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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.

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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.