A time capsule found buried next to Parliament has given up its secrets - a handful of old coins and newspapers, and plans and photos of the building it was buried in.

The copper canister was found in the lobby of the Bowen State Building, behind a granite plaque. The building, which is currently being redeveloped, was officially opened in 1961 by Prime Minister Keith Holyoake.

Oops, I tore a piece of history

With anticipation high and representatives from Te Papa and Heritage New Zealand standing by, Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage Maggie Barry struggled to pry out the contents.

Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Maggie Barry with a newspaper from the time capsule found buried in the Bowen State Building, next to Parliament, Wellington. Photo Mark Mitchell
Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Maggie Barry with a newspaper from the time capsule found buried in the Bowen State Building, next to Parliament, Wellington. Photo Mark Mitchell

The first was a page from New Zealand Freelance magazine, with the Minister first noticing the backing advert for Pall Mall cigarettes.

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The cover of the magazine featured a photo of Wellington local Rita Porter on her wedding day, with the strapline "how to look like fifty guineas" enticing readers to turn to page 26. Inside, and perhaps the reason for inclusion, a story profiled the Commissioner of Works at the time.

After a packet of coins was extracted the wad of what turned out to be building plans and old newspapers proved difficult to get out of the canister.

"Oops, I tore a piece of history," the Minister commented, before a helper with pliers stepped in.

Also inside were photographs of Wellington harbour, the Bowen State Building midway through its construction, and some of the people involved in the project.

The newspaper was an Evening Post from July 1959, including a large photograph of Holyoake.

Flicking through for more articles to get a flavour of the times, and as reporters filmed on their phones, Barry underlined how the newspaper industry has changed in the online age - commenting "gosh, there were a lot of ads back in those days". The front page featured rows of classifieds.

The Minister and people working on the building's redevelopment then posed for a group photo, to be included in a new capsule that will be buried onsite when the development is finished in mid-2019.

What else will be sealed is yet to be determined but Barry, also Conservation Minister, thinks Kiwi or Kakapo feathers could be an option, as would native seeds.

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She said the capsule opened today was a record of what the building was like and reflected the pride taken in its construction.

"Why are we all fascinated, why are we all here? It is because something might have been revealed, it is intriguing to know what people value enough to seal it and put it behind a concrete slab. That is going to some trouble, they wanted us to understand something of what went on."