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EDWARD WILLIAM COLE, MELBOURNE BOOKSELLER (1832-1918)

Two illustrated covers were found at the same auction site, relating to E.W. Cole and his Book Arcade. The first posted at Melbourne in 1907 shows a stylized rainbow stretching from one clump of palm trees to another, and it lists 16 departments in the store: new books; secondhand books; circulating library; wholesale books; pictures, framing; stationery, fancy goods; music, instruments; house ornaments, glass, china; printing, publishing; photographic studio; toys; crinkled paper; tea salon; perfumery, toilet requisites; mail order; and, Wonderland & Monkeyland to amuse the Youngsters. The extent of the booksite in Melbourne, branches in Sydney and Adelaide, plus the claim “Nearly Two Million Books to choose from” are given, as well as “Lists on Any Subject Sent Post Free” (Figure 1).

 

 

 

The second cover describe the famous publication compiled by E.W. Cole ‘Coles Funny Picture Book’ and shows a picture of an unhappy girl who does not have the book, compared with a happy boy who does. The address of the firm in Sydney and Adelaide is given (Figure 2).

 

 

 

Edward was born at Woodchurch, Kent England in January 1832. His father died young and when his mother remarried he ran away to London. In 1850 he went to Cape Colony and in November 1852 he sailed to Victoria. He spent some time on the gold diggings in several avocations, and on 30 September 1865 he started a book shop at the eastern markets in Melbourne, with a stock of 600 volumes. His total takings by the end of October was £15. 12 shillings, most of which he used to buy new stock of books.

He gradually prospered and became the lessee of the market, most of which he sublet to small stall-holders. He spent a comparatively large amount on advertising, and made the market a popular resort. Though largely uneducated, he read a great deal and in 1867 under the pseudonym of ‘Edwic’ he published ‘The Real Place in History of Jesus and Paul’ which largely was a discussion of the validity of miracles.

In 1874, Cole took a building fronting on Bourke Street near the market and opened his first ‘Book Arcade’. The business was successful and he continued renting the market until 1881 when he was unable to renew the lease on good terms. He began negotiations for a site in Bourke Street closer to the G.P.O. which opened on 27 January 1883 and this grew into one of the largest bookstores in Australia. The store was extended to the Collins Street frontage and a claim was made that it housed 2 million books, but this could not be substantiated.

Members of the public were encouraged to spend much time in the arcade, even to read the books there, and he started a large second hand book department on th first floor. The business continued to prosper and he opened new departments, including one for printing. He compiled a large number of popular books of which ‘Cole’s Funny Picture Book’ and ‘Coles Fun Doctor’. were most successful, their sales running into hundreds of thousands.

He married in 1875 Eliza Frances Jordan who predeceased him, and he died at Melbourne on 16 December 1918, but 2 sons and 3 daughters survived him. Cole was below medium height, of benevolent appearance and quiet manner. His establishment had a considerable effect on the culture of Melbourne. The business continued for 10 years after his death, when the executors decided to close it and to sell the properties, for the site had become very valuable. A member of his family bought the goodwill and the shop was continued for another 10 years in Swanson Street, on a comparatively small scale.

Cole knew the value of ‘brand marketing’ long before the term had been invented. He was a master of advertising, including the placement of full-page adverts in papers, and he considered that books should be fun to read. His was a great personal success story.

Addendum: This postcard was posted in 1896, eleven years before the 1907 postcard shown in Figure 1. It was sent to the London Publisher Houston & Son, and contains considerable amount of advertising, but it only trumpets a stock of 1 million books! (Figure 3).

 

 

This paper was derived from the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

 

 
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