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Willins’ Whistles

This is a legacy story from an earlier version of our website. It may contain some formatting issues and broken links.

The whistles pictured in this blog are from the collection of A J Willins (1878-1950). The collection was donated to Brighton Museum & Art Gallery by his wife, Mary Willins, on his death.


The 454 whistles were gathered in Britain but originate from all over the world and date from between 1780 and 1934. At home, Willins displayed his collection in a cabinet with little drawers and often took them out to show visitors. It is not clear why Willins formed his collection but he was clearly interested in the diversity of whistle types and their different purposes as he compiled a catalogue of the whistles dividing them into thirteen categories according to their function. The catalogue was also donated in 1950.

The collection has whistles for every occasion. Some have a practical purpose, such as a bosun’s whistle, whilst others, like a bone whistle with a microscopic lens showing views of the Royal Pavilion and the Chain Pier, are simply beautiful souvenirs. The collection also includes toy and novelty whistles like a porcelain eggcup whistle in the shape of a rooster driving a car.

A selection of the whistles were displayed at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery December 1930 – March 1931 and in 1998 another selection was exhibited under the title ‘Just for the Shrill of It…Mr Willins’ Collection of Whistles’.