The Australian Book Trade
A Bookseller’s Contribution to Its History
by John Percy Holroyd
As George Dean’s book focuses on EW Cole’s life from a numismatic point of view, Holroyd’s account focuses on Cole’s role as a book publisher and seller. Holroyd kept a lifelong record of writings to do with the book trade in Australia. These writings were assembled and published posthumously by Jeff Prentice in 2015, Holroyd having died in 2000. Holroyd’s account includes a 41 page section on Cole entitled E.W. Cole – Bookseller, Showman and Reformer (pages 156 to 196). The book had a small print run of 150 copies with each copy numbered and signed by Prentice, who also wrote a 125 page introduction The Book Trade: An Overview. Distribution was through Douglas Stewart Fine Books in Melbourne who can be contacted for current availability.
The Publications section of this website summarises publications with which Cole had direct involvement, either writing, editing, compiling or publishing. However, many collectors of Cole material regard the presence of ‘E.W. Cole’ or ‘Book Arcade Melbourne’ on book spines, covers or title pages, as indicating a valuable Cole collectible.
By way of explanation, Holroyd’s book also contains 101 ‘Book Trade Notes’ that he collected, with note 98 on page 154 describing how these ‘imprinted’ books came into being:
Bibliographers are sometimes puzzled when they see an Australian bookseller’s name on the title page or spine of a British publication. There are several explanations for this practice, which has now almost disappeared.
First, the bookseller would obtain the sole rights to import and distribute in Australia (and in some cases New Zealand) a forthcoming publication by buying an agreed quantity. His name would often appear on the title page as well as the spine as well. This was practiced extensively in the 19th century by George Robertson of Melbourne. Instead of buying a given quantity of a work, he would purchase from the publisher a set of the stereotype plates relating to it. An agreed quantity would then be run off in a printery with a locally printed title page. Robertson would then have it bound in his own bindery. A lump sum would be paid to the British publisher. If the book became a bestseller on the Australian market, further supplies could be run off quickly. The saving on freight on 5,000 or 10,000 copies would be substantial. This was known as a ‘closed market.’
Secondly, E. W. Cole and others would place a large order for a book or a series with the publisher, the bookseller’s name being printed on the title page. This did not give him exclusive rights to importation or distribution. It was the ‘open market’ system. Subscription books sold direct by canvassers to customers comprised a third category.
Cole had his own printing works and bindery so it is feasible that he was involved in both ‘closed’ and ‘open’ markets.
Two interesting anecdotes are Holroyd’s notes numbered 59 and 60 on page 147:
59. Walter Murdoch in the 1890s discovered the Master of Ballantrae by RLS, First Edition, for 1/- in a tray of throw-outs in front of Cole’s Book Arcade in Melbourne.
60. In 1890, Lionel Lindsay, who was a regular Saturday morning borrower in Cole’s second-hand department, picked up a copy of Hamerton’s book on etching for 1/-. From it he taught himself etching, then he taught it to his brother Norman and their friend Ernest Moffitt.
Holroyd, while he was Manager of the Secondhand Book Department at Robertson and Mullens, was also known to Cole Turnley, author of Cole of the Book Arcade. A letter from Holroyd to Turnley dated September 25, 1967 in included in the ‘Chronology section (item 423) of this website and can be viewed or downloaded here. The original source is State Library of Victoria MS 13558.
Some interesting highlights from Holroyd’s musings include:
- Cole offered prizes for essays in connexion with Federation, one for the best in favour of Federation, the other for the best essay opposing it. The winners were announced at a public ceremony held when the Duke of York was in Melbourne to open the first Federal Parliament. James Edmond of the “Bulletin” won the prize for the best essay in favour. He went up to the platform to receive his prize. Then Cole announced the winner of the best essay against Federation “Mr. James Wilson”. There was consternation when Edmond returned to the platform to claim the prize. It took him some time to convince Cole that he was “James Wilson”. Cole refused to give him this other prize, saying he had not observed the spirit of the contest. Edmond, who had a sardonic sense of humour, wanted to prove that it was equally easy to argue against a case as for it.
