When you were a kid, what are the toys you used to play with?
Mine were the mini clay pots and pans, rubber bands, plastic balloons, aroma beads or kisses and paper dolls. I grew up in the province and there, life is simple. Our neighbours were my playmates and the nature was our playground. We turned muds to stoves, cans to cars and sticks to toy guns.
I’ve known that children in Singapore used to be that resourceful and creative too when it comes to producing toys out of available materials in their house or backyard. I’ve seen some of these toys in the Children’s Little Museum located at the Kampong Glam in Singapore and they somehow rekindle my own happy childhood memories.
The man behind the collection is Patrick Neo, a vintage toys collector and the owner of the Children’s Little Museum. I met him when I did a recce for the “Forever Young” episode I was working on for a TV show in Singapore. I was looking for a profile who owns old toys that need some restoration and I thought he could be the one as he has this treasure trove of vintage toys.
Patrick has been collecting toys and other valuable vintage items since 1990s. His passion for all things old began when he was with his friends talking about where the cups they used for drinking tea would go after several years. He was aware then that things in Singapore don’t last for so long. In a snap, everything is brand new and the old ones are thrown. He decided to embark on a journey of finding old tea cups until he saw a stash of junked toys—toys that are familiar to him, toys he used to play with when he was still little.
That compelled to start collecting robots, dolls, trains and almost every toy that existed in Singapore back in the 1950s-1970s. He wanted to share his treasures to people together with his stories about childhood in Singapore so he and his friends (Mohamed Haikal and Alan Wong) opened the Children’s Little Museum in Kampong Glam.
The first floor houses old mechanical clocks that can run for years, jewellery, telephones and vintage toys for sale.
The upper floor is packed with accumulated vintage toys which every person his age can relate to. Each corner has interactive exhibits. There’s a makeshift barber shop, drink stall and Ah Seng Toy’s store.
His collections were displayed accordingly. There’s a cabinet for robots, musical instrument toys, guns, tin toys and plastic toys. When you look up you can see old baby carts and toy bikes.
Patrick also upcycled old items into toys. He made a pull cart out of a wooden bottle case and tin cans; sports car made up of trash cans; and tin cans with stones inside turned into a hammer toy. These were the toys he used to make and play with. He and his playmates gathered what were readily available in their surroundings and created something out of them. It’s so much different nowadays when toys are just bought in shops and kids are more into video games.
These musings inspired Patrick to conduct workshops on how to make toys out of simple materials like match boxes, woods, cans, papers and corks. Final products of participants are displayed in the museum.
Most of Patrick’s vintage toys are in good condition except this 1970s battery-operated toy robot and chicken that lays eggs toy.
They are rare and now hard to find in Singapore. He bought them in Singapore flea markets for around 30-50 dollars each. He wants to see them restored as these toys are the same as the toys he used to play when he was young.
Vintage TV Robot
The robot has a screen on its body where moving lights appear whenever one presses its play button. It also walks as it has wheels underneath. Patrick puts battery at the back to test but it’s not working. He assumes that the problem lies inside the robot (wires?). It lost its ears too so the restorer should create an improvised ear antennas.
This rare vintage robot was manufactured in Japan in the 1970s. It’s known as the ‘TV Robot Super Space Commander’ because it features a scrolling lighted space scene in his belly. It stands 12 feet tall, battery-operated and is made up of strong durable plastic. It walks, moves its hands and makes noise. Current market price ranges from 125-300 dollars on e-bay and old robot island website.
Metal House Japan factory, formerly known as Marumiya, has been producing tin toys in Japan since 1943. Their merchandise includes TV robot, gear robot, piston robot, star strider, dino robot, giant robot, spring pierrot, santa claus, astronaut, space evil robot, hex head robot, cockpit robot, engine robot, astro-one, screen robot metal frontier and patrol robot.
I called Metal House Japan and was able to speak to the president Mr. Katsumasa Miyazawa. Unfortunately he can’t speak in English so we can’t understand each other. Besides, filming in Japan is too expensive so I need to look for an alternative restorer.
I saw videos on Youtube stating that there are some TV robots which are manufactured in Hongkong by a company named Kamco but I couldn’t find enough information online about the company.
Vintage Chicken Laying Eggs Tin Toy
The vintage tin toy hen laying eggs on the other hand is also battery operated (C-Cell). When you switch it on, it moves around, lays eggs and ‘clucks’. It’s 6 inches tall 5 inches long and 5 inches wide.
It still has the eggs but it’s no longer working. Something inside is hindering the eggs from coming out. It’s around 10 inches wide and 6 inches high. Current market price on amazon and ebay ranges from USD 25-900.
This hen laying eggs was made in China in the 1950s.
Since the vintage toys are no longer produced now, I was not sure if there is a restorer who knows how to bring them back in their glory days. Good thing someone from our production knows about a toy restorer in Hongkong, but this entails a separate story. To cut it short, we managed to have the vintage toys restored, shipped them back to Singapore and returned to Patrick in good working condition.
When you visit Singapore, drop by this Children’s Little Museum while it’s still there for you to see and appreciate.