Good Golly Miss Molly

Ever since I started blogging I have wanted to post about this subject. Partly to gain the views of others and partly to show how times and attitudes change. One of the reasons why I have not blogged about this is due to the subject matter.

The subject is the Golly doll or Golliwog. The reason why I want to blog about this is because it is becoming a subject that is falling foul of the ‘PC Brigade’. I understand how it was used and seen in the last century, and feel that if I put it on display within the museum I could write a label which explains this. But I am still wary of the reaction that would follow if it went on display. Outrage? Nonchalance? Reminiscence? Perhaps the internet and the blog is the best place to have a debate on the merits of displaying such material.

The Golliwog (or Golly) doll has in some eyes come to represent a racist insult and a throwback to a previous era. Within the collection we have some material depicting Golly characters and a Golly doll. This image has been a very popular one and was the symbol for Robertson’s Jam and Marmalade bottles. It was still a common sight as recently as 20 years ago and the attitudes to the doll show how times have changed and peoples attitude have moved on.

One of two dolls within the collection

We have within the museum a Golly doll and a rather strange money tin. You place the coin in the hand and pull a lever on the back of the tin. The arm raises, the eyes roll and the figure gives the impression of eating the coin. I have already lost quite a few pennies testing it out! Rather strangely, hidden in the money tin was a 50 reichspfennig coin from 1940’s nazi Germany. I’m pretty certain the two items are not related and am a little baffled how one came to be inside the other.

The Money tin with a surprise inside


I understand that in this short blog I am missing large parts of the argument such as the use of the image in modern culture or in more recent years how it evolved into this.  At the end of the day, the point of this blog is to show odd or lesser seen items from the collection and I think that the money tin in particular fits this category.


2 Responses to “Good Golly Miss Molly”

  1. 1 David Craven December 15, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    I’ve always thought you can make the “stereotype” argument for almost any doll. Surely Barbie is just a stereotype of what one culture believes a feminine ideal to be? So we should then treat them all the same.

    Personally, I had a Golliwog doll when I was younger. I have not grown up with any weird or unpleasant attitudes to people of different ethnic/racial backgrounds. I don’t believe it affected me at all.

    To cite an example from “pop culture”, there’s an episode of South Park where the boys find themselves in the middle of an argument over the town flag, which shows some white men lynching a black man. Relying on the kids to decide the issue, Chef is initially apalled that the boys think the argument is about capital punishment, not racism. Then he realises; the children didn’t see skin colour as an issue. They are too young to have even grasped the idea of racial stereotyping.

    That’s a rather fatuous illustration of the point, but what I’m saying is that until someone tells you a golliwog is racist, you wouldn’t see it as anything other than a cute doll.

    There’s also nothing wrong with museums provoking debate, as long as they stay neutral on the issue themselves. Maybe the two pieces should go on display and you can then see what reaction, if any, you get.

  2. 2 vinaiblackburn December 15, 2010 at 3:08 pm

    I do agree with what you say. Especially the ‘until someone tells you a golliwog is racist, you wouldn’t see it as anything other than a cute doll’ bit.

    I would prefer to write abou tthe object like I write about the other objects. A bit of the history and a few (unfunny) jokes but felt I needed to outline why I was doing it. Perhaps I am being a bit sensitive about the reaction something like this would recieve and the majority of people see nothing more than a doll and a money tin?

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Blackburn Museum can be found in Blackburn, Lancashire. It houses objects documenting Blackburn's industrial past as well as a world class collection of Fine Art, Japanese prints, Icons, Numismatics and Manuscripts. Come and visit us to find out more.

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