86-year-old has accumulated 100,000 hongbao over 15 years

Mr Samson Low files them in a way that showcases the front and back of each hongbao. He says he has spent a few thousand dollars over the years on his hobby.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Like many who recently received a hongbao, you probably ripped it apart, kept the cash and discarded the red packet.

Not Mr Samson Low Seng San, 86. He keeps the empty hongbao envelopes, now in the thousands.

They are everywhere in his four-room flat in Toa Payoh - in his wardrobe, under the bed, in the bedside drawer, on shelves reaching to the ceiling - while thousands more fill the storeroom in his home.

The hongbao collector has amassed, by his estimate, some 100,000 hongbao over 15 years, and the number is creeping up by the week.

His wife, Madam Pua Gek Cheng, 73, who sleeps in a separate room, said in resignation: "The house is becoming a rubbish dump."Although they are kept neatly in files and boxes, the rooms are overflowing with them.

But Mr Low said collecting hongbao has kept his brain and body humming.

The retired businessman, who is a little hard of hearing, is sprightly and enthusiastic. "If you don't use your mind, you'll get dementia very quickly," he said.

"It is a difficult task... Others just collect hongbao as long as they're of different designs, but I organise them into topics. Whatever type of hongbao you want to see, I can easily find it for you," he said with pride.

Mr Low took out a few hefty pocket files from the shelf last week and opened them to show The Straits Times page after page of hongbao enclosed in plastic sleeves and stuck neatly on A4 pages.

There were two of each design, showing the front and back, which enabled a design split between the front and back of a hongbao to be seen in its entirety.

The edges of the pages are embellished with decorative patterns photocopied from artwork Mr Low found elsewhere. Some of them are even coloured by hand.

Like a library, the files hold hongbao sorted according to the company that issued them, the year of issue, or Chinese zodiac animals.

There are hongbao from companies such as Daikin, Tiger Beer, DBS Bank and McDonald's.

Read also: Boys, babies got more hongbao money: OCBC data​

There is an album full of hongbao from Buddhist temples and Christian churches, their designs containing religious teachings and imagery.

There is even one file containing green and purple hongbao, colours the Malay and Indian communities respectively consider sacred and peaceful.

Mr Low also dug out a box containing hongbao from the 1950s to 1970s. Many of them are in a darker shade of red and, being meant for coins, about a quarter the size of today's hongbao.

Madam Pua, who used to run a shop selling stamps to collectors, said: "The red ink comes off easily on your fingers, and people sometimes used it as lipstick."

Added Madam Pua, who could not avoid becoming a hongbao buff herself: "It wasn't fashionable to keep hongbao back then, and most people discarded them after taking out the money."

When asked whether he had any favourites, Mr Low said: "I can't say, there are so many designs. I focus on completing the series, not on whether the hongbao is nice or not. It depends on individual taste."

Indeed, he said he takes a liking to the more colourful designs while Madam Pua finds those too gaudy and said she prefers the red ones with gold artwork.

Mr Low conceded that he can never complete his collection. There are just too many out there, and the older hongbao are elusive and expensive.

He said that having spent a few thousand dollars over the years, his collection is worth about as much. "I collect hongbao because I like them, not for investment," he added.

He avoids hongbao sets that can command prices of up to a few hundred dollars, such as complete sets from banks that have exclusive designs for their priority banking and private banking customers.

Mr Low said he frequents the Chinatown area on most Sundays, where he buys from fellow collectors who set up temporary stalls.

On the weekend before Chinese New Year, he spent about $50 on some of the latest designs, such as a McDonald's hongbao showing a large packet of French fries on the front.

When not out hongbao hunting, he spends the day sorting out his new acquisitions, meticulously putting them in plastic sleeves and mounting them in the album.

And things look set to get even busier, as Mr Low is talking with a bunch of friends about setting up a society of hongbao collectors, which could materialise later this year.

