Alexander Turnbull Library celebrates 100 years with display of never-seen-before artefacts

Some never-before-seen artefacts are now on show in Wellington, including ancient tablets and an example of remarkable penmanship from the 1800s.

Your playlist will load after this ad

Among the items on display at the Wellington landmark are 4000-year-old tablets. Source: 1 NEWS

It's all part of an exhibition celebrating 100 years of the Alexander Turnbull library.

Turnbull was a moustachioed Wellington merchant who loved collecting all things related to Aotearoa and the Pacific.

When he died, he gifted the country a library of his 55,000 possessions. 

Over the years, artefacts and oddities have been added and now the collection contains more than four million pieces worth nearly $1 billion.

Curators Fiona Oliver and Peter Ireland handpicked 170 items for the exhibition, Miharo Wonder. 

Four-thousand-year-old clay tablets from the Sumerian civilisation were chosen. 

"I think they are so exotic, but at the same time they are really every day, like one is a receipt for some luggage that was delivered to the palace," Oliver told 1 NEWS.

Many of the items have never been seen before, like a hand-drawn poster of a kauri tree complete with a write-up of New Zealand history in tiny handwriting. 

It was done in 1876 by James Meek. 

"He's very well known as a kind of magician with the pen. He used to entertain friends by writing the Lord's Prayer on the back of a postage stamp," Ireland said.

The exhibition also includes reminders of dark days in New Zealand's history. 

There's a small song book belonging to a Japanese prisoner of war killed during a riot at the Featherston internment camp in 1943.

The exhibition is also online and runs until October.