Singapore in the early C20

Tipped off by Mothership, SP discovered a wonderful New Year gift from the New York Public Library. As part of the library’s move to make its digital collection accessible, it has released several dozen hi-res images of Singapore from the early twentieth century, which are free to use. These rare images “have become public domain works, which means they are no longer restricted under copyright law,” according to Mothership.

SP selects and presents some of the most compelling images, which form a study in contrasts.


Malay Girl


Boy and Boat


Malay Boys


Malay Garden Produce


Malay Food Stall


Chinese Workmen at Tiffin


Raffles Place


Boat Quay


Robinson Road


Jiksha Station


View taken from the sea




About Jee Leong Koh

My book of poems Steep Tea (Carcanet) was named a Best Book of 2015 by UK's Financial Times, and a Finalist by Lambda Literary. I also wrote three other books of poems and a book of zuihitsu. My work has been shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize, and translated into Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian and Latvian. Originally from Singapore, I live in New York City, where I edit the arts blog Singapore Poetry, and run the Second Saturdays Reading Series and the Singapore Literature Festival in NYC.


  1. Donna Smith

    Fascinating images – both familiar to me and foreign at the same time. It reminds me that every place in the world has a history of opposites converging. I’m glad to see that the NY Public Library is preserving such images. It’s important work.


  2. The images are familiar and foreign to many young Singaporeans too!


  3. Loved to see those images in the post. This place was also beautiful in olden days as compared to now.


  4. jofurniss

    I love the caption on the last picture: “Suburb of Singapore”. Fewer water buffalo in the suburbs today!


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