Stepping into the Rare Gallery on the 13th floor of the National Library Board (NLB) building is like seeing a Singapore history textbook come to life.
Contained within the gallery are signed letters, books and even a bust of Singapore's founder, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles.
The Rare Gallery, part of the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library, opened for public viewing yesterday - for the first time since it was launched two years ago.
Among the exhibits is a letter written by Sir Stamford to his cousin, the Rev Dr Thomas Raffles, in which he describes in ornate language how well Singapore was developing in 1823. "This is a most promising settlement and is fast realising my most sanguine views about it," wrote Sir Stamford.
In another letter, also to his cousin, Sir Stamford outlined his desire to establish an educational institution for the purpose of "generally educating the higher Class of Natives".
The school was founded in 1823 and named the Singapore Institution. Forty-five years later, it was renamed Raffles Institution - which it is still known by today.
The 38 items on exhibit are part of the John Bastin Collection, which amassed more than 5,000 pieces of material over 50 years and was acquired by NLB late last year. Dr Bastin, a professor and writer, is widely considered to be the world's leading authority on Sir Stamford Raffles.
Other items in the collection include a photograph of John Crawfurd, the second Resident of Singapore, and the first map of Singapore, created by Captain James Franklin in 1822.
A spokesman for NLB said the tour - called Treasures Of The Rare Gallery and Lee Kong Chian Reference Library - holds great historical significance for Singaporeans, and offers an unprecedented look at Singapore's developmental years in the 19th century.
The 38 items on exhibit are part of the John Bastin Collection, which amassed more than 5,000 pieces of material over 50 years and was acquired by NLB late last year. Dr Bastin, a professor and writer, is widely considered to be the world's leading authority on Raffles.
While keen to see the collection, some members of the public hope access to it will be made easier.
Mr Justin Hou, 34, a programmer and regular visitor to NLB, plans to visit the Rare Gallery, but hopes the process of doing so can be simplified.
"It would be really interesting to drop by and look at these artefacts from Singapore's early days," he said. "But I wish I could just go up (to the gallery on the 13th floor) instead of having to register for access."
Some 25 members of the public who registered were taken on a tour of the 38 curated items exhibited at the Rare Gallery yesterday - the first of six monthly tours scheduled until December. The next tour slot is already full.
•Registrations can be made on a first come, first served basis at: www.nlb.gov.sg/golibrary/programme/Tours.aspx