Old MPH Building: where the book people are

Old MPH Building: where the book people are

Vanguard Building (Old MPH Building)

At the junction of Armenian Street and Stamford Road is the Vanguard Building, which is still fondly remembered by many as the Old MPH Building. It is one of the rare buildings in Singapore to possess an Edwardian architecture style. Consisting of plain decorative patterns with simple ornamental designs, this architectural style typically reveals buildings to be constructed between 1901 and 1914.

The Old MPH Building was built in 1908. The red and white building encompasses pediment and arched windows, and signature baroque arches. It certainly reminds one of a similar Edwardian building nearby at Hill street – Central Fire Station, which was built only a year later in 1909.

The history of MPH goes back to as early as 1890 as a form of religious activism. Shellabear, a former military officer and later missionary began the Methodist Mission Press to publish materials for the Methodist mission. There were a few more name changes before it became Methodist Publishing House in 1906. The House moved to the present day Vanguard Building in 1908 but was eventually sold off and incorporated as Malaya Publishing House in 1927.

A 1977 photograph that depicts MPH Building along Stamford Road. Another historic building, Stamford House, can be seen in the distant background. From the Lee Kip Lin Collection. All rights reserved. Lee Kip Lin and National Library Board, Singapore 2009.

Vanguard Building (Old MPH Building) along Stamford Road in 2012. Stamford House has been retained and Stamford Court (with clock tower) is standing in place of a portion of the demolished Eu Court building.

An Englishman called Frank Cooper Sands became the Managing Director of MPH from 1928 to 1947. He also reopened and restored the bookstore after the damages in World War 2.

Following Shellabear, Cherry had to retire early in 1923 because of his wife’s ill health. By then, the Methodist Publishing House no longer had to struggle with inadequate machinery or cramped space, and the management was passed to Frank Cooper Sands, recruited from England. (Lau, 30)

The name was changed to Malaysia Publishing House with the formation of Malaysia in 1963 and was retained till today as part of the MPH Group owned by a Malaysian company, Jalinan Inspirasi Sdn Bhd. They continue to develop their core businesses of bookselling, printing, publishing, and distributing today.

As for the Old MPH Building, a commercial school (AIT Academy and Unicampus) took over the premises at the old MPH bookstore in 2003 though it is office space at Vanguard Building today.

MPH Building in a 1984 photograph. From the Lee Kip Lin Collection. All rights reserved. Lee Kip Lin and National Library Board, Singapore 2009.

Vanguard Building (Old MPH Building) in 2012. Where do the book people go now?

My Memory of the Old MPH Building

The old MPH bookstore was usually a joint visit with the demolished National Library for me as a teenager. Located across each other, it was popular with students and library-goers for its collection of reference textbooks, stationery, greeting cards, and magazines. MPH almost seemed like a mini-library as the bookstore was browsing-friendly.

I always welcomed the cool reprieve in the form of an iced cold Bandung at the S11 coffeeshop between MPH and the National Library.

It is known as the Vanguard Building today and both the iconic National Library and old MPH bookstore are no longer present at Stamford Road. However in the eyes of many Singaporeans, the building is still synonymous with the old MPH bookstore, where we would stop by to browse a magazine or two and to buy a book.

A 1977 photograph that depicts MPH Building and Armenian Street. From the Lee Kip Lin Collection. All rights reserved. Lee Kip Lin and National Library Board, Singapore 2009.

Vanguard Building (Old MPH Building) and Armenian Street in 2012. Many of the buildings at Armenian Street have been retained, such as the former Tao Nan School (now The Peranakan Museum), and The Substation, now a contemporary arts centre.

More pictures of the Vanguard Building (Old MPH Building)

Vanguard Building View from Stamford Road

Vanguard Building – View from Stamford Road.

Vanguard Building view from Armenian Street

Vanguard Building – View from Armenian Street.

Close up of Vanguard Building facade

Close up of Vanguard Building facade.

Main entrance to the Old MPH Bookstore. All Rights Reserved. National Library Board Singapore 2004.

Entrance to the MPH Bookstore at Raffles City Shopping Centre today.

Frank Cooper Sands – Managing Director of MPH and ?

Other than leading the management and operations of MPH from 1928 to 1947, Frank Cooper Sands had also contributed greatly to one aspect of Singapore history. As a warranted Scoutsmaster from England, he introduced the Scouting Movement to Singapore in 1910 and formed the First Sands Troops with 30 boy scouts at the YMCA. Read more about Frank Cooper Sands and the history of scouting in Singapore on Lion Raw’s Singapore Scouting History.


Lau, Earnest. From Mission to Church: The Evolution of the Methodist Church in Singapore and Malaysia, 1885-1976. Singapore: Genesis, 2008. 30. Print.

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