Admiral Dewey's likeness became extremely popular following his victory in the Spanish-American War in 1898. According to Frederick Fried, Samuel Robb carved this originally as a free-standing figure to be placed in front of a Tobacconist shop on Third Avenue. This particular sculpture was reduced in height when the legs became damaged, and was mounted on a scrolling base by an antiques dealer who offered it for sale as a ship's figurehead. (Frederick Fried, Artists in Wood (New York, 1970) p. 225, figs. 204 and 205)
Samuel Anderson Robb (1851-1928) was born in Brooklyn into a family of Scottish carpenters and shipcarvers. As a teenager, he was an apprentice to Thomas V. Brooks for five years, and soon thereafter found employment in the workshop of William Demuth. Encouraged by his employer, Robb studied at the National Academy of Design, taking courses in drawing from life. He was accepted into the Free Night School program at the Cooper Union School of Art and graduated 6th in a class of 36 students. In 1876, Robb opened his workshop at 195 Canal Street, and became a highly successful carver of striking and original trade figures. He became particularly well-known for the high quality of his carving and his prodigious output. Following Thomas V. Brooks move to Chicago, Robb became the most sought-after carver in New York City, producing nearly 200 figures per year. Robb acquired large orders for circus wagon sides and circus figures from Adam Forepaugh and Barnum, Bailey and Hutchinson, and soon opened a second workshop on Centre Street. In the 1890s, as city ordinances required that all tobacconist figures be removed from sidewalks and confined to shop interiors, the trade figure business gradually slowed to a halt. Samuel Robb closed his shop in 1910 and moved to Philadelphia, where he became a coachbuilder for the Ford Motor Company. He returned to New York in 1919 and died at the age of 77 in 1928.
For figures attributed to or associated with the workshop of Samuel Robb, please see lots 26, 27, 30, 33, 51, and 60