Dolls representing people of different nationalities and races became popular in the latter half of the 19th century. New opportunities for world travel, as well as books written by travellers, made people more aware of other cultures.

Bähr & Pröschild doll

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The doll pictured was made by the German company Bähr & Pröschild in about 1890. He was made using the company’s standard mould for dolls based on European children, and therefore his features are not authentic to the Chinese boy he is meant to represent. The only differences between the original mould and the doll pictured are the curved painted eyebrows and long, braided mohair wig. The doll is wearing a dark blue silk tunic and olive green silk jacket, his hat is made from cardboard covered in silk and he wears a pair of Chinese style slippers.

The doll was part of a collection owned by a girl called Audrey Denison, who was born in the 1880s. Audrey kept a record of her ‘Dolls of Different Countries’ in a special notebook, recording where each doll came from, who had given it to her and when. The first entry was for a doll in Norwegian costume given to her by her father in 1885, the last for a Japanese doll which was a present from Commander Tatsuo Matsumura of the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1907. The Chinese boy doll pictured is recorded as ‘Dressed by Ah Lay – a tailor who was shot by an Englishman a week after he finished the doll. Tientsin, from Mother and Ah Lay Jan 1890.’