Florence Upton first published her book ‘The Adventures of the Two Dutch Dolls’ in 1895, which told the story of her two wooden dolls and their friend, a black rag doll, given to her by her Nana. (These black dolls were popular toys for Egyptian children at that time, and were brought back to England by British troops stationed in Eygpt in the latter part of the 19th Century). Florence painted all the artwork for her book, and her mother, Bertha, wrote the verses. It was very successful, and inspired the two women to publish a further 12 books.
Her name for her black doll, ‘Gollywogg’, and its appearance, were soon widely copied. Golly dolls became a popular toy.
The popularity of gollies also saw many other related merchandise being produced in the 1900s-1920s, including playing cards, crockery and perfume bottles, all of which are now rare to find, and command high prices.
The earliest gollies were generally hand-made, and had noses which were protruding, and stitched separately onto the face. Linen buttons were often used for the eyes. Hair was made from real fur.
Steiff, though, made a commercial range. These smiling dolls were first produced in 1908, until 1917. Many were fully jointed, with felt clothes. The eyes were black shoebuttons, with orange, then white, felt backing. The nose was made of protruding black felt, with the hair being tufted black hohair. Steiff’s renowned attention to detail was shown in such touches as the gold buttons on the blue velvet jacket, and gloved hands, each with five fingers.
Later, the gollies had flat faces, and were produced by many companies. In the 1950s, buttons were often used as the eyes. The hair was wool, plush, or a mohair blend, and the clothes consisted of a pair of striped trousers, bow tie, vest and jacket. The body often was produced from felt or cotton, the nose simply two stitches, and the mouth was of red felt. Merrythought made a range at this time, though by the 1960s, many firms had also produced ranges, that are now very collectable.
1960s gollies were cut from synthetic fabrics, and often had plastic ‘google’ eyes. Wendy Boston gollies were distinctive with their expressive white eyebrows amd round eyes made from layers of white and black felt. Made from velvet and cotton, ‘all-in-one’, and with foam stuffing, each did not have removable clothes.
In Australia, Joy Toys and Jakas both made popular ranges of gollies. Joy Toys gollies from the 1960s had happy vinyl faces, with short fuzzy hair, and are very sought-after.
Due to negative publicity in the 1970s and 80s, popularity temporarily declined, however gollies had a resurgence in the 1990s, and continue to be very collectable.
Early Steiff golly:$20,000-$30,000
Wendy Boston (1960s)-$60-$80
Joy Toys (1960s)-$60-$100