A lifetime spent collecting, but kids don’t want their inheritance

A lifetime spent collecting, but kids don’t want their inheritance

By Larissa Lumandan

A room full of Paul Morley Charles’ antiques and paintings, which once belonged to wealthy clients he worked for as a mover.

KUCHING: Time is running out for the 77-year-old antique collector.

He knows his beloved antiques and paintings must go to new owners who will cherish them.

For one sad reality of growing old is that your children may not share your passions.

Paul Morley Charles is showing FMT around his Kuching home, where he keeps his collection.

“My daughter told me to sell everything off while I’m still alive. She doesn’t want to inherit things and not like them,” he tells us.

The dapper collector gestures affectionately at each of his beloved paintings and antiques. Nothing is exactly priceless, but some items are 250 years old.

Paul Morley Charles says his children are not interested in his collection, and he hopes to find suitable new homes for his precious pieces.

“My children don’t know the value of the items or their history or how to describe them,” he says.

But he’s taking his children’s lack of interest on the chin and working out the best way forward.

“Over the next few years I’ll try and sell each piece to someone who will appreciate it,” he says with more than a little resignation.

As he guides us around his home, he tells us a little about how he built his collection.

“It takes time. There are a lot of steps to finding an antique. You’ve got to be in the right place at the right time, with the right money. I happened to be lucky over time.”

The Singaporean’s passion for antiques began 55 years ago when he took over the family moving business in Brunei from his father.

“I was a mover for 58 years. My clients included ambassadors, high commissioners and wealthy expatriates, and they all owned these beautiful things.

“Some of them would offer to sell their antiques to me when they left, and other times I would ask them where they got a particular piece and offer to buy it.

“If you’re a collector, a particular item will catch your eye,” he says. “If you go looking for it, you’ll never find it.”

His collection includes items from various parts of the world, including Indonesia, India and England.

“I have a collection of British silverware,” he says. “But most of my antiques are from China.”

He explains how generations ago, Chinese people would bring furniture with them when they migrated to Malaysia and Singapore.

These ivory figurines from China, dating back to 1930s, could be worth about RM6,000 to RM8,000 per item.

“They brought things with them like opium beds and bridal beds because they believed in good feng shui.

“This opium bed was given to me because in the 1970s, Singapore kampung houses were being taken over and redeveloped by the government. People were given apartments to live in.

“Opium beds are beautiful but huge and heavy,” he says. “They didn’t fit in people’s new apartments so they decided to dispose of them.”

An opium bed was not worth much at that time because nobody wanted a bed that people had died on.

“I took this bed and people called me crazy. The funny part was twenty years later, the original owner asked me if I still had the bed and if I wanted to sell it,” he chuckles. “But by then I had converted it into a sofa.”

He shows us his collection of Nyonya porcelain, which took him more than 10 years to amass from different cities around the world. He estimates it to be now worth over US$60,000 (RM251,000).

Next we see his collection of more than a hundred British antique toy cars displayed in an old Chinese medicine cabinet. These toys are particularly special to him because family members gave them to him in his boyhood as presents at Christmas and birthdays.

“I estimate each one is now worth around £125 (RM670),” he says fondly.

Although the family moving business is in Brunei, he calls Sarawak home, as that is where his wife is from.

Since retiring and passing the business on to his son in 2016, he spends a lot of his time polishing and dusting his collection.

“It’s a lifelong occupation, a hobby for many years, and now a retirement thing. Otherwise life would be boring.”
Charles says his collection of Nyonya porcelain, which took him more than 10 years to amass from different cities, is now worth over US$60,000.

He tells us sadly that much like his children, most Sarawakians are not interested in his collection.

“People in developed cities like London, Tokyo and New York appreciate such things much more.”

Slim and alert, he is a picture of health but as his ninth decade looms, finding suitable new homes for his precious pieces is a matter of gathering urgency.

He looks pensive, obviously considering last resort scenarios.

“I could have Sotheby’s or Christie’s evaluate my collection,” he muses, referring to the fabled London antique auction houses.

“But it’s not about the money. Each piece must go to someone who will truly appreciate it. I’ll pick who each piece goes to.”

And if that doesn’t work?

He looks reflective. “Well, I could always donate most of it to the museum.”

So if all else fails, Sarawak museum could be in for a bonanza of much-loved antiques

But not, says FMT, for many years yet, we hope.

This article extracted from freemalaysiatoday.com