Michael Poh, Owner of Viewpoint Trading & Collectibles
Ever wondered what life in old Singapore was like? What did the homeware, furniture, toys, and even newspapers look like back then? Look around and you’ll see how modern our nation is today. But hidden amongst us are old artefacts that bring us back in time to the early days of Singapore.
Well, if you’re nostalgic for your childhood or want a piece of Singapore history, at Viewpoint Trading and Collectibles, you can find a large collection of Singapore memorabilia, toys, furniture, and other vintage items, each telling a story of old times. Owner, Michael Poh, has been collecting since young, and these days, he wants to share his passion for all things vintage with other tourists, students, and anyone interested in collecting.
Michael first opened his shop in Clarke Quay in the ’90’s, before moving to his current location in Chinatown. The name “Viewpoint” refers to how Michael sees his business and future—far and wide. With an assortment of collectibles, small and big, that date back to the colonial era, you can find almost anything at this corner shop. And for Michael, collecting doesn’t end because there’s always “new” old.
Running a collectibles business during these times isn’t easy though, and Michael has had to pivot to online selling to reach a wider audience. In the next part of our series with Singapore Tourism Board, we speak to him about the balance between collecting and selling, and while surrounded by the knick-knacks of yesterday, we let the waves of nostalgia sweep over us.
Who are the usual visitors?
People from all walks of life! All kinds of people just browse, or come in just to buy one or two items. I get a lot of students visiting my store for their projects. It gives me a chance to speak to them about my items. Educating them about Singapore’s history is important in getting the young generation interested. It’s nice to help and develop the community and interest in vintage collectibles. As they become more interested, they become buyers eventually too.
Who buys your collections? Are there any interesting collectors you’ve met?
We get everyone! At my store, there’s something for everyone. Items range from $1 to hundreds of dollars. My store is like a mama shop (convenience store) where you can get anything. I don’t specialise in items. There was once where a restaurant owner came and bought a lot of items to set up his restaurant.
Where do you source the collectibles from? What do you look out for?
There are lots of old houses with antiques waiting to be discovered. Many of them are in the Holland area, Pulau Ubin, Sembawang, Changi, and Katong. My runners will visit these houses when we get a call from someone moving out or selling their items. I don’t parallel import any of it; they’re all local.
We understand you started collecting stamps and phone cards in the 70s. Why did you continue to collect?
In the ’70’s, I started collecting stamps, phone cards, and notes. During my eight years in the Navy, I travelled the world and visited many flea markets. That’s how I got interested. I’m passionate about history and collecting. When I had more than one of an item, I would keep one and sell the other. After leaving the Navy, I was in the delivery business and would visit lots of homes where I got my items from.
Why did you decide to turn it into a business?
Over time, I accumulated many items and starting selling part-time. That’s when I realised you cannot be a collector if you want to sell. If you’re emotionally connected to the items and want to keep everything you find, it’s very hard for you to part with them. You need to sell at the end of the day. I don’t regret selling anything as long as it’s a fair price. These days, I only have a small personal collection.
What’s one advice you hold on to?
When I first started all this, someone told me it’ll take almost five years before you get well established. It’s not easy. I advise my children not to take over everything. Because in this line, you will need a lot of passion and interest; otherwise, you cannot go far.
What are some unique items you have, specifically any that are rich in Singaporean history?
I have some rare F&N bottles and coin bank collections. Back then, F&N had a flavour called Red Lion (ang sai) which is the equivalent of today’s Orange Crush. The bottles were proudly displayed in homes during Chinese New Year. The coin banks were exclusive even back then because you needed to be a customer of the bank to receive one.
What are some challenges of running a collectibles business today?
Well, to sell, you’ve got to connect, especially digitally now. You have to be online—Facebook, Instagram and other media. If you just continue the traditional way, you can’t survive. Half of my sales are online; half are in-store. It’s difficult to go fully online because customers want to touch and feel the items. So they’ve got to come down and take a look. There are also a lot of reproductions you want to avoid.
What are your plans after retirement?
In this line, there’s no such thing as retirement (laughs). As long as I can work, I’ll continue. What’s the point of retiring early? You’ve got to be humble in what you do and just do it. In terms of the future, I don’t have anyone to take over the business. As long as the price is right, I’ll sell the business. There’s bound to be someone interested.
Viewpoint Trading and Collectibles
150 South Bridge Rd, #01-07, Fook Hai Building, Singapore 058727
Open 10am to 5pm Monday to Sunday
This series was produced with the support of the Singapore Tourism Board’s SG Stories Content Fund Season 2. View more stories here.