Cole's Book Arcade Collection




The Cole's Book Arcade Collection comprises over 80 objects, including iconic objects from the Arcade such as a mechanical hen, Cole's 'Little Men' and a symphonion. Acquired over the course of many decades, the first objects were collected by Museum Victoria in the early 1930s, shortly after the Arcade closed.

Cole's Book Arcade was one of the great iconic stores of Melbourne in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It opened in 1873 in Bourke Street near Russell Street, and in 1883 moved to a site in what is now the Bourke Street Mall. The Arcade's proprietor, Edward William Cole, was optimist and idealist, believing passionately in the power of reading and education, and envisaged a world without borders. He expounded his views in self-published pamphlets and books. Cole's Book Arcade was a shop like no other, crammed with new and second-hand books and other wares. Readers could sit in comfortable chairs, encouraged by a sign 'Read for as Long as You Like - Nobody Asked to Buy'. Cole enticed customers of all ages with a menagerie and fernery, a band, clockwork symphonion and other mechanical delights. Both the symphonion and Cole's 'Little Men' form part of this collection. The Arcade had an enormous stock of new and second hand books, and took large numbers of remainders. It sold many books cheaply, and often bought and re-bound English publications with Cole's title pages. Cole's most well-known self-produced publication were his 'Cole's Funny Picture Books'. With around 630,000 copies sold between 1890-1940 it was perhaps the most popular children's book published in Australia during that period. Several of Cole's self published books and pamphlets form a part of this collection, including 'The White Australia Question' and 'Rational Dress: 150 Pictures Illustrating Foolish and Sensible Fashions of Our Own and Many Lands.' Cole also issued at least 80 types of medals, with slogans such as 'Humanity is Progress' and 'Be Good & You Will Be Happy'. These were valued at 3d in the Arcade, where they were often given as change and could be 'spent' on other Arcade purchases. Museum Victoria's collection includes 64 Cole's Book Arcade medals of various types. Cole's Book Arcade continued to operate following his death in 1918, finally closing in 1929. Museum Victoria has been actively acquiring material relating to the Arcade since its closure.

Please direct access requests via Museum Victoria's Discovery Centre


1873-1930; Advertising; Booksellers; Bookshops; Calligraphy; Entertainment; Humour; Mechanical Musical Instruments; Medals; Museum History; Music Boxes; Musical instruments; Racism; Religions; Retailing; Wars & Conflicts; World Federation

Coverage Spatial

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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