Edward William Cole was a celebrated Melbourne bookseller and publisher. He emigrated to Victoria in 1852, having previously spent two years in South Africa. After spending some time at the goldfields (where he sold lemonade), Cole bought land in Castlemaine, on which he lost money after land prices collapsed in 1854. Some lean years followed, before in 1863 he managed to open a small shop in Russell Street, Melbourne, where he sold "Cole's Delicious Mixed Meat Pies".
While working in his pie stall by night, Cole spent his days in libraries researching comparative religion, and working on his theory of the essential similarities between the world's major religions, and the desirability of a single world religion based on these common elements. He produced a manuscript, conceived of as the first volume of a larger work, entitled The Real Place in History of Jesus and Paul. When he attempted to get his work published, however, he encountered considerable reluctance on the part of Australian booksellers to produce or even stock such a work. After unsuccessfully approaching George Robertson in Melbourne and William Maddock in Sydney, he took the work to the printing firm Wilson & Mackinnon, who suggested that he rewrite his manuscript so that it could be issued in parts, in pamphlet form, which, he was told, was "usually the way ministers and such had a sermon or anything printed" (qtd. in Turnley 33). This he did, and began to hawk his pamphlets door to door, which proved to be his introduction to the book trade. Sales of his pamphlets were slow, but he began buying books as well as selling. In September 1865, with a stock of books he estimated to be worth £17, Cole gave up his pie shop and began a bookstall in Bourke Street.
Cole's skill as an advertiser contributed a great deal to his subsequent prosperity as a bookseller. One of his most successful advertising stunts appeared in the Herald, taking up a column on the front page of classifieds through the latter months of 1873. This advertisement, which unfolded in imitation of a serial fiction, concerned the supposed discovery (in New Guinea) of a race of human beings with tails. It proved to be a highly original way of promoting Cole's selection of 'tales'. In July 1875, Cole famously placed an advertisement headed "A Good Wife Wanted", stating his requirements in a spouse, in his regular column in the Herald. Though assumed to be another stunt, the advertisment also fulfilled its stated function when Cole married an 'applicant', Eliza Frances Jordan, a month later.
Cole was known to have played an active part in the authorship of some of the most popular works he published, such as the Cole's Funny Picture Book series. Many of these works reflect Cole's longstanding interest in a single world religion and community, or as his grandson Cole Turnley has put it, "the concept of universal friendship in a federated world" (qtd. in Dean 1). His bookselling and publishing business was an icon of late nineteenth and early twentieth century Australian society.