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Cole's Mechanical Hen - circa 1889 Object Reg. No: ST 035688

Mechanical hen from Cole's Book Arcade, Melbourne. Metal, painted black with red face, comb and wattles. Slot for coin, and chute for eggs to roll down. The hen originally cackled when it 'laid' an egg. One of five hens operating in Cole's Book Arcade in Bourke Street.

According to Cole Turnley, in his book 'Cole of the Book Arcade: a Pictorial Biography of E.W.Cole', Cole introduced a mechanical hen, made by a German firm, into the new Music Department in the Little Collins Street section of the Coles Book Arcade, about 1889. It had been supplied by the Symphonion Company - an advertisement for the hen was apparently enclosed with the invoice for the synphonion that was purchased for the Arcade in 1889.

The hen was given to Herbert William Southgate Reeves when Cole's Book Arcade closed. Reeves, born in 1890, had worked in the second hand book department in Cole's Book Arcade from the time he left school in 1903 until 1929, when it closed. He recalled that the hen was located on the first floor landing between the entrance to the monkey room and the second hand department, on a bench. Herbert had the job of making sure his hen was maintained and 'well-fed'. He remembered four other hens at the Arcade: one just inside the main entrance at the start of the main new book section; one in the fernery, on the grood floor near Little Collins Street (it might have moved later to a location adjacent to the music and confectionary departments); and two in a building behind the 'main arcade' - one in Toyland, and one just inside the Collins Street entrance.

Herbert recalled that the hen's eggs often contained 'quarter-inch cubes of a sweet like a larger variety of "hundreds and thousands"'. The eggs' contents varied - sometimes a handkerchief would be found by a disappointed child.

Herbert passed the hen on to his father, John Herbert Reeves, who wrote down his father's memories (noted in the Museum Archives) and donated the hen to Museum Victoria.
Metal, painted black with red face, comb and wattles. Slot for coin, and chute for eggs to roll down. The hen sits on a nest - a woven basket with soft material in the top. A stand below the basket with concentric rings provides a stable base.
Acquisition Information:
Donation from Mr John Reeves, 1985
Discipline: Technology
Dimensions: 620 mm (Height), 470 mm (Width)

More information

Tagged with: advertising, booksellers, poultry, retailing
Themes this item is part of: Edward William Cole, Bookseller (1832-1918), Cole's Book Arcade Collection, Leisure Collection, Domestic & Community Life Collection, Public Life & Institutions Collection, Working Life & Trades Collection
Primary Classification: COMMERCE & RETAILING
Secondary Classification: Department Stores
Tertiary Classification: amusements
Inscriptions: 'SLOT' on label attached to lower front right of hen, indicating where money was to be inserted.
Manufacturer (Probable): Symphonion Company, Germany, circa 1889
Place & Date Used: Cole's Book Arcade, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 1889-1929

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