This article was first published in Hype & Stuff on 30 April 2017.
There’s an old saying, “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.“
That quote aptly represents Mr David Wee and his fascinating job as a vintage collector. The 34-year-old enthusiast has been in the industry for slightly more than 20 years, and set up Wee’s Collection back in 2012. He is continuously looking to increase his already impressive collection.
But David is not just any ordinary vintage collector or enthusiast; he is one of the rare few who actively helps to preserve and promote Singapore’s rich heritage.
David’s humble two-storey terrace house along Changi Road is impossible to miss. In what seems like an overfilled front yard with wooden furniture and other weird trinkets, lies a massive collection of vintage items from the pre-colonial days right up to the 1970s.
You’d be forgiven if you thought that this place was a junkyard or a museum. But here at Wee’s Collection, David deals with neither of the above. Instead, he buys, sells and rents out these pieces to those with the discerning eye.
David was grinning from ear to ear when he greeted me and had just returned from a house visit. He often gets invited to source for potential loot from people who are moving home or have items from their late relatives that they want to dispose of. At times, he even travels all the way to Malaysia.
Vintage items are increasingly gaining popularity, especially since everyone likes a bit of nostalgia. It may look like a lucrative trade, but the nuts and bolts of running this business is far from easy. There are a few crucial traits that one must possess: keen eyes, knowledge and persistence. Not forgetting, a lot of legwork.
For David, with his years of experience, it has already become his second nature.
Bubbly and jovial, David easily opened up. Like old friends, we soon found ourselves deep in conversation.
When did you start this collection?
“It was around 1997 when I was 14 years old. There weren’t so many (items) back then. I was more into it when I went full time in 2012, and started having more stuff. But back in those days, it was me collecting stuff that I fancied, stuff that I liked.”
What sparked this interest?
“Whenever I come across these things, there is often something I can relate to. Things from my childhood, things from my grandma’s house. You know, somehow, they ring a bell. When I noticed people throwing them away, I wondered, why are they throwing these nostalgic things away? So, I decided to keep one or two, you know, to remember it. And from there, it started amassing.”
Wee’s collection features more than 2000 vintage memorabilia such as colourful tiffin carriers, old-school McDonald’s Happy Meal toys, old analog clocks, porcelain wares, rotary dial phones and other interesting bric-a-brac.
When you started, where did you source your items from?
“My dad and I used to visit flea markets. Places like flea markets in Sungei Road or Clarke Quay, even antique stores, where we looked for cheap and interesting buys.”
Which is the most sentimental item to you?
“One of the most sentimental items is the first glass (cup) I collected. It was an F&N Orange Crush. These glasses were used in the coffee shops. It really reminded me of my childhood in the ‘80s. So, I thought, let’s buy it. From there, one glass became ten glasses, and so on.”
There is no doubt that certain items triggered sentimental value within me and perhaps it was also because of how these items possess some story that’s just waiting to be heard. To have a whiff of so much nostalgia congregated in one place was truly a weird but pleasant experience.
What do you hope your collection can bring to youths who have never experienced olden day Singapore?
“I really hope that the younger generations can appreciate Singapore’s heritage. Although we are a small country, we have come a long way. We have a big and rich history, and there is a lot of room for learning. Sometimes, I don’t need to explain the things to the children. Sometimes, the parents do that instead.”
So it’s like one generation passing on stories to the other?
“Yes, the adults help tell the stories to the children. Of course, as and when I will also be there to share my knowledge. Sometimes, people also come up to me and share their experiences, which I think is both meaningful and interesting. In a way, it’s carrying on the nation’s heritage, because if we don’t do this, the future generations will not know.”
Do note that visits to Wee’s Collection is strictly via appointments only (no walk-ins allowed), so plan in advance and get a slice of nostalgia today!