A trip back in time to the Singapore of the sixties

27 06 2010

For anyone looking to take a trip down memory lane, or perhaps a trip back in time to catch a glimpse of what life might have been like in the Singapore of the 1960s, the Singapore 1960 exhibition at the National Museum of Singapore offers a chance to do just that. The exhibition which opened on 3 June, the anniversary of self-government, runs up to 22 August and features a display of more than 300 items from the 1960s. The exhibits include items which were commonly found in the 1960s as well as scenes of the life replayed in black and white providing a view into the vibrant cultural and entertainment scene of Singapore in the 1960s, including a view of the different “worlds”: Gay World, Great World, and New World, which played a big role in keeping Singaporeans amused and entertained.

The Singapore 1960 exhibition offers the visitor a glimpse into life in the different world that was Singapore back in the 1960s.

Scenes from the 1960s including a glimpse into the different "worlds" are replayed in black and white.

It was a trip back in time for me as well, as I browsed through the exhibits. Some were familiar to me, transporting me back to the Singapore of my childhood, to a Singapore that was a very different place from the one we know of today. There were many reminders of the era, as well as the place, in which I had spent my early years in. One such reminder was in the form of a cigarette tin. I remember tins such as the one on display particularly well. This was from being sent regularly to the provision shop to buy a couple of sticks of cigarettes by my father. Cigarettes could then be purchased individually over the counter and this would be taken out of a tin. At that time, my father was trying then to curb his smoking habit and decided not to have a packet at his disposal at home, and so I would invariably be sent to the shops below whenever he felt like a cigarette (something that was possible then as there were no restrictions on minors buying cigarettes, and something I never enjoyed doing) to buy two sticks at a time.

The very familiar cigarette tin with which I was well acquainted with.

There were many of the other exhibits that were familiar to me: a metal Player’s Navy Cut ashtray commonly found on the marble topped tables of coffee shops which brought with it memories of the coffee shops of old and spittoons that I never seemed to avoid kicking below the marble topped tables. There were two Magnolia soft drink bottles which brought memories of the Magnolia Grape soft drink that was one of my favourites once upon a time, as well reminded me of how Magnolia Milk was sold in similar bottles. A Smith Corona typewriter displayed on a desk brought back memories of how offices were once like when the constant sound of the clickaty-clack of the typewriters would always be heard in the background.

A Player's Navy Cut ashtray which was a common sight on the marble top coffee shop tables in the 1960s and 1970s.

A Smith Corona typewriter - commonly found in the offices of the 1960s and 1970s.

There are also pages from the newspapers of the era to browse through, providing an insight into a turbulent and violent decade in Singapore’s history, as well as images of a time some half a century ago, which provides an appreciation of how it once had been before Singapore became the clean and sanitised world that is the Singapore that we now know.

Pages from the newspapers provide an insight into a turbulent and violent decade in Singapore's history.

The Magnolia soft drink bottle - my favourite was Magnolia Grape! Magnolia also sold milk, normal, strawberry and chocolate flavoured ones in similar bottles.

Images of life in the 1960s are also captured in the photographs on display. A close-up of a photograph of a satay seller by Lee Sow Kim taken in the 1950s.

The Neptune - a popular cabaret along Collyer Quay in the 1960s and 1970s.

Fashion on display: colourful sarong kebayas commonly seen in the 1960s.

The cover of an issue of Her World from 1962.

A reminder of a forgotten fact: the National Language of Singapore.

Words from the National Anthem of Singapore.

Close up of a record sleeve. The music recording industry had its heyday in the 1960s in Singapore.

Also on display are pieces from the Aw Boon Haw jade collection which were donated to the National Museum of Singapore in 1979 and contain pieces from the late Qing period.



14 responses

8 07 2010

Oooo what I would pay to have a taste of that strawberry milk in a glass bottle…..it was the bad taste ever!

