This beautiful 200 page book explores the different types of tiles that came to Singapore in the late-19th / early-20th century, and showcases some of the exquisite tiles that can be seen in the heritage precincts of Katong, Chinatown, Emerald Hill and Little India. Many century old buildings and shophouses in these conserved areas are decorated with English, Belgian or Japanese tiles. Interestingly, several tombs in the Bukit Brown Cemetery are also decorated with these tiles. The book also aims to create awareness about this fragile legacy that needs to be conserved for the generations to come.
In the early part of the 20th century, decorative tiles known as maiolica ormajolica tiles across the world, found favour with the affluent Peranakan community of Singapore. The Peranakans decorated their houses, furniture and other surfaces with these colourful tiles. Soon enough, these tiles became a distinctive feature of this community and they began to be referred to as ‘Peranakan tiles’.
Based on availability, preferences shifted from English and Belgian tiles at the turn of the century to Japanese relief moulded tiles post-World War I. Japanese tiles were specifically made for Chinese-origin customers and had designs of fruits, flowers, birds and animals, considered auspicious as per Chinese symbolism.—Anne Pinto-Rodrigues
In today’s age of social media, traditional hobbies like stamp or coin collection, seem to have completely disappeared from children’s lives. However, for one person, Victor Lim, the collection evolved from a hobby of his youth to a successful business venture.
Victor began collecting tiles in his late teens and today is one of Singapore’s foremost tile collectors. He is also known internationally as an expert on Peranakan tiles. Being a Peranakan himself, he has a strong personal connection with the tiles.
Victor has a collection of over 10,000 tiles and his most valuable tiles sit in a display cabinet, under lock and key. Many of the tiles in his collection have been painstakingly salvaged from the debris of old shophouses that were torn down with no regard for the tiles.
The value of antique tiles can vary depending on a number of factors. Some of the key factors that determine the value of the tile include:
- Age of the tile
- Condition of the tile
- Desirability and scarcity
- Style of work on the face of the tile-hand painted/moulded/tube lined/printed/etc
- Visibility of trademark and/or keying pattern on the back of the tile
- Tiles in a set or composition vs stand alone tiles
Tile collection as an amateur hobby gives the collector an opportunity to learn about the evolution of tiles, the various tile making techniques and decorative processes. It also provides glimpses into the time period in which the tile was made-the social conditions, the history, the decorative trends etc. Most of this information is easily available today via the internet and in books.
Anne Pinto-Rodrigues is a Singapore-based writer and tile enthusiast. Her personal interest in the subject of tiles prompted her to explore the enchanting world of the Peranakan tile. Anne’s articles have appeared in several magazines. Anne holds an MBA from the University of Maryland.
Victor Lim is Singapore’s leading tile aficionado with a collection of over 10,000 tiles. A Peranakan himself, Victor began collecting tiles from demolished shophouses in the late 70s when he was a teenager. The most valuable pieces in his collection sit in a display cabinet under lock and key. What started out as a hobby is today his passion as well as a source of livelihood and fame. Victor is also the co-owner of Aster by Kyra, a company that specialises in tile restoration of conserved shophouses and Chinese temples.