Notes on the Mint Museum of Toys

mint museum of toys, singapore

Among the first task on my to-do-list list before this year ends is to see Singapore’s Mint Museum of Toys. The first time I heard about it was in 2012 from a Singaporean coworker who mentioned it in passing. We were comparing notes about the toys of our generation. He’s about the same age as I am; an 80’s kid.

The first thing that caught my attention was the museum’s curious building—it does not have windows. It has garnered (the plaques are proudly exhibited in its reception area) international awards for its original design. The building is a slim, multi-level structure designed to exploit every inch of space—strange is that the place did not felt small at all—and I’m claustrophobic. The façade is made up of these glass pieces created to appear like sea tides. The Museum is a short distance walk from the historic Raffle’s Hotel.

You’re supposed to go from top floor and make your way down to see all the exhibit. The 5th floor is the “outerspace” level, as the name suggests on display are space traveling characters, aliens, rockets and space ships. These toys are the forerunner of space theme toys of today; and possibly the inspiration behind the real space travel, the one that brought humans to the moon! You see, those NASA guys that gave us the Apollo missions were once children that played with spaceship toys too.

One item that caught my eye is a toy robot riding on top of what looks like a Cadillac, the “Space Patrol Car.” There’s a tag beneath it that says, “estimated value $10,000.” I think you could buy a car in Manila for that price! There’s also an old issue of the Avengers comics on display. There’s no price tag but I could just imagine how much this one costs. In high school I started collecting comics (some Marvel but mostly Image comics) but lost all of it when we moved out of Makati. I had a high school friend, Errol Sy, who have one of the first editions of Fantastic Four. If I’m not mistaken it’s the 3rd or maybe the 4th. The first edition is now valued at around $370,000 (US), the one he had is still worth some good money. I looked up what happened to this friend on the internet and found out that he’s now living in Texas as a comic book illustrator.

Next stop was the 4th level where popular comics and cartoon “characters” are on display. I grew up watching “Astroboy” and was elated to see various toys, including a lifesize figure, inspired by the iconic Japanese cartoon. I remember seeing “Astroboy” toys in Cash-n-Carry (the one in Makati) and would beg my parents to buy one but they can’t afford it. They still make those toys in Japan back in the day which made it expensive.

There’s this Popeye toy priced at $14000. This brings to mind how my siblings and I would watch Popeye every weekend morning when I was in grade school. Popeye was my parent’s favorite example when they want us to finish our vegetables; “Look Popeye eats vegetables” and that makes him strong my Father would tell me. I was already in college when I got to see a real “spinach”. It doesn’t look like what Popeye gobbles in when Olive’s in distress; and why does he consume it through his pipes? (Are those green really spinach?)I also thought back then that canned spinach was something they made up for Popeye; I debunked myself when I was buying grocery in the US some years ago and found a real canned spinach!

Then there’s the Popeye Lousiana Kitchen which I thought was named after Popeye; I would later discover that it was named after a character in the movie The French Connection. Fortunately, the restaurant franchise made a lot of money; they later bought the rights to use Popeye the Sailorman for marketing.

The museum made me realize how old some of our favorite comics characters are; I didn’t know that Batman first came out in the 1930’s and that Mickey Mouse just turned 86 years old last November! There are also these characters that I have never heard before like Dan Dare, a famous British comic character from the 50’s and Bonzo the Dog. These British toys, popular in the UK and their former colonies, never reached our shores because our toy market was dominated by American pop culture.

In the 3rd level, I found these stunning human figurines made by Chinese children; these girls were trained by European missionaries. The Door of Hope Mission came to China to help the poor. In the early 1900’s, Chinese women from the provinces were kidnapped to be sold as slaves and prostitutes in the cities. The Europeans had rescued some of these girls; taught them how to read and write. Making dolls became one of their trade.

Aside from vintage toys, there are old posters, coins, comic books and Beatles memorabilia. Yeah, that’s right —there’s even a photo signed by the band.

The 50,000 piece museum collection was carefully culled from all over the world by Singaporean Chang Yang Fa. It’s incredible how he managed to keep all these toys decades before the creation of the museum. It’s a great place for people like me who have a penchant for old things and families of course; I saw parents with their little children trying to explain what their toys used to look like. I overheard one little boy argue with his mother “that’s not Mickey Mouse!” referring to a 1920-30 emaciated version of the beloved Disney character.

Go see this museum when you’re in town. Whether you like old toys or not, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the experience!

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