Selling Dreams - Early advertising in Singapore

Modelled after a department store, this exhibition highlights advertisements promoting a myriad of products, services and brands that once saturated Singapore’s busy consumer market. Through this colourful showcase of materials from the National Library’s rare publications, magazines, newspapers and ephemera, you will gain a deeper understanding of advertising and its impact on society, while learning more about Singapore’s past.


A Rich Advertising Heritage

Discover a plethora of print media from the early 19th century to the 1960s that contains rich Singapore advertising materials. Explore Singapore’s illustrious advertising history from its infancy, through the roaring 1920s and 30s, to the thriving post-war years.


Modernising Food In Malaya

Many food products heavily featured in early advertising have since become household names. Explore Singapore’s early food import industry, the birth of local supermarkets, along with advertisements of local and imported food brands.


Keep The
Doctor Away

Before the 1950s, Singapore had little in the way of advertising rules and regulation, sometimes resulting in ads making outrageous claims! Browse through an array of early medical ads featuring everything from traditional medicine, to ‘cure-alls’ and miracle health supplements.


The Modern
Malayan Home

The introduction of gas, electricity, and running water to homes in Malaya opened up an exciting new world of household appliances and gadgets. Discover through early ads how appliances transformed our lives and created the ideal of the ‘modern home’.


Have Car,
Will Travel

When automobiles first appeared on the market, several ads referred to them as ‘horseless carriages’. Learn more about the advent of cars in Singapore, from the humble family car, to those raced at the first Singapore Grand Prix.


Epic Journeys

Be enticed by advertising that promoted tourism to British Malaya and learn about other popular tour destinations of yesteryear. Choose your mode of transport – from luxury ocean liners that plied between continents to superjets that revolutionised travel.


Living it Up in

Early 20th century Singapore was home to several world-renowned hotels. Relive the high life in these ‘grand hotels’ through their fascinating ads. Dining options also proliferated in cosmopolitan Singapore, as evident from ads that offered an endless variety of cuisines.


Having Fun
In Modern

The 20th century ushered in new forms of entertainment to Singapore. The cinema soon became the new leisure hub. The amusement parks had their heyday from the 1920s to the 1960s, offering a dizzying array of entertainment from boxing matches, traditional opera to cabaret dancing.


The East

Retail advertising in early Singapore was dominated by department stores that transformed shopping from a mundane chore to a leisure pursuit. Browse the ads of these super stores and discover their merchandise – from imported luxury goods to guns and revolvers!



Fashion ads reveal the melting pot of styles that Singapore has been since the 19th century, showcasing the modes of Victorian England or 1930s Shanghai. A Malayan fashion identity emerged, as the country gained independence. Explore the intricate relationship between fashion and identity.

Desker & Co.

The Straits Times, 5 August 1865
Singapore: Straits Times Press

Fresh meats were highly sought after in Singapore in the 1800s, as there was only the occasional shipment of fresh meat from overseas, which had to be sold and consumed quickly to avoid spoiling from the lack of re-frigeration.

Getz Bros & Co.

The Straits Times, 18 January 1930
Singapore: Straits Times Press

Before the advent of the modern supermarket, resident and business owners in Singapore sourced their provi-sions directly from importers such as Getz Bros. & Co.

William J. Bernard

The Straits Times, 20 September 1947
Singapore: Straits Times Press

The Fresh Food Refrigerating Co.

The Straits Times, 16 April 1930
Singapore: Straits Times Press

Cold Storage

The Straits Times Annual, 1970
Singapore: Straits Times Press

While Cold Storage may have had its origins as a busi-ness primarily catered towards Europeans living in Sin-gapore, it soon expanded its clientele to include the local audience. Even in the 1970s, supermarket shop-ping remained largely the province of the middle and upper classes, as illustrated in this ad that promises value for money when one shops at Cold Storage.