These little men were a feature of Cole’s Book Arcade which was one of the wonders of ‘Marvellous Melbourne’ - they were actually made in Melbourne itself and installed in the arcade soon afterwards. They sat in the centre of the main arcade - Cole’s Book Arcade was actually a complex of many shops joined together by arcades and mirrored walkways and ferneries and that sort of thing.
The arcade was established in 1883 by Edward William Cole, who was a great entrepreneur and a great visionary as well, and he ran that bookshop for the rest of his life right through to 1919, and in fact family members kept the bookshop going right through until 1929 ’til the Great Depression.
We received the little men as a donation in 1939.
These little men have been cranking over their signs for about 110 years now. The signs are a combination of advertising for Cole’s Book Arcade and also some of the wise words and sayings that Edward William Cole liked to espouse.
The little men have also been wearing the same clothes for about 110 years - they do have different hats but they pretty much look the same as they did in the 1890s.
There are about 30 signs that the little men are turning over and they were originally powered by running water, but for practical reasons obviously they were converted to electricity.