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Nautical instrument makers' shop sign

Date: 1795-1812
Overall: 1016 x 483 x 356 mm, 10 kg
Display Dimensions: 1016 x 342 x 470 mm, 1000 kg
Medium: Wood, paint, gesso
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Sign
Object No: 00018388
Place Manufactured:England

User Terms

    Immortalised by Charles Dickens in 'Dombey and Son' where 'the sign of the little midshipman' hung above the shop kept by Sol Gils, such figures were commonly used in the late 18th and 19th centuries to indicate a business dealing in nautical instruments.
    SignificanceThis 'Little Midshipman' sign is significant as an example of signage associated with the nautical trades in the late 18th and 19th centuries.
    HistoryCarved trade signs such as this were commonly seen outside instrument makers' shops as an easy way to advertise their wares. Examples include one outside the shop of Messrs. Imray, Laurie, Norie, and Wilson Ltd., Chart Publishers, and one outside chart agent William Heather's Navigation Warehouse at 157 Leadenhall Street at 'The Sign of the Little Midshipman'. The premises were immortalised by Charles Dicken's 1846 novel 'Dombey and Son' as the shop kept by Sol Gils: the 'Little Midshipman' was illustrated in the book.

    The Royal Navy (RN) was the most powerful military institution from the late 18th century to the early 20th century. The Napoleonic Wars saw a peak in efficiency and effectiveness of the Navy and the expansion of the British Empire ensured its relevance. During this period, the RN also charted large tracts of unknown coastlines, including Australia's, which allowed for a greater understanding of the globe.

    An octant is a portable instrument that uses a small mirror to bring two images together, those of the sun and the horizon, for instance, to determine latitude at sea by observing the altitude of celestial bodies. It has an arc of 45 degrees or more that measures angles of 90 degrees or more. John Hadley described an instrument of this sort to the Royal Society of London in 1731 and obtained a British patent in 1734, and so octants are sometimes known as Hadley quadrants. They were still in use in the early 20th century.

    Early octants have mahogany frames and boxwood scales read by diagonals. Those made after around 1800 have ebony frames, brass index arms, and ivory scales read by verniers. Although early examples were large, heavy, and costly, Ramsden's invention of the dividing engine in 1777 led to the production of smaller and less expensive instruments.
    Additional Titles

    Assigned title: Nautical instrument makers' shop sign

    Assigned title: Nautische Instrumentenbauer Schild

    Assigned title: Nautische instrumentenmakers uithangbord

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