into a piercing scream. /Then all look round, as well they may/ To see a horrid sight!/ The blackest gnome/Stands there alone,/They scatter in their fright.”). But soon they befriend the Golliwogg and engage in ‘small talk’ while promenading together.

The Adventures of two Dutch Dolls and a “Golliwogg” by Florence and Bertha Upton

The Golliwogg became a major character and starred in his own books. Like the other dolls, he was based on a toy owned by Florence Upton. For some reason the image was not made subject to copyright, so other Gollies appeared – including the famous Robertson’s jam mascot.

During the Great War, an annual charity auction was held at Christie’s in King Street, St James’s. In 1917, the sale took place in the last week of March and the start of April, with 13 days of sales covering books, letters, porcelain, prints, silver and other valuables.

One of the most prominent lots on Saturday March 24th was Florence Upton’s dolls and pictures. This included the original Golliwogg doll and the five Dutch Dolls that featured in the books, along with 350 pictures from the eleven books.  The lot sold for 450 guineas – this was £472-10-0, a very large sum of money in 1917 (according to the National Archives, this was the equivalent of four years’ wages for a craftsman at the time). This money was used to purchase an ambulance to serve on the Western Front. In the picture above, you can see that the ambulance had written on the side:

Florence Upton and the Golliwoggs gave this ambulance

The whole sale raised £74,523 for the Red Cross, compared to £52,691 in 1916 and £38,251 in 1915. The Golliwogg collection was bought by Miss Faith Moore, the sister-in-law of Sir Arthur Lee MP, a junior minister in the War Office (and later First Lord of the Admiralty) who donated Chequers to the nation in 1917 as the Prime Minister’s official residence.

Faith Moore donated a set of Lewis Carroll first editions and other material to the Red Cross Sale the following year – the 1918 sale raised over £112,000. The dolls eventually made their way into the V&A collection at their Museum of Childhood (see catalogue entry for ‘Meg’ here). The website used to have a section on the dolls, some of which is visible in the google cache, but it has mysteriously disappeared in the last few months.

The Home Front war effort in the Great War was full of charity drives and other attempts to raise money for to help soldiers, sailors, refugees or prisoners of war. The Golliwogg and his friends, major popular children’s book characters in the prewar period, played their part in this effort – Miss Moore’s money going to help the sick and wounded on the Western Front.


Upton’s book at Project Gutenburg

A website about the Golliwogg and the ambulance

The Times, March-April 1917

1 Comment

Posted by on 8 April 2012 in Events, Famous People, Ordinary Londoners, Women


One response to “Golly saving lives

  1. SilverTiger

    11 April 2012 at 7:34 pm

    I tend to see Golliwog(g)s as victims of political correctness. When I was a child I was fascinated by stories in which they figured as I had never seen one. Eventually, I was given one myself and treasured it. It never occurred to me that it might be a model of a black man. As far as I was concerned it was simply itself, as was the Teddy Bear or any of the other stuffed toys.

    Apart from triggering a personal memory, your article was interesting in bringing to my attention yet another story of which I was unaware, Golligwoggs as fund raisers! A nice piece.


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