The "Little Admiral" shop figure, ex.Henry Hughes.
Lot 42W
The "Little Admiral" shop figure, ex.Henry Hughes & Son Ltd. 42ins. (107cm)high. 3
£20,000 - 25,000
US$ 34,000 - 42,000
Auction Details
The "Little Admiral" shop figure, ex.Henry Hughes & Son Ltd. 42ins. (107cm)high. 3 The "Little Admiral" shop figure, ex.Henry Hughes & Son Ltd. 42ins. (107cm)high. 3 The "Little Admiral" shop figure, ex.Henry Hughes. The "Little Admiral" shop figure, ex.Henry Hughes.
Lot Details
The "Little Admiral" shop figure, ex.Henry Hughes & Son Ltd.
The figure of carved timber, dressed in the uniform of a Naval Officer and depicted taking a sight through a genuine 7in. (18cm) radius brass sextant. On an elliptical wooden base with a gilded rope hawser border. Together with a folder of supporting paperwork, and name plaque. 42ins. (107cm)high. (3)


  • Joseph Hughes, the son of a London clockmaker, set up business in Limehouse as a nautical instrument maker at the turn of the 19th century. But it was his son, Henry Hughes, who established the family business at 59 Fenchurch Street in 1836. From the very beginning, Hughes advertised his premises with a wooden shop figure of a mariner taking a sight, which was originally mounted over the door. Latterly, and possibly to protect him from damage, the figure stood outside the shop on a small wooden binnacle base, donated by the Admiralty. A shop retainer was responsible for daily placing him outside in the morning and putting him away at night. He survived the Zeppelins of WW1, but at the onset of WW2 he was put into store and therefore survived the bombing of 59 Fenchurch Street which destroyed the shop. Following the disaster, Henry Hughes & Son merged with fellow unfortunate neighbours Kelvin, Bottomley and Baird, to form a new company Kelvin, Hughes which operated from the Hughes factory in Essex and the Little Admiral went into retirement with the family, where he has remained to this day.

    The tradition of using a scale Naval figure as a shop sign for Nautical Instrument suppliers and Chandlers would appear to date from the first quarter 18th century, at a time when the traditional hanging shop signs were under threat as a danger to the public. By the early 19th century, they were a common sight in Port Cities, including London. The most notable stood originally in Leadenhall Street, outside the premises of Norie & Co. (formerly William Heather) where it had been since the mid 18th century. It was observed by Charles Dickens, who included it in his novel Dombey & Son (published 1848) as the sign for the fictional Chandler Solomon Gills, whose shop was called "The Little Midshipman". The sign moved with Norie to the Minories in 1878 and after surviving two World Wars, was donated to the Dickens Museum in London, where it can be seen today. Several examples have appeared at auction, both from the UK, Europe and America, and can be seen in National Museum collections.
  1. Lionel Willis
    Specialist - Maritime
    Montpelier Street
    London, SW7 1HH
    United Kingdom
    Work +44 20 7393 3804
    FaxFax: +44 20 7393 3873