He may not be a drinker but he is a collector of drinking glasses. You name it, he has it – beer glasses, wine glasses, champagne glasses, shot glasses, crystal glasses, souvenir glasses, branded glasses, even commemorative Merdeka glasses.
“I only drink on social occasions, such as Chinese New Year and Christmas. I’d have many more glasses if I were a drinker,” says Joshua Arulselvan, 58, of Bandar Sri Damansara, Kuala Lumpur, who has amassed about 700 unique glasses. “There is only one of each,” he emphasises.
To the casual observer, the glasses in Arulselvan’s collection seem very ordinary. Arulselvan explains that, though some of the glasses look similar, upon closer inspection, one will notice the subtle differences. For instance, one glass may have one ring around the rim while another has two rings, or there may be a slight difference in the height of the glasses.
“I’m trying to reach 1,000 glasses,” adds the insurance agent and teamworking trainer. Although he doesn’t think that there are any valuable collector’s items in his collection, he says, “Ultimately, a collection has the most meaning for the collector, no matter how spectacular or otherwise.”
The clinking of glasses
It was in 1982-83 that Arulselvan got started on this peculiar hobby.
“I used to have this habit of reading in bed at my home in Ipoh, with a drink beside me. One day, after I had finished my drink, I pushed the glass under my bed as I was too lazy to wash it immediately … and I heard a clink. I looked down and saw four or five other glasses there. They were Milo glasses of different designs – free gifts with a purchase of the product.”
Nestle was just one of several companies that were giving away free glasses when they were promoting their brands back in the 1980s. That prompted him to look around his home for other glasses – and he found various ones.
“In the 1960s and 70s, drinking glass sets were often presented as wedding gifts. Some of the glasses were not used, yet were not given away either.”
Joshua Arulselvan holds up the first glass in his collection, which got him started on this hobby.
Drinking down memory lane with a few vintage brands.
Arulselvan gets his drinking glasses from a variety of sources. “From relatives – cousins, my sister-in-law who took some from her mother’s house – friends, colleagues, Rotaract Club members, church friends, games partners.”
When word gets out that he collects such items, his contacts tend to give him their spare ones, sometimes to de-clutter their own homes.
Arulselvan remembers meeting an elderly woman over a decade ago in Petaling Jaya Old Town, Selangor. She said that in her late father’s collection were a few Queen Elizabeth coronation glasses that bore the image of England’s coat of arms.
She told him that no one else in the family was interested in the collection. He would have offered to buy the glasses from her but, to be fair, he did tell her that they would be of worth. And that probably caused her to change her mind about selling them.
“They would’ve been quite valuable, and collector’s items,” he comments, “with a small glass worth RM60 to RM100 and a big glass, upwards of RM200. I like browsing flea markets, jumble sales and garage sales, as you never know what kinds of glasses you’ll find there.”
Joshua has no less than 700 unique receptacles.
Joshua gets his drinking glasses from friends and relatives.
However, his search for the Queen E coronation glasses, in places like Amcorp Mall in Petaling Jaya, has proved unfruitful.
“Only 10% to 15% of the 700 in my collection are bought, whether locally or from overseas. The rest are gifts, what people didn’t want, some left behind when people moved house,” Arulselvan elaborates.
The glasses that were bought from overseas have come from countries such as France, Belgium, the Netherlands, the Philippines, England, Australia, Indonesia, Cambodia and Thailand.
“The one that is most dear to me is the one I call No.1, the very first glass that started the whole collection. It is a sturdy and plain non-coloured glass with a handle. To me, it’s very special and I won’t give it away,” he says.
The Kuala Lumpur glass depicting iconic landmarks stands out.
Seven hundred is a lot of glasses, so storage is quite a challenge for Arulselvan. “In my previous place, there were ample shelves. Then I moved to this apartment. There are five long tables, and all my glasses are displayed here. I’m running short of space!”
In any case, the glasses are not purely ornamental. And there is definitely no lack of glasses to drink from, whenever he has visitors. “When friends or relatives come over, they are invited to choose a drink … and a glass,” he quips.
Quirky glasses in the shape of a boot, and in various sizes to boot.
“I have given a number of the extra ones away as gifts, for Christmas, weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. At one time, I also had 50-plus mugs and I gave them away. To me, it’s akin to giving part of myself away,” says Arulselvan.
His recipients have done some creative things with the glasses. For example, the womenfolk in his family and among his colleagues place floral-shaped soaps into the glasses and wrap them in lace. They do make pretty gifts.
Some take the glasses to Central Market in KL to have special words painted on them – such as, “As you go through life together, take some time to have a drink” – to be given as wedding presents. For a touch of personalisation, some have their own names painted on the glasses.
Arulselvan also uses his collection to build his student’s vocabulary when he gives tuition classes.
“I started giving English language tuition three years ago, and I still do it every Saturday morning. My student, Amir Hazim Hanzam Hairus, 12, knows my glass collection well. Part of his English lessons with me had been on the different varieties in my collection.
“He asks about my collection every now and then, and whether I’ve got any new ones. He understands my passion for my collection – and doesn’t think I’m strange or crazy!
“Also, he carefully keeps some of the glasses I’ve given to him. Eventually, I intend to leave a significant part of my collection to him,” says Arulselvan.