It all started with a glass from 1958.

Whenever a neighbour moves house, an old shop closes, or a flea market springs up, I’ll be there. It’s sometimes a bittersweet moment when visiting an old neighbour who’s moving out or a shop that I grew up that’s closing. On the bright side, every one of those trips feels like a treasure hunt to me. What I see as treasure is often hidden away and forgotten in a corner of a house, or thrown out as junk.
Hello, my name is David and I’m a collector of vintage items, or as I like to call myself, a “heritage keeper”. The old Sungei Road Thieves’ Market unfortunately closed in 2017 but I’ll never forget it since that’s where my serious hobby started—when I bought my first item, a vintage F&N glass, because it made me nostalgic about my younger days. I was only 14 then and I guess I was destined to become a heritage keeper as I don’t think many 14-year-olds reminisce about their younger days!
More than 20 years since that F&N glass, my collection has grown to about 2,000 items, and I treasure every one of them because every item has a story behind it.
For example, I have a tea cup that was used by Japanese soldiers from World War 2. It must have reminded them of home and not just because it is decorated with images of rural Japanese scenery; upon finishing their tea, soldiers would see the geisha that was lightly printed on its base.
Another piece from my collection is a flat beige push-button phone that was commonly issued to local households because it was in the government’s best interests to keep everyone connected, a job that the Internet has taken over in more recent years.
You may have eaten noodles out of one of those bowls with roosters printed on them, but do you know that those bowls used to be handmade? If the bowl was handmade, you’ll find that each rooster looks slightly different and more intricate because someone painted them individually. You’ll also see that the top of the bowl is not perfectly round and is in fact slightly octagonal in shape. I have one of these handmade bowls in my collection and it certainly doesn’t look “perfect” and consistent like the mass produced ones, but I think that’s part of its charm.
More importantly, each item is a piece of Singapore’s history. Even though we’re still a fairly young nation, Singapore has lost a lot of its heritage because of how fast it’s developed. It’s important to keep these items so that future generations can still see and appreciate that little piece of the nation’s history while holding it in their hands.
Okay, maybe not every item in my collection can be held. I also have large heavy items in my collection, such as a rickshaw, a trishaw, and a solid teak wood signboard that used to hang above a shopfront along Joo Chiat Road.
Regardless of the size of the item, I always feel satisfied and encouraged when I overhear parents or grandparents, upon viewing my collection, educating the younger generation about those items and how they used to live. Ultimately, that’s what I hope I can do as a heritage keeper—to inspire the passing down of knowledge from one generation to the next. These pieces of knowledge or stories form the collective memory of one generation of Singaporeans and I think that’s worth cherishing.

David Wee