Talking Behind the Bag – Carrier Bags in Singapore From the 1950s to the 1980s

January 14, 2010 at 10:47 am | Posted in itchy mouth | 7 Comments
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Once upon a time, when you buy something from the shop, chances are you would be expected to bring along your own woven rattan basket to contain your purchase. Sometimes, the shop owner may wrap them with these…

Old newspapers for wrapping foodstuff. They also used pages from old
telephone books and even leaves to wrap…People back then seemed to be
more eco-friendly…hahah…

Prior to visiting this exhibition at the National Museum, Itchyfingers have always been wondering who invented the paper and plastic bags. But a search online didn’t provide any concrete evidence of who the real inventor was. 😦 This exhibtion did not solve the mystery for Itchyfingers, rather it traced back the history of the bag from its humble beginning as a form of simple packaging to become markers of the development of Singapore’s retail history and consumers’ culture. It was rather fun looking at the over 60 paper and plastic bags, as many of them might bring back some fond memories for those who had seen or used them before.

The Bag…

The explanatory sign said, “The making of paper bags started in Singapore as a cottage industry as early as in the 1940s…The paper bags in the earlier days that were recycled from layers of kraft papers from cement bags obtained from construction sites came without handles, and were used in provision shops to hold rice, canned food or charcoal. Bags were also made from new kraft paper bought from paper suppliers. This imported paper was printed with graphics before it was cut and folded into bags.” Many of these graphics carried advertisements either from shops or the paper bag manufacturers themselves.

An example of a paper bag unfolded to reveal its printed graphics.
This self-promotional bag belonged to a paper bag manufacturer in the 80s,
apparently used during the Chinese New Year period. But…why fruits har? Hahah….

Interesting to see this display of letterpress metal plates for the bag.

“The earliest printing of graphics on paper bags was with letterpress printing in the 1950s. Coloured ink was applied to raised designs on the metal template, then it was pressed onto the paper. However, only one colour could be printed at a time and when the bag was printed with two colours, the inks tended to overlap on certain parts of the design. By the 1980s, the more efficient offset printing method was used, which allowed for larger print runs, with multiple colours.”

The same bag used during normal time. Notice the chinese characters used
were the traditional types, read from right to left…

What’s this? Red and white cotton twine…These were used as the handles
of old paper bags…

Combat! Nothing to do with army or war…Maybe this paper bag
manufacturer of the 70s was trying to say their bags were very strong and sturdy? :p

This bag reflected our multi-racial society…It had Chinese, English, Malay,
Arabic and even Burmese words on it… 😀 This was for the “Nine Sisters
Goles Kidneying Tablets”… hahah

This is so nostalgic…Bags for holding mooncakes were made with
a broad square base. This one was for Empress Restaurant in the 60s.
I think the 大中囯 mooncake still uses this kinda bags…Actually I really
like brown bags…

Some bags carried the design of the products, which many still survive today…

The look of this product may have changed, but I’m sure many of you can
recall the ad with the woman’s voice-over saying, “双塔标 志成牌麻油”
Double Pagoda, Chee Seng Seasame Oil) on tv…hahah

Condensed milk advertisements…I am sure many of you used to dig your
itchy fingers into the cans to saviour the sweet milk when young, regardless
of the brands…hahah…

If not,  many of you would be guilty of this: scooped out a spoonful of chocolate powder from the tin and put it straight into your mouth! Hahaha…! 8) Itchyfingers have done both many times, that was why I was a fat young Tisu! 😀

The good old chocolate drink…Milo! 😀 Notice this bag spotted a different
handle…The handle was cut out together with the bag but reinforced with
thicker board like those used on the base. This bag also showed how advertisement
on carrier bags had evolved. These full-coloured, offset printed bags acted
like mobile advertisements, with the sporting indivduals conveying the message
that the Milo is an energy drink

When there’s Milo, there will be Ovaltine! Itchyfingers like this bag a lot,
so striking although it was more hard sell than the Milo bag…Can you
taste the difference between Milo and Ovaltine? Maybe I should be a blind
test one of these days…hahah

I think not many people would have thought of taking the back of this bag.. :p

Another bag from Nestle, spotting the same format as the Milo bag…

So retro..

