Cole's Little Men

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Cole's Little Men (detail)
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria

These Little Men once cranked over their signs in the entrance to Cole’s Book Arcade, one of the wonders of ‘Marvellous Melbourne’ in the late 19th century.

Cole’s Book Arcade was a shop like no other, crammed with new and second-hand books and other wares, but with the atmosphere of a circus. Proprietor Edward William Cole was a brilliant publicist and idealist, enticing customers of all ages with caged monkeys, an aviary, a fernery and a live band. Readers could sit in comfortable chairs, encouraged by a sign: Read for as Long as You Like — Nobody Asked to Buy.

The Little Men’s signs advertised the Arcade and promoted Cole’s beliefs in the importance of reading, education, and human goodness and equality.

Made in Melbourne in 1883 by F. Ziegler & Sons, who also made Gog and Magog in Melbourne’s Royal Arcade and many public clocks, the Little Men were originally powered by running water, and later converted to electricity.

The Little Men were donated to Museum Victoria in 1939 by Cole’s daughter Linda Turnley.