by Kaili Lockbeam, Registrar and Collections Manager
The golliwogg, golliwog, or golly is a fictional character who first appeared in children’s books as a rag doll with black skin, eyes rimmed in white, exaggerated red lips, frizzy hair, and dressed in minstrel clothes. This golliwogg, however, is the stopper of a perfume bottle. The character was fashioned after a beloved black minstrel doll owned by Florence Upton who wrote a series of books The Adventures of Two Dutch Girls and A Golliwogg based on the character in 1895. Since the Golliwog originated in London where Ms. Upton published her first book, the character was most recognizable in Europe, but was also found in American stories and products.
The original stories of the Golliwogg portrayed him as an adventurous, gallant, and lovable companion and guide to two Dutch Dolls, Peg and Sarah Jane. Florence did not copyright the Golliwogg and it wasn’t long before his image was found in other children’s books, advertisements, and in products like this perfume bottle. These later depictions used more overt and negative racist stereotypes making future Golliwogs meaner, more stupid, and uglier than earlier depictions. Today, the golliwogg is a continued subject of controversy, and is often viewed as a racist stereotype.
The Vigny perfume Le Golliwogg was launched in France in 1919 and then in the United States in 1925. In 1926 the Le Golliwogg perfume (with fur head) sold for $4.50, $7.50, or $30.00 depending on the size. Today, adjusting for inflation, the perfume would sell for $65.00, $109.00, or $430.00.
Our perfume bottle was a gift of Elizabeth Stratten Bails DuVerlie whose father Dr. John Carl Stratten brought the perfume bottle back from Paris around 1929 where he attended a medical conference.