CNY 2017: 41 best hongbao designs and where to get them

  • Nickelodeon's super fun Spongebob hongbaos (for the media) did not reach us in time for our Top 17 list, but we couldn't resist adding them to our Top 40 (now 41) list!
  • Tiffany and Co
  • Guardian: Customers who spend above $68 at any Guardian Health and Beauty store will receive a packet of 8 limited edition red packets.
  • Lacoste: For customers who spend $168 in a single receipt in the month of January,
  • Ion Orchard: ION+ Rewards members and American Express Card members will receive red packets and an orange carrier with $80 spent.
  • Wheelock Place: Fortune packs are given to shoppers with $280 spent in 3 same-day receipts. (DBS & POSB cardmembers need only spend $250 to redeem.)
  • Pan Pacific Hotel: Premium red packets (fabric material) are given out to corporate clients, while the red packets are given out to dine-in guests during Chinese New Year.
  • The 1872 Clipper Tea Co.
  • POSB
  • Gain City
  • Hong Kong Mall Harbour City went the extra mile and created money packets of different colours. The packets are beautifully designed with embossed details and textures on the front and back.
  • Bang & Olufsen
  • Nex
  • Mitzo Restaurant & Bar's red packets are given to diners who order any of the CNY goodies takeaway from now till Feb 11.
  • Crabtree & Evelyn's red packet set is given away with minimum spend of $60 nett in a single receipt.
  • Michael Kors packets are given to customers with a minimum purchase.
  • From Jan 25, Jetstar will give red packets to passengers departing Singapore at Jetstar counters or at check-in kiosks
  • Customers can redeem Furla's red packets with a minimum purchase of $888 in a single receipt.
  • Jurong Point's red packets and matching carrier can be redeemed by spending $128 (max two combined same-day receipts). Limited to first 360 shoppers per till Jan 26.
  • Pizza Express will be giving red packets to customers with a minimum spend of $150.
  • From Jan 6 to 27, shoppers can redeem a set of these red packets with a minimum spend of $80 in any of the 15 CapitaLand malls.
  • Online retailer Zalora's red packets will be given out to suppliers and corporate partners only.
  • KidZania red packets will be given to KidZanian members when they visit KidZania Singapore between Jan 21 to Feb 12.
  • Kipling
  • Swarovski red packets come free with $128 purchase of regular-priced products from now till Feb 5. Different mechanics apply for Atelier Swarovski red packets.
  • Given to Schroders clients.
  • Free with $88 purchase at United Square from Jan 6 to 27.
  • Red packet sets are given out to guests who hold events during the Lunar New Year period.
  • $1.90 for a pack of six, this is the first time that Ikea is selling red packets in its LYCKSALIG collection.
  • To be given away in the hotel's Facebook giveaway contest. The last giveaway is scheduled for Jan 25.
  • For shoppers when they spend a minimum of $80 at any Robinsons store at Robinsons The Heeren, Raffles City or JEM.
  • A set of eight hongbaos comes free with a minimum spend of $50 at WRS parks' retail stores.
  • A set of six hongbaos comes free with every purchase of the Golden Prosperity Burger Extra Value Meal. Mandarin orange carriers are available for purchase at $5 each with any order made via McDelivery and over the McCafe counters.
  • Sold in packs of eight at $12.90, or free with every $40 spent in store.
  • For OCBC customers, with the plain red designs going to premier and premier private clients, and the Chinese character designs going to corporate customers.
  • Available for $6 a pack from the artist's Facebook page ishoothabits. Large hongbaos come in packs of three while the regular sized hongbaos come in packs of five.
  • Packet of six come free with minimum spending of $50 at any Courts store or on the Courts' website.
  • The limited edition Fortune Pack consisting of a carrier and eight hongbaos is given out to guests who spend a minimum of $280 in three same-day receipts.
  • Given out to guests at Fulleron Bay Hotel and The Fullerton Hotel.
  • For UOB customers and clients.
  • From Jan 12 to Feb 11, shoppers who spend $128 (or $108 for Changi Rewards members, and $208 for supermarket purchases) in a single receipt at Changi Airport Public areas can redeem a pack of six Pokemon red packets.

Another collects branded hongbao

Four years ago, hongbao collector Jason Chia began to specialise in hongbao from luxury brands.

"I decided to focus on that because it gave me an extra challenge," said Mr Chia, 57, a project manager in the construction industry.

Names like Ferrari, Lamborghini, Rolex and Estee Lauder grace his hongbao, along with rarely seen editions released by design agencies or by banks for their private banking customers.

Mr Chia estimates that about 300 designs appear every year from these luxury brands.

In fact, it was a special design that inspired him to start collecting hongbao about eight years ago.

"I heard on FM95.8 that VivoCity would be giving away a special-edition hongbao if you spend more than $100. I liked the design very much and started collecting," said Mr Chia.

He has accumulated more than 1,000 brand-name designs among the 6,000 hongbao in his entire collection.

He sources the premium hongbao mainly through exchange with fellow collectors and from friends who are customers of those companies.

He estimates that about 10 collectors in Singapore specialise in branded hongbao. 


This article was first published on Jan 31, 2017.
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