9 07 2010
The wondering wanderer

I hope you meant best taste … Yummy! πŸ™‚

14 08 2010
Jeffery Abdullah

Congratulations to you of your nice information of Singapore of the Sixties. Prior to that, I would like to share a picture of an old rotary telephone from Singapore Telephone Board (STB). You can view it:-

Singapore Telephone Board (STB)

15 08 2010
The wondering wanderer

Thanks for all your input and comments Jeffery! Very much appreciate you sharing all that! Wow! Your sketch of the bus and the dioramas are really excellent! Really like them! You should think about putting them in the museum! πŸ˜€

1 10 2010

Ah yes Consulate, Player’s Navy Cut. You forgot “555”. My father ran a “chap huay tiam” (provision shop) in the 50’s – 60’s and we sold those cigarettes from the tin to customers who mostly bought one stick at a time. The funny thing is my father was a smoker but non of his 10 children smoked even though we were in a sense vulnerable.

4 10 2010
The wondering wanderer

Yes, 555! My father smoked 555 too … and that was one of the cigarettes he would get me to buy out of the can!

1 10 2010
Michael James

Evocative pics for me. I was a teenager in 60’s Singapore, but of course remember it all like yesterday. When no one was looking I would accept a Rough Rider ciggy from
my father’s syce. When I was really desperate the genial Malay pekebun would give me one of his hand rolled coffin nails which I think had a wrapper leaf not of paper
but something like bamboo. Anyone remember what these things were?

The Gang Boss headline reminds me of the prison island riot at Pulau Senang around that time – several wardens hacked to death before the Gurkhas arrived and rounded them up. I believe 16 were hanged at Changi on one morning soon after the
trial ended.

5 10 2010
The wondering wanderer

Nice to know that the pics meant something to you Michael. πŸ™‚ Now that you’ve mentioned my maternal grandfather smoked hand rolled ciggies made from some kind of leaf … have to ask my mother if she remembers what they actually were. I didn’t realise that there was a prison on Pulau Senang – the island is part of a restricted area used by the Air Force for live firing these days!

5 09 2011

ah, sad that i missed this exihibition 😦 i’ve always heard stories about my dad’s childhood in the 60s and this curiousity about that era also grew from my recent visit to the Singapore Food Trail @ SG Flyer. If you guys havent been there before, you should really pop by this dining attraction to take a look. The entire place is set in the 60s and i believe the owners have put in some pains to source for antiques. There are even wall murals and ads of popular brands such as F&N and Coca Cola in the 60s, drinks even come in bottles and there’s even food such as the ice ball! which my dad told me he ate alot as a kid.
pretty neat place.
check out their website: http://singaporefoodtrail.com.sg/

23 01 2012
cyril gabriel

AS SCHOOLBOYS IN THE EARLY 1960s, we were very much taken by Rock & Roll songs. My classmates sang, played the guitar and entertained the rest of us in the classroom after our Final Exams.
We cheered them and some of them went on to take part in Radio Singapore’s Talentime contests. Life seemed simple and though there were secret societies triving, we still lived within the Laws of The Times.

25 07 2013
Robert tan

Not to forget about “Touch”cigarettes .still remember if u collect 10empty packets u can change for free packet.

28 05 2015
Paul Ridgway

I smoked many names in my time in S’pore. White Horse come to mind, possibly made in Malaysia. The pavement barber in Chinatown would sell individual cigs…and take an order for a G&T collected from a neaby bar.

The Dunhil rep was driven around in a maroon Rolls-Royce, not unlike tke packet colour.

Does anyone remember the Straits Times Annual sold each year and a splendid example of typography and graphics?

We used to have a jolly singsong in a place called Rasa Syang with a Philippino combo and a great host. In Orchard Road about half way up on a junction.

2 11 2016
simon humphrey

Well while i was in singapore for 3weeks i was going round looking for old glass milkbottles,as i collect them back in the uk what a job it was to find them but i did manage to find 2 magnolia bottles so if anyone knows anybody that as a collection of them who would like to part with them or knows anywhere i can buy them let me know my email address is simon.humphrey62@hotmail.com

5 03 2018
anthony bryan

i was in the army at nee soon barracks in 1960.been back to singapore a few times,love it

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