The Fascinating History of ... Troll Dolls
Trolls get a bad rep. They're either crushing innocent people and Hobbits underfoot or scaring the bejesus out of billy goats. So it's nice to know that there are some Trolls that just want to have fun, be cute (okay, that may be a matter of opinion), and bring you good luck.
Troll doll history begins in 1959 when Danish fisherman and woodcutter Thomas Dam carved a wooden troll for his daughter. This led to Thomas starting his own company, Dam Things, producing his 'Good Luck Trolls' in plastic and starting one of the biggest toy fads of the 1960's. Unlike the ugly, scary trolls of Scandinavian folklore, Dam's trolls had softened features and soft fluffy hair in fantastically bright, psychedelic colours that you just wanted to brush and stroke obsessively. It's most likely this feature that led to the dolls being christened as 'gonks' in the UK as it resembled the furry creatures of the same name which were wildly popular here in the 1960's - either that or we were just being awkward :)
"They have a Cave Troll.....and a Spaceman, a Chef, a Surfer, a Cheerleader....!"
While the original Dam Trolls were hand assembled and of very high quality, with sheep wool hair and glass eyes, an issue with the design copyright in the US* meant that it didn't take long for cheaper imitations to start flooding the market. The 'knock-off' companies included Nyform, Reisler, and Playmates. Dam and the New York-based Uneeda Doll Company entered into a licencing agreement in 1964 allowing the company to sell troll dolls under the name 'Wish-niks'. The Uneeda trolls came in many different forms - dolls, bendy toys, paper dress-up dolls, puffy stickers, and the frankly terrifying 'Double-niks' two-headed troll dolls. Twice the luck, but double the nightmares.
Trolls became popular again in the 1980's, under the new name Norfin. At the same time Russ Berrie, a company already well known for its stuffed toys and gift lines, was producing its own collection of Troll Dolls, which continued to be popular into the 1990's. Dark times were on the horizon, however. More lawsuits followed, continuing into the new millennium, and the Dam company lost it's creator in 1989.
The 90's, games and other stuff
Trolls continued to extend their reach into popular culture during the 90's, releasing their animated specials/advertisements The Magic Trolls And The Troll Warriors in 1991, and Magical Super Trolls in 1992.
These were followed by computer games Trolls for the C64 and Amiga in 1992, Trolls Treasure Island for the NES in 1993, and Super Troll Islands for the SNES in 1996. The games pushed the boundaries of colour and movement to create visuals that looked like they had been created during a particularly wild acid trip. It's unlikely that Troll doll fans were that interested in gaming, and gamers probably valued their eyesight and sanity over such freakiness.
There was even a direct-to-video musical featuring puppet Trolls singing. The 90's had no shame.
Teen Trollz, DreamWorks, and the Father of Trolls
The noughties were prime for revisiting and reimagining 'classic' toys and Trolls were no exception. The DIC animated series Trollz was only loosely based on the original toy range but it had an edge (notice the 'z') and wasn't entirely terrible. However, despite its own toy and merchandise range it failed to capture the magic of the original and disappeared into syndication after 27 episodes.
In 2013, DreamWorks announced they had acquired the rights to the Trolls franchise in agreement with the Dam company, and the first new Trolls animated movie was released in 2016. This was followed by a sequel, Trolls World Tour, in 2020, and in between an animated series and a shit ton of merchandise to keep the kids, and the shareholders, happy.
Those who fondly remember when Trolls had careers and interesting personalities (oooh!) can still find the original dolls on internet auction sites (including ours!) and dedicated fan websites.
To honor Dam the first DreamWorks movie premiered in Copenhagen, Denmark, and in Dam's home village of Pandrup. Thomas Dam never really benefitted from the crazy success of his creation, but his family have finally secured the copyright and recognition for him as the Father of Trolls.
Jax, April 2021
Article about the US copyright lawsuit https://www.thefashionlaw.com/home/inside-the-intense-legal-battles-over-the-troll-doll
Dam Trolls fan website http://www.damworld.dk/10032948
History of Thomas Dam and the Good Luck trolls, plus shop https://www.classictroll.com/eu/history
Wikipedia article https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troll_doll
Wikipedia article about Gonks (see, I didn't make them up!) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gonk
More info than you could possibly need about the Trolls computer game https://www.mobygames.com/game/trolls
The Trollies Musical imdb page https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6233254/
Game Grumps play Super Troll Island https://youtu.be/8j6KzxqbgvQ