In the heart of Jonker Street in Malacca, lies The Royal Press where a labyrinth of winding hallways packed with teetering piles of paper, big machines and dusty printing blocks that date all the way back to the 19th century.

First established by the Ee family in 1936 during the British Occupation, The Royal Press used to be the place individuals and businesses flocked to print greeting cards and catalogues.

Though still functioning, The Royal Press these days only prints cash and invoice books on a smaller scale, owing to the fact that their machinery is, well, outdated.

In 1942, The Royal Press was forced to close down due to the Japanese oppressive rule but it reopened its doors to the public after Malaya gained independence from the British. The shop has been operating since.

However, a staff that used to consist of 50 workers, has now been reduced to just two, and they handle everything from manually operating the machines to scouring the shelves for the right printing blocks.

Despite its lack of employees, The Royal Press has retained its traditional and old-fashioned methods of printing.

Most would question the profitability of the company but Tan Boon Kian, 50, operations manager of the printing press, explains that the main reason The Royal Press is still standing today is not for financial gain, but as a means to preserve the old ways of printing for the benefit of generations to come.

“We’re at that stage where we only have two options: Close down or continue. If we wish to continue commercially, it will not run at a profit. So we’ve decided to preserve it. Most of what you see here at The Royal Press are truly rare sights as most of our machines are no longer in the market and its methods dead and gone due to modern technology.”

Indeed, there are no computerised beeps or electronically-operated equipment in The Royal Press. However, there are rusty machines that are still in use but are no longer as busy as they used to be.

Some of them are also quite hazardous as Tan talks about a former employee who lost his fingers to one of the typewriting machines.

These antique machines don’t just come as a risk, they are also difficult to master.

“In order to run the machines, one needs skills, technique and patience. We’re now facing a problem finding these workers and even if we do, are they capable of doing it?” asked Tan who has been working at the printing company for almost 30 years.

Nevertheless, Tan emphasised the fact that preserving The Royal Press is essential. “You can get modern printing technology everywhere, so we don’t plan on changing the ways of the printing process but we are, however, thinking of converting some of the machines to be powered by motors. Handling them manually wouldn’t be such a challenge then.
“Ultimately, our main idea is to preserve and keep The Royal Press as the rich, historical place it is,” Tan said.

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