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Scottish Highlander tobacco shop figure

Object Name: Tobacco shop figure
Date: 1824
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Medium: Wood, paint, metallic pigment
Dimensions: Overall: 46 3/4 x 13 x 10 1/4 in. ( 118.7 x 33 x 26 cm )
Place made: England
Description: Carved and polychrome male figure in Scottish Highland dress, including kilt, feathered bonnet, sporran, pistols, dagger, dirk, and argyle socks; figure stands on rocky base holding a snuff mull or tobacco grinder.
Credit Line: Gift of Elie Nadelman, 1938
Object Number: 1938.323
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Marks: Carved in wood at lower left: "W. Allan / Sculp / 1824"

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This object was once part of the folk art collection of Elie Nadelman (1882-1946), the avant-garde sculptor. From 1924 to 1934, Nadelman's collection was displayed in his Museum of Folk Arts, located in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. The Historical Society purchased Nadelman's entire collection in 1937. Acquired in 1938, this object was a subsequent gift.

During the mid-nineteenth century, carved and painted shop figures were placed in front of commercial establishments to advertise goods and lure customers. Elie Nadelman, an inveterate smoker, and his wife Viola, the daughter of a cigar manufacturer, collected assorted tobacco paraphernalia.

The Scottish figure, typically associated with snuff, was a common type of English shop figure during the nineteenth century. He wears the typical Highlander regimental costume and stands on a rocky base, symbolic of the Highlands. In the figure’s left hand is a handheld grinder known as a snuff mull. His rocky base bares the inscription " W. Allan / Sculp / 1824". The scale of this figure and its good condition indicate that it sat on a counter inside a tobacconist's shop. Charles Dickens described a similar figure in his novel Little Dorrit: "The business was of too modest a character to support a life-sized Highlander, but it maintained a little one on a bracket on the door-post, who looked like a fallen Cherub that had found it necessary to take to a kilt."


The Folk Art Collection of Elie and Viola Nadelman, Riverdale, NY


“Making It Modern: The Folk Art Collection of Elie and Viola Nadelman,” Albuquerque Museum of Art and History, Albuquerque, New Mexico, September 6 - November 29, 2015; the New-York Historical Society, May 20 - August 21, 2016; and the Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Massachusetts, September 17 - December 31, 2016.