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A doll with a storied past.

Buy Golly! The History of Black Collectables by Clinton Derricks New Cavendish Books September 2005 $35, ISBN 1-872-72728-x

Somewhere between when a cover image of this book (first published in the United Kingdom) was posted on Amazon.corn and when the book was actually published in the United States, the photograph changed. So did the subtitle. An upbeat, happy-faced--almost embraceable--but stereotypically jet-black cloth doll replaced an offputting version of the same genre, holding a tray of even less attractive ones. They all bear trademark big red lips, white bug eyes, wooly hair and a certain spiritedness. (As a collector who owns some fairly over-the-top black memorabilia, my threshold is very high.)

More telling, I suspect, is the change of subtitles from "The History of the Golliwog" to "The History of Black Collectables." The previous name was probably more accurate, although this volume does deal with a few other types of collectibles (the preferred spelling in U.S. dictionaries). Americans probably would be less familiar with the term "golliwogs," which loses something in the trans-Atlantic crossing.

What exactly is a golliwog, you might ask? Whatever they are, according to Derricks and his extensive research, many British people were quite fond of them, having grown up with the notion of the doll as a character in a beloved series of children's books, much as we would regard Raggedy Ann, perhaps. The name itself was made up by the original author/illustrator of the series, Florence Upton, who based it on a doll she had brought to Britain from America.

In the first book, The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls, published in 1895, the doll was caught up in adventures with two Dutch dolls. The black doll was an instant hit, surpassing its fellow toys in popularity, leading to many more adventures, a total of 13 from 1895 to 1909.

Although the external appearance may not have been flattering, the golliwog (originally "Golliwogg') was given unfailingly positive attributes, Derricks says. "while adventurous and daring, he was impeccably behaved and well-mannered, always treating his companions courteously." This is probably why children loved him.

Derricks chronicles the golliwog's spin-offs into "countless" versions in every medium, including as a trademark on Robertson's jam beginning in 1910, a development that further popularized the toy.

Today, there is a growing market for the antique dolls and images of them. Just as in this country, people have mixed feelings about being associated with such items and don't necessarily flaunt the dolls.

Numerous illustrations, reproductions and photographs fill the pages of this well-presented study, and Derricks deals ably with the controversies, as he offers advice and extensive background for those who might wish to collect them or just know about them. As he says in the Foreword: "I have endeavoured to be as objective as possible. The golliwog's links with slavery and racial prejudice may prove to be unpalatable and uncomfortable to some, though I c stand by my every word. My affection for the golliwog is not based purely on artistic appreciation, but derives from love and respect for my culture and its historical associations. Everyone has their reasons for loving or disliking a golliwogs, and we should recognize that we are all entitled to our own opinions."

Golliwog's star began to fade by the 1950s when the array of modern toys available to children broadened. The embrace of such a figure became less socially acceptable among whites, and Britain started to become far more multicultural, making the golliwog a less-seemly symbol. As Derricks notes, rumors even persist that the doll is "banned" in Britain. Not so, and its collectibility is only likely to grow. (There are even Web sites devoted to it.) As such, Derricks's book is a welcome explanation for us Americans.

--Reviewed by Angela P. Dodson Angela P. Dodson is executive editor of Black Issues Book Review.
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Title Annotation:Buy Golly! The History of Black Collectables
Author:Dodson, Angela P.
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:May 1, 2006
Words:641
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