Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Travel through Philately - Singapore National Museum's Centenary

Whether or not you are a keen hunter of past colonial romance in Singapore, its National Museum is a must visit, much more so even than Marina Bay Sands despite the latter's fame as Singapore's latest icon. After all, how many buildings in Singapore could claim to survive both World War and is still in active service, along with its centenary in 1987, just goes to show how ancient it is compared to most of the buildings in the island republic.

This 1987 FDC highlights just how old the National Museum of Singapore is - with a deep brown.

Gazetted as one of the National Monuments of Singapore, the museum was originally a section of a library in Singapore Institution back in 1849. Only after a few relocation did the museum arrived in Stamford Road in 1887, a permanent site which it stood for over a century until today. Although it was named "National Museum of Singapore", the claim to the title of national museum is shared with another three - 2 Asian Civilizations Museum (one at Empress Palace and another at Old Tao Nan School) and the Singapore Art Museum.

The plans for the National Museum, submitted in 1882 by the colonial engineer assigned to the task - Henry McCallum. The rotunda and neo-Palladian facade is still evident in the current building (image taken from National Museum of Singapore).

It led an original life as a museum back in 1849 as Raffles Library and Museum, exhibiting historical and archaeological items from Singapore and around Asia. In its early years, it was famed as a repository of knowledge, well known for its collection of zoology and ethnography of South East Asia. Interestingly, this is one of the buildings left intact during the Japanese invasion and occupation in World War 2. Even the Japanese held the place in high regard due to the reputation of Raffle's collection and research integrity.

Extensions were carried out four times in the museum's life in 1906, 1916, 1926 and 1934 respectively due to inadequate space to hold the growing number of books and artifacts. The library and the museum finally split in 1960, forming a National Library building unto itself next to the original building. Unfortunately, the latter did not last and was demolished and relocated to the current location of Victoria Street in 2006, separating the originally conjoined twins.

Mars and Rhea Silvia (circa 1616/1617) by Peter Paul Rubens (1577 - 1640)
Oil on canvas
© LIECHTENSTEIN. The Princely Collections, Vaduz–Vienna
(image taken from National Museum of Singapore)

The building itself is a real beauty. Architectural elements from Renaissance and Palladian converged onto the modern museum, with graceful arches merging into modern glass structures. Permanently exhibited items brings visitors back to the past of Singapore through its showcase of fashion, food and items expected in a Singaporean life. Currently a more interesting exhibition is running - Princely Treasures from the House of Liechtenstein, a collection of exquisite art items on loan from the said museum.

Various articles of importance in the inventories of National Museum of Singapore are used as part of the FDC. The 10 cents stamp has a Majapahit gold bracelet on it, granting a rare peek into Singapore's past as part of the empire back in 14th and 15th century. The 75 cents bring us further away to China's Ming dynasty - a Ming fluted kendi. Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic art all converged to form this piece of art. The final stamp of the FDC, a $1 stamp, showcases a kris with silver hilt and sheath along with an Arabic inscription of "Sultan Abdul Jalil Sanat 1699 A.D. Thursday Morning 15 October".

Date of Issue:       12 October 1987
Denominations:     10¢, 75¢, SGD1.00
Stamp Size:          43.5mm x 26.0mm
Perforation:          13.5 (approximately)
Paper:                  Unwatermarked
Printing Process:   Offset lithography
Printer:                 Secura Singapore Pte Ltd
Designer:              Melvin Ng


  1. Wikipedia - National Museum of Singapore
  2. National Museum of Singapore - History

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