Antique collector hopes to open a museum of religious artefacts

Alain mentors several youths and is a volunteer counsellor at the Gambler Rehab Centre.

May 20, 2022

Alain Tan with some of his favourite artefacts.

By Gwen Manickam

Alain Tan’s love and interest for antiques began some 30 years ago. “I was a very poor man and I had to buy second-hand things. Soon I learned I could buy a used cupboard for RM300, use it for five years, and resell it for RM400, and so the journey began,” the antique dealer told HERALD.

The Bukit Bintang alumnus, who hated History in school, found himself studying the background of items he wished to purchase as most used items have a story behind them, and “if you know the story, it’s easier to sell.

“It’s very interesting to learn about the objects. My favourite saying is — with history, we know the past, so we can live in the present for a better future,” said the co-owner of a Peranakan restaurant and mini-museum named Little Heritage House in Petaling Jaya.

“Even my restaurant’s tag line is ‘A taste of History’ as I have sourced and put on display lots of Peranakan memorabilia from Penang and Melaka.”

Alain is the benefactor who recently presented the missing seventh station of a 14-piece Way of the Cross from the Church of the Holy Name of Jesus, Balik Pulau, Penang, to Archbishop Julian Leow.

“An elderly antique runner offered me the piece many years ago. At that time, I didn’t know it was stolen from a church. Intrigued by its beauty, I asked if there were other pieces and he said yes. So, I put aside the piece I’d purchased and waited for him to bring the others – which never happened.”

It was only recently that Alain came across the old newspaper article about the stolen piece.

“When Archbishop Julian came to my restaurant for lunch a few months ago, I told him about it.” Archbishop collected the piece from Alain before his trip to Penang and returned it to the parish. ( priceless-seventh-station-of-the-crossfound- after-15-years/65188/5)

The Kuala Lumpur native said his interest in Christian artefacts began when someone gave him a Bible in his 20s. The most expensive Christian artefact he has purchased thus far is the abovementioned Seventh Station of the Cross.

Alain has a range of used, leatherbound Bibles in all shapes and sizes, going back to the 19th century. He also has a replica of The Great Isaiah Scroll, written in Hebrew, on sheets of sheepskin. Adding to the list is a copy of the Gospel of John, written in Greek on papyrus and bound in a leather sleeve.

“My favourite piece was a seven-foot granite statue of St Francis of Assisi with a birdbath, but due to space constraints, I had to sell it off,” said the Buddhist convert.

In his varied collection is the limitededition boxset replica of the Bible US presidents Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama used to take their oath of office. Also in Alain’s collection is a solid bronze Thomason Medallic Bible minted by the Franklin Mint in 1970, which captures the essence of the entire Bible in 60 units of medallic art. Alain is hoping to find a sponsor to realise his dream of opening a museum to display religious artefacts. “I think making these items available for people to visit and see will help bring the faith alive.

“I bought a replica of the Ark of the Covenant when I visited the Holy Land and I was detained at the airport as they thought it was made of gold. On another trip, I was detained at the Cairo airport for having some statues. Immigration thought they were real and brought in the museum curators to check their authenticity.

“The problem is, I tend to acquire a wide range of things, not just Christian artefacts,” said the jovial businessman. “I once reared exotic animals like peacocks, an iguana, a python, and a crocodile. Now I am downsizing and only rear dogs and an adult pig named Genevieve.”

An active member of the Borneo Evangelical Church (SIBKL — Sidang Injil Borneo Kuala Lumpur), Alain incorporates Christ into everything he says and does. When asked what his core business is, “Serving His Kingdom” was the quick retort.

Alain mentors several youths and is a volunteer counsellor at the Gambler Rehab Centre. “Our success rate is only two per cent, as most gamblers return to their vices. But if that means I help save two lives out of a hundred, I am happy.”

Intrigued by the Catholic faith and its ritualistic practises, Alain may one day sign up for RCIA classes for a greater understanding of the Church’s teachings.

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