Apr 25

Book Review: E W Cole: Chasing the Rainbow by Lisa Lang

E W Cole: Chasing the Rainbow by Lisa LangTitle: E W Cole: Chasing the Rainbow
Author: Lisa Lang
Publisher: Arcade Publications, 2007 (90 pages)
ISBN: 978-0-9804367-0-9
Genre: non-fiction – Australian history, biography

Summary (from Arcade Publications website)

‘The reign of knowledge and humanity is coming’ – EW Cole

Lisa Lang introduces us to Melbourne’s most eccentric entrepreneur, taking us on the journey from EW Cole’s humble beginnings on the Victorian goldfields, to his bold establishment of the world’s largest bookstore, and original publication of the iconic and enduring Cole’s Funny Picture Books.


I vividly remember reading Cole’s Funny Picture Books when I was in primary school. I remember the covers – black with white writing and the bright rainbow arching across the front – and I remember the optical illusion illustrations and word puzzles. I guess it’s not all that unusual that I never really thought about the person who wrote the books. As a child, the book itself was far more fascinating than any author could be.

As an adult, I have recently started to track down copies of the Cole’s Funny Picture Books. I have a copy of the 67th edition of Coles Funny Picture Book No. 2 and thanks to Suz at Suz’s Space I have a copy of Cole’s Happy Puzzles, which is a collection of ‘Cole’s Happiest Puzzles and Pictures…and Picture-Puzzles madly happily edited by Cole Turnley and Merron Cullum’, Cole’s grandson and great-granddaughter.

Which brings me to E W Cole: Chasing the Rainbow by Lisa Lang, a rather fascinating little book about Edward Cole and his remarkable life. I never realised that Cole played such a significant role as an entrepreneur and part of the Melbourne marketing scene at the turn of the 20th century.

His ingenious marketing techniques make for a very interesting story and I was particularly entertained by his advertisement in the local paper when he decided it was time to find a wife – ‘she must be.. good-tempered, intelligent, honest, truthful, sober, chaste, cleanly, neat, but not extravagantly or absurdly dressy; industrious, frugal, moderately educated, and a lover of home.’ Her certainly had high standards and that’s just part of the list.

I was also fascinated to discover that Cole was a deep thinker who published pamphlets against the White Australia policy prevalent in the early years of Federation. He was also a passionate believer in the importance of education and literacy.

For anyone with fond memories of the Cole’s Funny Picture Books, E W Cole: Chasing the Rainbow offers a well-written, easy to read account of this very interesting man living in a very interesting period of Australia’s history. See the Arcade Publications website for ordering information.

Related links:

Review of E W Cole: Chasing the Rainbow at Suite101.com

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