A few of our favourite things

Miss Gladys Sym Choon: Connecting past with present

These beautifully decorated collection items, including a bowl, flat spoon and teapot, were hand painted in China in the early to mid 20th Century. Colourful and striking images of dragons and birds are set against a backdrop of white porcelain, which is surrounded by exquisite gold. While I admired these items for their beautiful patterns, my attention was first drawn to these objects because of their association with the Miss Gladys Sym Choon shop, here, in the East End of Adelaide.    

These objects were imported by Miss Gladys Sym Choon who ran the China Gift Store at No. 235A Rundle Street, Adelaide. Miss Gladys Sym Choon opened the shop in 1924, when she was only 18 years of age. In 1979 the business was passed to Gladys’ daughter, Mei Ling, but was closed in 1985. When the current owners bought the shop they renamed it Miss Gladys Sym Choon. 

The China Gift Store was a popular destination for buying home wares imported from the East. The shop sold a range of items such as embroidered napery, hand-carved woodwork, ivory, amber and jade ornaments, carved pearl inlaid furniture, pedestals, chairs, tea pots, tables, cabinets and trays, as well as bras wear and also Chinese silk lounge sets.  The shop was promoted as a place to buy exotic goods and experience the East. On Tuesday 8 September 1936, the Advertiser published an article inviting visitors to the city to call in at the shop for something different, where they 'may inspect at their leisure Chinese handcraft.' Furthermore, customers could quite literally taste the exotic as food, imported from China, available for sale at the China Gift Store. 

In researching the history of Miss Gladys Sym Choon’s shop, I became fascinated by the desire that people had during the twentieth century to 'experience' the exotic. The popularity for these goods is highlighted by the concluding words of the article where it states: 

And so our visit to this little bit of China concludes, and as we wander back along Rundle street we feel that we have indeed, if only for too brief a period, been fortunate to have come in actual contact with the Far East, and as Kipling writes, “With China Across the Bay.

 ‘Tuesday 8 September 1936’, The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 - 1954), 26.

The teapot, spoon and bowl are currently on display at the Migration Museum. Come in and have a look at the display, or, when you are next in Rundle Street, and you pass by Miss Gladys Sym Choon, perhaps you will now remember the China Gift Store.

Tell us what you think or know by adding a comment