Growing up with Donald Duck

There is a prominent third party in the relationship of Mr Tan Haur and his wife Kit Mui.

His name is Donald Duck.

The couple have amassed a collection of more than 100 vintage items related to the Disney character, from figurines to coin banks to candy dispensers. Some pieces date back to the 1970s.

These are housed in a Balinese teak cupboard in the living room of their four-room HDB flat in Woodlands. Mrs Tan occasionally opens the cupboard to admire the miniature crowd of Donald Ducks smiling or scowling back at her.

"I like Donald Duck's different expressions," says the 47-year-old artist and crafter. "Sometimes, when I'm moody, I just take a look."

The couple started collecting the duck-related items while they were dating in the late 1980s, after discovering that they shared a mutual love for the cartoon character. Married for 24 years, they say the collection brings back fond memories of their childhood.

Mr Tan, 50, an art and design educator, first fell in love with the character when he was awarded a certificate for a Donald Duck colouring contest at around nine years old. He says: "To me, Donald Duck is the most human of cartoon characters, unlike the ones in fairy tales or superheroes who are not very real. Donald Duck has a good and bad side like us and we can learn a lot from his character."

He considers the certificate one of his most treasured childhood possessions and keeps it in a folder.

Another precious piece is a coin bank that dates back to 1973 and which the couple found in a vintage shop. As children, they both owned versions of that coin bank, which had been given free by The Chartered Bank (now known as Standard Chartered Bank) in the late 1960s to early 1970s as part of its campaign to encourage children to save money.

Mr Tan recalls: "I would put in all my coins and take it to the bank, where the staff would open it and count the money before printing out the amount on the bank book to show me... I loved the feeling that the coin bank gave me."

They both lost their coin banks as they grew older, so they were thrilled to find an original 1970s piece in the early 1990s for around $70.

They search for Donald Duck items at flea markets, vintage shops and eBay. They have also brought back pieces from Malaysia and Thailand.

Mr Tan quips: "We're like duck hunters. When we come back from a trip, our treasures would be Donald Duck."

The couple have not kept track of how much they have spent on the collection, but Mr Tan says many of their pieces were regarded as "junk" at flea markets and did not cost much. They have paid as little as 50 cents for some figurines. Mrs Tan says: "We're not big spenders, so I wouldn't pay a few hundred dollars for one item."

But they steer clear of reproductions, such as replicas of the Donald Duck coin banks, of which they say there are many at flea markets.

They identify the authenticity of pieces by looking for specific marks such as logos. Mrs Tan also keeps in touch with international collectors on a blog.

Having studied and researched the different Donald Duck pieces they own, they say they buy only very selectively now.

Mrs Tan has no plans of giving away or selling the collection. "At the moment, I'm still enjoying the different funny expressions of Donald Duck," she says.

This article was first published on August 30, 2014
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