Me­mento man

A col­lec­tor of po­lit­i­cal mem­o­ra­bilia and vin­tage items loves old things as they evoke a sense of nos­tal­gia.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Front Page - By MAJORIE CHIEW star2@thes­ Ung’s Carousell ac­count is

Gen­eral man­ager Adrian Ung is fas­ci­nated with po­lit­i­cal mem­o­ra­bilia and vin­tage items as they take him back to a by­gone era. He scours flea mar­kets through­out Malaysia and Sin­ga­pore for these items. And he does not mind spend­ing a tidy sum on them.

DAYS be­fore a gen­eral elec­tion, flags, ban­ners, buntings and po­lit­i­cal mem­o­ra­bilia would flood the mar­ket. But when the elec­tion is over, the in­ter­est in them would also die down. And then you will see work­ers clear­ing away these stuff to be dis­carded. But some per­sonal items bear­ing party lo­gos would be­come keep­sakes, to be stored away for the mem­o­ries.

Gen­eral man­ager Adrian Ung of Ke­lana Jaya, Se­lan­gor, may not be a diehard po­lit­i­cal party mem­ber but he started col­lect­ing po­lit­i­cal mem­o­ra­bilia in 1998, a year af­ter he be­gan his vin­tage time col­lec­tion.

When he first be­gan this hobby, he col­lected items from Barisan Na­sional.

“I was in­spired by a col­lec­tor whose en­tire house was filled with Ja­panese Oc­cu­pa­tion and Malaya/Merdeka mem­o­ra­bilia,” said Ung, 48, who works in EuroAt­lantic Sdn Bhd, an im­porter and dis­trib­u­tor of fresh pro­duce, in Am­pang, Se­lan­gor.

Ung col­lects po­lit­i­cal mem­o­ra­bilia from the 1950s (pos­si­bly even ear­lier) to the 80s. He finds “the older ones” more in­ter­est­ing.

He would scour the flea mar­kets all over Malaysia and Sin­ga­pore for these items. He said: “I even found Tunku Ab­dul Rah­man mem­o­ra­bilia that had been bought from a Lon­don flea mar­ket.”

His rea­son for tak­ing a fancy to them is that “they shed light on what our fore­fa­thers went through back then”.

Added Ung: “We also get to see and feel the items that were im­por­tant in the early days of in­de­pen­dence.” For ex­am­ple, he said, an elec­tion cam­paign leaflet fea­tur­ing Tun Ab­dul Razak Hus­sein shak­ing hands with Chair­man Mao (Ze­dong).

(Tun Ab­dul Razak was the sec­ond Prime Min­is­ter of Malaysia from 1970 to 1976, and Mao was the Chair­man of the Com­mu­nist Party and the found­ing fa­ther of the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China from 1949 un­til his death in 1976.)

Ung has re­ceived a lot of of­fers for his favourite col­lectible – a 1957 tin plate with a por­trait of Tunku Ab­dul Rah­man. “It seems it is very hard to come by. Many col­lec­tors don’t have it,” he quipped. He had bought it from a col­lec­tor in Melaka.

Ung has never counted how many BN items he has, though.

“I prob­a­bly have a few hun­dred po­lit­i­cal mem­o­ra­bilia – but­tons, badges, plates, news­pa­pers and books – in­clud­ing those of BN (then known as Parti Perikatan or The Al­liance Party),” he said.

These BN and Parti Perikatan mem­o­ra­bilia num­ber the most in his col­lec­tion be­cause “they have been around for so long. So, nat­u­rally, we have the most of these mem­o­ra­bilia cir­cu­lat­ing around.

“Yes, I do sell other po­lit­i­cal mem­o­ra­bilia. It’s just that BN mem­o­ra­bilia are eas­ier to find as it has been the rul­ing party for so long, and ob­vi­ously it has more mem­o­ra­bilia pro­duced, com­pared to the op­po­si­tion par­ties,” he said.

Ung once bought a Parti Perikatan cam­paign poster which he re­ally liked, from an an­tique dealer in Am­corp Mall, Petaling Jaya.

He said: “I was rather wor­ried that some­one else would grab it, so I didn’t even bar­gain for it!”

Ung has also amassed vin­tage items from other po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

“I still have an MIC pub­li­ca­tion and mem­o­ra­bilia of MCA, Tun Tan Cheng Lock and Tun Tan Siew Sin,” he said. How­ever, Ung had sold off an early edi­tion of the DAP news­let­ter.

Ung isn’t aware if any BN party mem­bers have bought any of the party mem­o­ra­bilia from him. That’s be­cause buy­ers don’t re­veal their party af­fil­i­a­tion. How­ever, some of his cus­tomers had wanted to set up gal­leries or mu­se­ums.

From stamps to vin­tage stuff

When he was seven, Ung started col­lect­ing stamps and first day cov­ers, as well as traded them, with his pen­pals. “The older, the bet­ter,” he said. Rem­i­nisc­ing the old times, he said: “I just love a lot of old stuff. Maybe it gives me a sense of nos­tal­gia – these things from a by­gone era – and the fact that they have a story be­hind them, in­ter­ests me as well.”

He would “zoom in on Merdeka and Malaya-era items as they are hard to find and in­ter­est­ing, es­pe­cially to Malaysians”. Other than po­lit­i­cal mem­o­ra­bilia, Ung also col­lects vin­tage coin banks made from metal from the by­gone era.

