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Buying and selling memories pays off

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Moeung Phanny shows off his vintage goods in Phnom Penh on July 28. Hong Menea

Buying and selling memories pays off

Starting with the preservation of a century-old Khmer cooking pot, Moeung Phanny has been collecting and trading antique and vintage items for more than a decade. His first experience was buying a collection of vintage items from a family at a remote village in Prey Veng province’s Kampong Trabek district.

Despite having a passion for vintage objects, it was only in 2010 that Phanny was able to really concentrate on collecting interesting older items.

The items he has range from locally produced objects to foreign items that date back to the French colonial period. With everything from radios, teapots, hats, typewriters, cameras and record players, to copper pots and pendulum clocks, Panny has hundreds of items in his narrow Phnom Penh flat, located near Dumex market.

The more well known eccentric vintage collector Ly Pengheng started his collection more than 20 years ago with a classic motorcycle, and went on to establish the Vimean Sokha Exhibition Hall in Phnom Penh, which later moved to Siem Reap and reopened as the Vimean Sokha Museum.

The museum charges 5,000 riel ($1.25) for Cambodian visitors and 20,000 riel for foreigners. There is a 400,000 riel fee for pre-wedding photography on the premises.

Phanny took another option by selling those ancient objects.

With a limited budget, cramped space for continuous storage, his desire to create a personal museum turned into a passion to share his hard-to-find items with the public. Continuously acquiring new items and selling others, his stock is constantly changing. There is an ebb and a flow to his collection – and his personal finances – meaning he is constantly sharing new finds with the public.

“Vintage collectors have different options. Sometimes, we sell the items to people who have a connection with them, and they display them in their homes and businesses. If I buy something, and keep it in my home, it will be kept from the public. Of course, if I can make a little money, it means I can continue to add new and interesting things to my collection. Vintage items are becoming more expensive,” Phanny told The Post.

The 52-year-old professor of business at the National University of Management and at the ACLEDA Institute continued: “I want the younger Cambodian generation to know about these items that they would otherwise never see. Most older people nowadays like things they remember from their youth, like the “Golden Age” of Cambodia.”

Panny said that some of his items are still functional, like an old radio that still receives signals from modern stations. Of course, most of the non electrical items still work, like his typewriters.

He said these items can still be found in provinces across the country. Most of these objects are now rusty and decayed, so he also sources pieces that were used during the colonial era from Europe, such as 60 or 100 year-old radios.

“I find many of these items through friends and family, as well as several acquaintances who know of my passion. I also have a brother in France, who helps me obtain things from Europe,” he added.

He said that generally, these items are highly valued items in international markets, or even in the bigger cities of the countries in Europe, and he cannot afford them. However, in the more remote areas, they are often overlooked, and are sold only when older people pass on. Their children and grandchildren do not know what to do with these items and they are sold at flea markets.

“Now, it is getting harder to find these items as people are becoming more aware of the value of vintage objects. In Cambodia, there are still few people who value them, but they are very popular in Thailand and Vietnam. They are interested in old cars, motorcycles, shoes, hats and so on. We are one step behind them and I have very little capital,” he added.

Phanny said that he still managed to collect many pieces, but they generally sold fairly easily. This meant that his collection was constantly being recycled, in a sense. As he buys one thing, he sells another.

An employee at the Romdoul Village Resort, Sen Kosal, said that his boss also likes to decorate with vintage items, both in restaurants and in his own home.

“My boss bought a sewing machine, a coffee grinder and a very old mechanical cash register, among other things,” said Kosal.

Phanny, a former civil servant, added that some items were now almost impossible to find. One example is his Thomas Edison gramophone. The original model was made in the 1800s, although his is a 1911 model.

Phanny said two of his cameras date from 1915 and 1953, and that he has hundreds of items. They include large and small objects. He has clocks, coffee grinders, and seven or eight large transistor radios.

“There are some local items that are special to me, like a typewriter that dates back to the Lon Nol era. It is still in use at the ministry, but I would very much like to buy it. Another is my unique set of copper scales,” he said.

“I have ten items which I will not sell, including my khvan cooking pot. Most of the things I collect are still usable, although things like my 1964 electric cash register are not,” he added.

He also has some old time cameras, one of which half a metre long and three metres wide.

“My prices depend on the size, material and age of the item. The older it is, the more expensive. After all, these things cannot be found in the market,” he said.

A collector and regular client of Phanny, 63-year-old Hor Bunhong, owns several items from the Longvek period, as well as many newly produced items that were made according to ancient patterns.

“I bought a Japanese teapot from him, and a cowhide hat which reminded me of the fashion of my youth. When other older people see me wearing it, they admire my style,” he told The Post.

The former retired garden designer said that he wanted to preserve these uniquely Cambodian items so they would not be forgotten. He made replicas of 15th century objects, teapots, ancient houses, polished bowls and tables.

He is currently building replicas of ancient houses – such as the pet house, katang house, and kreung house – in Kampong Chhnang, so the younger generation can see how their ancestors lived.

Unlike Bunhong, Phanny does not have the capital to open a museum, and doesn’t want to.

“Most of my clients are retired civil servants who buy these items to decorate their homes and show their children how life used to be. Some say they remember these things from Chinese and Japanese movies, and always wanted to see the in real life. Others buy them to decorate their coffee shops, boutiques and lounges,” said Phanny.

To see Phanny’s latest vintage wares, check out his social media page, Collection Bikes and Vintage Clocks.


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