From the 60s, air-conditioned indoor departmental stores, fashion boutiques and supermarkets were constructed. With that, naturally we had more bags featuring advertisements from these stores…

Bata…Buy And Throw Away…hahaha!!

Another bag with reinforced handle area. The traditional chinese characters
were to be read from right to left…

One man’s thrash is another man’s treasure. This bag must had been
recovered from the bin cos it is so crumpled! Must had gone through the
iron numerous time to get slightly presentable like this…hahah

Another crumpled bag from Cold Storage…Older folks call it “Cold Story”..

This looked like the guy was carrying the bag…hahah…It even had the
SCS Butter logo on it. Notice the telephone number and postal code at
that time was much shorter… :p

A 1967 Robsinson bag…

Some bags reminded you of places no longer there…

Remember Yaohan? It closed down in the mid or late 90s…

How about the Katong Red House Bakery? Today, the landmark is still
boarded up the last time we visited the area, seems like the plan to turn it
into a multi-tenant food court has not materialised…I had only eaten once
there in the mid 90s… This polyethylene bag was from the 80s

Most bags had same design on both sides, with two languages

Others, like this one, spot a different look…

The reverse side…

Another kind of plastic handle..

One of the most interesting bags must be these series…

Bags made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) in the 70s…these were very
sturdy and durable and were recycled as document carriers..

Another PVC bag with a different handle. Silkscreening should be the
method of printing for these bags…

Another PVC bag from Carlsberg. This one should be quite cool to carry
around today…so retro…hahah!

Plastics are made from non-renewable energy sources like crude oil, gas and coal. Most are non-biodegradable so it is really not very environmental-friendly. Hence, we should really try to cut down the use of plastic bags, if not, always recycle them. Better still, bring your own bag when doing your shopping! 🙂 Reduce. Reuse. Recycle!

The Bag – Carrier Bags in Singapore from the 1960s to the 1980s is on-going until 18 April 2010. Admission is FREE! 🙂



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  1. Amazing collection

  2. Hi, chanced upon this. Thanks for all the photos – so nostalgic! I remember that mooncakes (and incense sticks!) always came in such brown paper bags when I was a kid. I like mooncakes so I like to see these bags 🙂 But I really disliked folding the empty bags, especially the rough ones – it’s like scratching the blackboard for me.

    And the first picture – I almost forgot about them! My grandparents had a provision shop – I remember grandma wrapping raw peanuts in newspaper 🙂

    • Ya, some of these bags are really nice! Glad some shops are still using them, like the mooncake shop at Chinatown.. 🙂

  3. Hey There, i really like this post.

    I’ve just set up a vintage shop and i would like to make some bags. Do you know if anyone in singapore still makes old paper bags like these?

    Also, where can i buy the white and red cotton twine? Thanks.

    • Hi,

      I think I just saw those twine somewhere…but I cannot remember where did I see them…could be Malaysia…memory failing…hahah… Not sure where you can make those bags, but I think a check on the internet on paper bag makers should help. 🙂

  4. The ‘Combat’ paper bag was probably inspired by the very TV show popular than. It starred Vic Morrow, and the show was called Combat! with the exclamation. You can watch some episodes on YouTube. – TC Lai PS: Thanks for all these wonderful pics. That 7-Up and Yaohan ones are priceless! (They all are, actually) 🙂 Check out my blogs at Growing Up In Geylang (in the 70s).

    • Thanks TC for the info on the “Combat” bag. Didn’t know about such a TV show! 🙂

      And oh, I read about you on the paper! Thanks for visiting our humble little blog! 😀

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