My Oldest Doll

My very oldest doll is a little cloth doll that was given to me when I was about two years old. He is a little Chinese child who originally came to me with his mother. He is made of some coarse cotton cloth and his body is stuffed tightly. I remember that the mother dolls leg came off. I’m not sure why she wasn’t mended but somehow she disappeared and her little child, now an orphan went to live with some other small dolls I had.

He had some escapades over the years. My sister once put him in the toilet, luckily she was too small to flush it and on another occasion she put him in a mug with some false teeth in it!

chinese cloth doll

My oldest doll.

When I was old enough to be curious I asked mum where he had come from. She was a bit vague about it and said she thought that he and his mother had been made by prisoners of war. I never did find out if there was any truth in this.

In early 1977 I stopped over in Hong Kong while travelling to the UK. In a Mission Shop in Kowloon I found dolls very similar to my little orphan.  I bought a boy and a girl but lost the girl during my nine week trip much to my annoyance. Thirteen years later on another stopover I managed to acquire another one and later still from eBay a mother and child similar to the original one I had. I  came across another doll in an antique shop so now my orphan boy has not only a new mother but a whole family.

chinese cloth doll family

My little orphan with his new family

All the dolls are made of cotton, and have embroidered features, the older ones are stuffed with something firm, maybe Kapok or Excelsior, the newer ones feel as if they have synthetic stuffing.

I still wanted to know the origin of these dolls so while I was preparing to write this post I did a bit of internet searching.
I learned about Michael Lee, a doll maker in Hong Kong but after reading about him and his dolls I decided that mine were not made by him. However it is a very worthwhile story so I’ll include a link.

Then I discovered photos of Ada Lum dolls and I think mine looks rather like them but as neither my original dolls or any of the ones I have collected have any tags or other markings I will just say they are “in the style of” the Ada Lum dolls. My original dolls of course were made in the late 1950s but the ones I bought in Hong Kong were from the 70s and late 80s respectively. Although I didn’t learn much about my dolls I was fascinated to read that Ada Lum’s family migtrated from Australia to China and that her grandparents were both from Adelaide where I grew up.

If anyone can tell me any more about these dolls I’d love to hear from them.