On display

This item is on display at Melbourne Museum

Melbourne Museum


Add your own tags:
Separate multiple tags using a comma

Similar items over time

Cole's 'Little Men' - Mechanical Sailors, circa 1889 Object Reg. No: ST 028991 1

'Little Men' mechanical exhibit from Book Arcade. Depicts two "sailors" operating revolving signs with a double-crank handle. The "little men" (or "little sailors") exhibit was made for Edward William Cole, who founded Cole's Book Arcade in 1865.

The figures are dressed in sailor suits, and originally had dark-coloured caps. They may have been given their white caps bearing the names HMAS Sydney and HMAS Melbourne as a patriotic gesture during World War I - these ships were launched in 1913.

The Little Men were made in Melbourne in 1883 by F. Ziegler & Sons, who also made the Gog & Magog in Melbourne's Royal Arcade, the Hawthorn Town Hall clock, the 'tower clock' at Flinders Street Station and many public clocks. They originally powered by running water, and later converted to electricity. The signs have been replaced several times, most recently in 2007, with signs that better represented what Cole might have used - including sayings from his medals and books.

The Little Men appear to have been in use continually from 1883, first at 158 Bourke Street, then at the main Bourke Street store until 1928, and finally at 255 Swanston Street in a shop operated by his daughter and son-in-law under the same name, from 1929 to 1938.
Mechanical sign, consisting of a wooden box on which is perched two figures of sailors, each holding a crank handle. When the mechanism rotates, these 'little men' appear to turn the crank handle which rotates a series of hidden cogs, finally rotating a large dum below them onto which 21 double-sided signs are attached. The signs slowly flip over, allowing sufficient time for reading.

The figures are dressed in black felt sailor suits (jacket and trousers) with blue-trimmed white shirt appearing from underneath and folded over to form a square panel over the shoulders. Each jacket has a rope trim at the front opening. Their caps are white with inscribed bands (see below). The faces of the men are made of a composite material and are painted pink, with blue eyes and features picked out in appropriate colours. Their hands and feet are brass.

A door to the left of the signs hinges to allow access to the cog mechanism.

The 'Little Men' are housed in a glazed wooden display stand, apparently non-original.
Acquisition Information:
Donation from Mrs A. Turnley, 1939
Discipline: Technology
Dimensions: 1870 mm (Height), 940 mm (Width), 940 mm (Length)
Dimension Comment: Measurements taken for Australia Gallery redevelopment.

More information

Tagged with: advertising, booksellers, retailing, ziegler, cole s book arcade
Themes this item is part of: Edward William Cole, Bookseller (1832-1918), Cole's Book Arcade Collection, Domestic & Community Life Collection, Public Life & Institutions Collection, Working Life & Trades Collection
On Display at: Melbourne Museum
Primary Classification: COMMERCE & RETAILING
Secondary Classification: Department Stores
Tertiary Classification: amusements
Inscriptions: The white caps of the 'little men' bear the inscriptions 'HMAS SYDNEY' and 'HMAS MELBOURNE'.
Maker: F. Ziegler & Sons, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 1883
Commissioned By: Mr. Edward Cole - Cole's Book Arcade, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 1883

Proprietor of Cole's Book Arcade, Bourke Street, Melbourne, 1883-1919.
Place & Date Used: Cole's Book Arcade, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 1889-1929

Previous owner. Father of donor, and former employee of Cole's Book Arcade from 1903 to 1929.

Add your comment

  • Museum Victoria does not provide valuations, for more information please visit the valuation infosheet
  • Please note that Museum Victoria staff will not normally respond to comments posted on our website.
Yes No