Unusual beauties

SINGAPORE - "It's meaningful only if I can share the beauty of these things with others."

Mr Goh Soo Wui on donating items from his collection, which includes eggs of the Southern Cassowary to museums Mr Goh Soo Wui has a vast trove of unusual antiques and curios, from a one- to two- centuries-old wine bottle fished out of a shipwreck in Indonesia to a collection of more than 20 eggs of the Southern Cassowary, one of the largest living birds, bought from Papua New Guinea.

The 54-year-old semi-retiree has loved antiques since he was young - he bought his first one, a piece of mammoth tooth that cost him $20, from a sailor from the then-Soviet Union in Clifford Pier when he was 16 years old.

But it is only in the last five years that he has started collecting pieces seriously. He has more than 200 pieces comprising, among others, pottery and fossils.

Some of these are showcased in a large display cabinet in his five-room HDB flat in Tampines, which he shares with his wife, 56, and two children aged 29 and 25.

He has spent more than $10,000 so far on his collection, which he has acquired in Singapore and on his travels. He believes Indonesia has the most number of antiques compared to other countries he has visited, such as Vietnam. This is due to its prominence as a spice trading hub in the past, which brought ships from all over the world to its ports.

He has a fondness for pieces that exhibit primitive craftsmanship, compared with modern, sleek objects. "The uglier it is, the better. It shows it's authentic," he says.

He talks in great detail about his pieces, reeling off facts and informative tidbits. He has a wide knowledge of the history and significance of each item, having pored over countless books over the years.

He says his research has helped him pick antiques of high value from dusty piles of goods from roadside vendors. The sellers sometimes offer them to him at prices a fraction of their real worth. "There are many people who cannot recognise the value of these treasures," he says.

For example, he has an exquisitely crafted jewellery box made of real silver which, he says, can cost hundreds of dollars online. It cost him $18 from Cash Converters, a second- hand goods shop in Singapore.

His most prized possession is a 96cm-long snake carved out of gold coral which a friend helped him buy in Hawaii for US$500 (S$624) last year. Based on his online research, Mr Goh says it could be worth up to $10,000.

He is especially enthusiastic about blue amber, which is a type of amber characterised by its rare blue hue when seen under sunlight or UV light.

He has more than 300 pieces of blue amber including stones and bracelets - the most of any item in his collection. While he displays a few of them, most of the pieces are packed into a suitcase where they are individually wrapped and labelled by weight and the shade of their colouration.

The oldest piece in his entire collection of antiques is a fossilised bone he believes is more than two million years old. According to Mr Goh, the ancient bone could have belonged to a human due to its shape.

Declining to reveal the price, he says he got it from a roadside seller when he was in Indonesia.

"I find it the most beautiful," he says. "Over the long period of time, it has turned into this piece of agate."

He says he would consider selling or donating his pieces to museums if there is something good to give away.

"It's not enough to just appreciate it by myself at home," he says. "It's meaningful only if I can share the beauty of these things with others."


This article was first published on June 28, 2014.
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