- Cole once asked his assistants to write a short essay on the duties of an employee to his employer. Sam Hutton objected to this, but complied with his chief’s wish. At the same time he also wrote an essay on the employer’s duty to his employees. All of these essays were published in book form by Cole. Whistler alone refused to comply and his views were respected by Cole.
- Once, when my mother took me through the Arcade, we came to a stand with a huge pyramid of picture-frames with glass. When my mother pulled one out to check the price, the whole display came tumbling down. Luckily nothing was broken. Next minute old Mrs Cole came bustling along. She gave my mother a sharp lecture, saying she would have to pay if any had been broken.
- When a junior first started working, Mrs Cole would go up to him – whether he was serving or not – and give him a lengthy lecture on his good fortune in being allowed to work for Mr. Cole, reminding him at the same time of his duty to work hard for his employer. She would frequently embarrass the lad by asking: “Boy, are you honest or dishonest?”
- For many years the Cole family lived in the Arcade, upstairs. On washing day the Cole laundry could be seen fluttering from the gallery.
- The glass roof over Little Collins Street was broken during a storm, when hailstones the size of acorns rained down. Some of the seniors suggested that he replace the roof with iron. “Let me see now”, replied Cole, “That glass has been up for 37 years. It will be 37 years before it is again broken. I will have the glass replaced.”
- The rain came through onto thousands of Nelson’s Classics, bound in red cloth-boards, causing the dye to run. Cole would not listen to the suggestion that they all be put out in a sale. He directed each junior in the department to obtain a saucer of water and a sponge. The volumes were lightly sponged until they became a uniform pink. When dry they were quite presentable and most were sold for full price.
- Staff worked a roster for night work and Saturday afternoons and evenings. Cole was a stickler for punctuality, keeping an attendance book. When an assistant’s latecomings added up to an hour or more, he was required to work this time without pay of an evening or Saturday afternoon.
- A curious aspect of Cole’s was the way in which so many senior managers ran their own businesses on the side. Cole knew of this, but did nothing about it. Possibly he realised they were underpaid.
- W. T. Pyke owned the Hawthorn Authorised Newsagency and was also the lessee of the bookstall at Prince’s Bridge Station. He published books – some of which he also compiled, in competition with Cole. His “Australian Favourite Reciter” is still in print.
- Henry Williams owned a tea room in Moonee Ponds.
- White, in charge of the crockery department had his own crockery shop in Chapel Street, Prahran.
- Charles Whistler, for many years in charge of the wholesale book department, sold photographic goods from his home.
- Frank Wilmot (the talented poet “Furnley Maurice”) printed and published books from a small press at his home in Surrey Hills, in partnership with Syd. Endacott.
- Endacott also published many books on his own account. His list included such authors as Vance Palmer, Walter Murdoch, Donald Macdonald, Frank Wilmot, Frederick Macartney & others.
- Syd. Hall was in charge of secondhand department. When Cole died he left and started his own business in Chapel Street. He was succeeded at Cole’s by his assistant, Smith. Smith held a part-time appointment as Inspector of Fisheries.
- Victor Cobb the noted etcher was on the staff.
- The confectionary department had huge glass counters filled with thousands of boiled lollies, humbugs, etc., all poured in unwrapped. As kids, we thought the same lollies were kept there unsold, year after year!
- A farewell staff social was held to celebrate the closing of the Arcade. At the same time Mr. G.J. (now Sir George) Coles was having a staff party to celebrate the acquisition of the Cole’s Book Arcade property in Bourke Street. When told of the E. W. Cole party, he instructed the hotel management to give them a barrel of beer at his own expense. Former employees as well as those just displaced by the closing of the Arcade were at the party. Several made it clear that they will not attend if Williams were invited. He was not!