Totalling over 8,700 items, the Rare Collection features some of the most valuable and significant publications from the 19th and early 20th centuries - many of which were issued by the earliest printing presses in Singapore. The collection offers invaluable insights on the early socio-cultural, economic and political development of Singapore and Southeast Asia through its wide range of historical research materials.
All titles in the Rare Collection are microfilmed and these surrogate copies are viewable at Level 11 of the National Library building. In addition, selected titles have been digitised and made available on BookSG. The original materials are preserved under controlled conditions at Level 13.
The collection is primarily composed of titles published in Singapore, Malaya or the Straits Settlements before 1945, as well as titles published in other countries before 1900 that contain information on Singapore and the region. Highlights of the collection include Jawi manuscripts, Malay and Southeast Asian dictionaries, travel accounts of the Malay Archipelago and Southeast Asia, Chinese classics and romances translated into Baba Malaya, directories, almanacs, academic journals and maps. The oldest title in the collection is a travel account, The History of Trauayle in the West and East Indies, and Other Countreys Lying Eyther Way, Towardes the Fruitfull and Ryche Moluccaes, published in 1577.
Accessing the Rare Collection
All titles in the Rare Materials Collection are microfilmed and these surrogate copies are viewable at Level 11 of the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library. The original materials are preserved under controlled temperature, humidity and light settings at Level 13. In the event that physical copy is required for research purposes, permission may be granted on need basis by writing to the Head, Exhibitions, Curation & Rare Collection, National Library.
Selected materials have been digitized and made accessible on BookSG (Rare books and documents).
Learn about early Singapore and the region through some of our holdings, including:
Letter written by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles to his business agent John Taylor of London, dated 9 June 1819.
This letter was written during Raffles' second brief sojourn in Singapore during June 1819. In this letter back to his business agent John Tayler of London, Raffles displays his optimism and pride in the settlement he founded.
The History of Trauayle in the West and East Indies, and Other Countreys Lying Eyther Way, Towardes the Fruitfull and Ryche Moluccaes, published in 1577.
The oldest title in the collection is this travel account.
Abdullah Abdul Kadir, Munshi, 1796-1854. Hikayat Abdullah. Lithographed ed. Singapore : Mission Press, 1849.
This autobiography of Munshi Abdullah Abdul Kadir gives an account of the early days of the East India Company settlement of Singapore. Written in Jawi, it is a valuable Asian account of the founding of the British settlement.