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Tuesday, September 8, 2015, 08:25

Old is gold

By Chitralekha Basu

Chitralekha Basu takes a close look at the growing trend of collecting industrial memorabilia, from vintage bonds to plastic toys.

Old is gold
Product advertisement posters showing young Chinese women, like this one marketed by sauce manufacturer Kuen Cheong Company around 1920, are picked up for their old-world charm.   (Courtesy of Picture This Gallery)
Old is gold
Sincere was one of the oldest department stores in Hong Kong, opened in 1900. Lithograph prints cataloguing the company's cosmetics products from the 1930s such as this one have retro chic written all over them.   (Courtesy of Picture This Gallery)

Crystal Wong waited in a queue outside HSBC Centre in Kowloon last April. The bank had released a specially-designed limited edition HK$150 banknotes to mark its 150th year and she was one of the lucky applicants. As she stood there, waiting her turn, patiently for close to four hours, Wong was approached by people ready to pay up HK$1,000 more than the cover price (HK$380 for a single, HK$1,380 for a set of three).

Wong, a young media professional, wasn’t ready to sell. The initial stimulus to apply for a subscription, she now admits, was triggered by “herd mentality”.

“There was media speculation and my friends too would discuss how the banknote might earn a quick buck and people were even saying, the release of the notes into the market would set off hyperinflation,” she says. “At that point there seemed to be high demand from mainland speculators. I could afford the price and thought there was nothing to lose.”

Even as interested buyers badgered her, Wong decided to take a call on whether she wanted to keep or re-sell only after she had checked the serial numbers on the banknotes. Notes with special serial numbers are considered especially covetable. These include the ones showing a proliferation of “8”s, “3”s and/or the digits 168 in succession, which when spoken in Chinese is “yi liu ba”, a near-homophone of “yi lu fa”, signifying unmitigated prosperity. Wong decided to hold on to the banknotes if “the serial numbers turned out particularly meaningful for me or my family”.

In the end she was a little disgusted at the way an item meant to memorialize history was being openly re-sold in the market. She decided to keep the banknotes as a souvenir. “After all a note with HK$150 denomination is a collectors’ item,” she says.

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