The write gift

Letter-writing services return to create personalised cards

In their letter-writing service, Mr Tung Yaowen Kamal Adam uses a typewriter while Ms Abigail Tan writes with a traditional dip pen.
In their letter-writing service, Mr Tung Yaowen Kamal Adam uses a typewriter while Ms Abigail Tan writes with a traditional dip pen. ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

In an age of impersonal e-mail and instant WhatsApp messages, handwritten letter-writing services are making a comeback.

What used to be a trade to help illiterate immigrants communicate with loved ones miles away has now become a luxurious frill.

A new group of letter-writers in Singapore not only help its clients to write their notes and cards beautifully for a fee, but it also helps to craft the message.

One company that offers such handwriting services is Typeletters. The five-month-old business turns its customers' virtual messages into handwritten or typewritten letters.

Handwritten letters cost $30 a page, limited to a maximum of 195 words. Typewritten ones are $18 for a maximum of 200 words.

Customers pay an additional $15 to have their letters written for them, based on their relationship to the receiver. A single-page, handwritten letter can cost as much as $45, inclusive of a message crafted from scratch.

Founder Tung Yaowen Kamal Adam, 23, says: "My aim for Typeletters is to bring back the days when we poured our thoughts and feelings on paper and handed it to someone." On a good month, he says, Typeletters receives about 20 orders.

Most of its customers are men in their 20s, who want a gift for their girlfriends. The company was founded after Mr Tung's friends asked him to type letters for them, after seeing the ones he typed to his girlfriend on his Smith-Corona typewriter, which he bought at an American antique flea market for US$50 (S$69) last year.

"Writing a letter to someone means you care deeply for him and shows the intimacy you have with that person," adds the Singapore Institute of Management undergraduate.

His business partner, Ms Abigail Tan, uses a traditional dip pen with a flexible, pointed nib to write clients' missives in copperplate script, the font on the 1776 American Declaration of Independence. Ms Tan clocks in at least five hours a week, writing till her hands "go sore".

The 22-year-old says she is sometimes touched by the messages that their customers get them to write. For Father's Day recently, the duo received a couple of requests to write letters of appreciation for customers' dads.

"It's nice to see that people still appreciate handwriting when sending virtual messages is so much more popular nowadays," says the Singapore University of Technology and Design architecture student.

Since part-time calligrapher Tiffany Deborah Yeo started plying her trade two months ago, under the name of scribblytiffy, on popular second-hand marketplace Carousell, she has had a dozen customers.

Typically for freelancers like her, a page of 200 words costs $5 to $6. Prices vary, depending on the type of ink and paper used, among other factors.

Says Ms Yeo, 23, an English literature graduate from Nanyang Technological University (NTU): "You cannot just write. You need some basic understanding of things that make up good calligraphy like lines, kernings, ascenders and flourishes."

She experiments with modern lettering, which has less structure and fewer rules to follow than traditional calligraphy.

While most of the messages she writes are given by her customers, she sometimes gives them suggestions of websites and quotes based on the type of messages they want to write.

Her most difficult work was creating 11 cards - each written the same way but bearing a different name and message - for a bride who wanted a gift for each of her bridesmaids. It has been her largest order to date.

Ms Grace Lim, a 33-year-old teacher and newlywed who engaged Ms Yeo's service, says: "I think the best gift is one that is personalised, one that you know is specially made for you."

She did not write the notes herself as she was busy with wedding preparations and Ms Yeo's writing was affordable and looked good.

Another patron of letter-writing, student Saiful Irfan, 21, commissioned Typeletters to write a letter for him two months ago, addressed to someone he was attracted to.

"I felt there was no better way to pen my thoughts in a special manner than to give her a personalised handwritten letter," says Mr Saiful, who is waiting to enrol in NTU's engineering department. He felt his own handwriting was not good enough for the job.

Nevertheless, he did not need help drafting the letter, a la Cyrano de Bergerac: He provided the full message for Typeletters to copy.

His 200-word message cost him $25, which he personally delivered in an envelope sealed with red wax.

"She didn't expect a gift like that as I seldom write her letters and she loved it because it was a sincere gift which was beautifully made and written," he recalls.

The gesture worked for the pair are now dating.

When Ms Crystal Kiew, 20, wanted to pen a letter of encouragement to her boyfriend, a national bowler who had competed in the recent SEA Games, she turned to freelance calligrapher Kimberly Ho, 21.

Ms Ho, whom Ms Kiew found through Carousell, wrote the boyfriend's name on a card in copperplate script, charging $5 for the service. Ms Kiew then wrote her beau a message in her own hand inside the card.

"It's much more meaningful for something to be personalised and it's pretty too," says Ms Kiew, a student at SIM. "Our generation still has memories of writing messages when we were younger."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 10, 2015, with the headline 'The write gift'. Print Edition | Subscribe