November 17, 2001

Charles M. Barnes started a small bookstore out of his home in Wheaton, Illinois, in 1873. It would be another 44 years before would go into partnership with G. Clifford Noble, and make publishing history. In that same year of 1873, half a world away, Edward William Cole got the jump on B&N.

It was only 38 years earlier that an Australian settlement named Dootigala was founded on the banks of the Yarra River. It would soon change its name to a more euphonious Melbourne. Squatters had pushed the population up to 11,000 by 1841. After gold was discovered in Australia ten years later the place really took off. The population was well over 100,000 when prospector Cole arrived out of the Murray River goldfields in the 1850s, opening a bookstore in the city's Eastern Market in 1865. But a simple bookstore wasn't enough for E. W. Cole. He opened the first Coles Book Arcade in the city's East Market in 1873 and, six years later, turned to publishing. Like an earlier businessman from across the Pacific pond with the initials of P. T., E. W. thought big. And little. One of the first in either hemisphere to realize the potential of the children's market, he began publishing a series of books. Called Cole's Funny Picture books, they were largely patchwork albums of pictures, puzzles, poems, jokes and stories from a variety of sources (no-one took copyright terribly seriously in those days). Cole was canny enough to realize that moral uplift was important to book-buying Victorian parents. So the funny picture books were shot through with poems warning of dangerous characters like the Vulgar Little Lady, Sluttishness and The Wicked, Rude, Bad, Naughty, Cross, Nasty, Bold, Dirty-faced boy. The volumes proved so popular that new editions would still be published by the Cole family decades after E. W.'s stores closed early in 1929. While these still-cherished volumes were flying off the shelves, E. W. continued to build more shelves.

Today in Melbourne, in the early 21st century, when you finish gawking at the 550-lb giant squid recently acquired by the Melbourne Museum and have a bite to eat at one of the city's fine eateries, you might want to go down to the Bourke Street Mall to do a little shopping. Dodging the 30-ton motor trams scooting by (the locals' motto is share and beware) many shoppers are probably not aware that here once stood the first bookselling superstore.

On November 4th of 1883 crowds of horse race fans headed to the west side of the city for the running of the Melbourne Cup. Other equally large crowds headed downtown. Undaunted by the day's competition, E. W. Cole was going all out, and the police had to come in to keep order. Sensory overload ruled that day. The early summer sunlight that flowed down through the glass skylight stretching the length of the store, three floors above, past the indoor balconies around the upper stories. The smell of furniture polish and brass polish overwhelming the competing smell of potted plants. The tootling, thumping, tooting brass band on the first balcony where the second hand books were sold. And the feel of books in the hand. Three stories of floor to ceiling books. Bentwood chairs for the customer's comfort as they sampled the thousands of pages of books. Readers, it doesn't get any better than this! Just lacked a Starbucks.

For Classical 91.5 and 90-point-3, this is David Minor



For those of you interested in the history of New York State an excellent place to start is the gateway site of the New York History Net, to be found at:
We'll take a closer look, at many of the individual sites, from time to time in future newsletters, but those of you attempting to digest Thanksgiving leftovers and too full to move, can explore the many sites accessible through this index site. You'll find Drums Along The Mohawk; The Underground Railroad in NYS; People of Colonial Albany; Gerrit Smith a virtual biography; Afro-Americans in New York Life and History; Historic Central New York celebrating 19th century reformers; Central New York Freedom Trail underground railroad site; Matilda Joslyn Gage - important early suffragette; Buffalo's Michigan Street Baptist Church; The Harriet Tubman Home; Living History of 19th Century feminists; and the latest projects of the State History Interest Project (SHIP), an organization for middle school and high school students.



© 2001 David Minor / Eagles Byte