“I also have ko­pi­tiam ‘ad­ver­tis­ing’ cups and saucers which I like more than the ones spon­sored by bev­er­age and con­densed milk com­pa­nies. I col­lect ad­ver­tis­ing signs and vin­tage milk cans, ra­dios and fig­urines, too,” Ung said, adding that some items are from the 1950s or 60s.

Ung would head to the Na­tional Li­brary to read dig­i­tal archives of old news­pa­pers to re­search about his vin­tage items.

“I would come across ads that fea­ture some of the items I have, and read books (on his­tory and pol­i­tics) to get a feel of what it was like back then – the fight for in­de­pen­dence and the strug­gles our fore­fawent thers through,” he said.

He buys his vin­tage stuff “ev­ery­where and from every­one”, in­clud­ing col­lec­tors, an­tique deal­ers, and even run­ners who would source for these col­lectibles and sell them.

Ung would also buy from old pro­vi­sion shops. Some­times he gets lucky as some shop own­ers would give vin­tage stuff – such as the Guin­ness Stout sign, Coke tray and vin­tage aba­cus – to him for free in the early days when he started this pas­time.

Many of his friends who know about his “crazy” habit would gift him with mem­o­ra­bilia from their trav­els.

For some items, he did not have to spend a sen to ac­quire, but for other items, he would fork out thou­sands of Ring­git.

At any one time, Ung said, he has thou­sands of small vin­tage items. Over the last 20 years, he has sold or given away “more than I can re­mem­ber”. But he still has “hun­dreds, prob­a­bly thou­sands, of them”.

He keeps his mem­o­ra­bilia in vin­tage dis­play cab­i­nets and in boxes in his store­room.

An­other man’s trea­sure

When peo­ple got to know about his un­usual hobby, they would say: “Wow, you mean you se­ri­ously col­lect all these junk!”

Or if cu­rios­ity got the bet­ter of them, they would ask: “How much did you say you paid for this?”

Some­one once re­marked: “Hey! My mum used to have these!”

When his friends browse through his col­lectibles, some of them are fas­ci­nated by them as they bring back child­hood mem­o­ries.

“But most of them would say that their spouses would stop them if they wanted to keep such stuff,” he said.

Some peo­ple he doesn’t know so well would also com­ment about his vin­tage col­lectibles.

But he said: “I nor­mally laugh it off, es­pe­cially when they try to be po­lite by say­ing that they love the vin­tage items. In their hearts, they prob­a­bly think I’m a nut­case who col­lects junk!”

How­ever, Ung is not both­ered by what peo­ple think about his hobby. Nei­ther is he af­fected by their neg­a­tive re­marks.

“Some­times, I get amaz­ing of­fers from peo­ple who are even cra­zier than me.

Al­though my hobby did not start out as an in­vest­ment, I ended up sell­ing some of the items,” he said.

When the price is right

Does he have any vin­tage items that he would never sell, what­ever the price? Well, he is prag­matic.

“I be­lieve ev­ery­thing has a price. If the price is right, I would sell the item,” he said.

The most ex­pen­sive mem­o­ra­bilia he has had was a Merdeka car badge which he had bought for RM2,000. Last year, he parted with it when some­one of­fered him RM5,000 for it. It was an of­fer he couldn’t refuse.

But it doesn’t mean that he is not a sen­ti­men­tal­ist.

In­deed Ung has his soft spot.

“It would be hard for me to give up, for any price, vin­tage pho­tos of my mother, fa­ther and grand­par­ents. In­deed, there are peo­ple who ac­tu­ally col­lect old pho­tographs!” he quipped.

Ung sells his vin­tage items on Face­book and Carousell, a mo­bile and on­line con­sumer-to-con­sumer mar­ket­place with head­quar­ters in Sin­ga­pore, for buy­ing and sell­ing new and sec­ond­hand goods.

His cus­tomers are an­tique and col­lectible deal­ers (in­clud­ing from Sin­ga­pore and Hong Kong) as well as col­lec­tors.

He said: “Carousell reaches out to more col­lec­tors in­stead of mostly deal­ers. When deal­ing with col­lec­tors, we tend to be able to get bet­ter prices. At the same time, the col­lec­tors also save money. It’s a win-win sit­u­a­tion and we cut off the mid­dle­man.”

Ung re­called an en­counter with a cus­tomer who took the trou­ble to drive a long dis­tance af­ter see­ing his item posted on Carousell.

“It was a cou­ple of years ago. This guy, from Melaka, was in the East Coast when he saw a tin sign which I had just up­loaded on Carousell. He im­me­di­ately con­tacted me. In the midst of his hol­i­day, he ac­tu­ally drove all the way from Kuan­tan to buy the item from me!

“He was so wor­ried that I would sell it to some­one else, even though I had promised him that I would re­serve it for him. I sold the item for RM800.”

The tin sign fea­tured a ra­dio which was made in Eng­land. That col­lec­tor had the ex­act ra­dio fea­tured in the sign. He wanted to get his hands on the sign so that he could dis­play the sign and his ra­dio to­gether.

Photo: YAP CHEE HONG/The Star


This poster, show­ing the past Prime Min­is­ters of Malaysia, is in Ung’s col­lec­tion. Ung show­ing a Merdeka Year­book fea­tur­ing Tunku Ab­dul Rah­man, the first Prime Min­is­ter of Malaysia.

His­tor­i­cal mem­o­ra­bilia, in­clud­ing a key chain with the iconic pic­ture of Tunku Ab­dul Rah­man declar­ing ‘Merdeka!’.

Metal badges from yes­ter­year.

Two car badges mounted on wood plaques.

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