Melaka’s The Royal Press: rediscover the old art of printing

“You should just get the ebook,” I said to my colleague for the umpteenth time.

“I need the paperback,” my colleague responds with his hands in the air. “I enjoy holding a book in my hand and flipping through the pages.”

“That’s the equivalent of me asking you for a CD,” I quipped mildly amused.

He had no comeback. I had made my point without making it. Despite the advent of ebooks, paperback sales have not declined. People still love the touch and feel of a book and don’t enjoy reading novels on a phone or computer screen.

I’m in Melaka for my birthday. I like this city. The sights, the sounds, the scents – they reminds me of my childhood growing up in a shophouse in Singapore’s Arab Street.

Listed as a UNESCO heritage site, the city of Melaka feels like a museum. Unlike other major cities where museums are tall imposing structures which host relics from eras long gone – history is very much alive in Melaka. The traders and merchants have come and gone – but Melaka remains true to its soul.

As I made my way down Jonker Street, I found myself at The Royal Pressone of the world’s oldest surviving polyglot letterpress museums dedicated to preserving the craft of letterpress printing. Located in one of Melaka’s many shophouses, I was immediately hit by a sense of nostalgia when I walked in. As a descendant of Southeast Asian merchants, I am all too familiar with the concept of the shop-space on the ground floor and a living space on the second floor.

Entrance fee is 25 RMB and includes a guided tour of the museum. Newly opened in December 2019, the museum is a must-see for book geeks like me who want nothing more than to learn everything there is to know about books.

These days we have MS Word and a plethora of different software and apps to help us type and print our books — but back in the day each character had to be made mould by mould, font size by font size, font type by font type.

Printing something was not as simple as clicking print and then shedding it if it didn’t look the way we wanted.

I was surprised to see moulds for receipts, namecards, photographs and even logos. I saw an old mould for the Lion’s Club – where my grandfather Ratilal Mancharram was an active member. And don’t even get me started on the big space at the back of the room where there were shelves and shelves of moulds for Chinese characters.

My guide Amin was attentive and patient with my numerous childlike questions. With the advent of print-on-demand technology, it had never even dawned on me to contemplate how books were printed in the past.

I left the museum with new found respect for the art of printing.

My colleague is right. The experience truly is better when you can hold it in your hands.

The Royal Press
29, Jalan Hang Jebat
75200 Malacca
About the Author

IMG_4767 2Dipa Sanatani is the Merchant of Stories. She delights in gazing out at the ocean and jumping in. She sees life as one great adventure and is an ardent student of the human experience. She is the author of The Little Light and the Founder of Mith Books. She works in a top secret day job. 

Author: Dipa Sanatani

Publisher | Mith Books | Author of The Little Light and The Merchant of Stories

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