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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Sir Edgar Coles, c. 1970

William Dargie

oil on canvas

Sir Edgar Barton ‘EB’ Coles (1899-1981) was the longest-serving chief executive of the Coles retail group. The Coles dynasty began when the first George Coles arrived in Victoria in the 1850s and established a butcher’s shop. His son, also named George, bought it and went on to open a number of country stores. This second George had eleven children with his first wife, Elizabeth, including George (1885-1977), Arthur (1892-1982), Kenneth (1896-1985) (known as Frank until 1957) and Edgar. Elizabeth died at the age of 39; the second George married again, and had one more child, Norman (1907-1989). The third George Coles bought and sold various businesses from his father before opening his first store in Collingwood in 1914. After the war he was back in business, opening his first ‘nothing over 2/6-’ store in Collingwood in 1919. The company was incorporated in 1921 and went public as GJ Coles and Coy Ltd in 1927, when there were eight stores. Over the course of the twentieth century, George Coles’s brothers Arthur, Kenneth, Edgar and Norman worked up through the company to become directors. All the brothers were involved to a greater or lesser degree in philanthropy and corporate affairs and served on a variety of boards. George and Kenneth were knighted in 1957; Edgar in 1959; Arthur in 1960; and Norman in 1977. Of the ‘five knights’, Edgar devoted himself most exclusively to the company, becoming its secretary in 1921, director in 1929, joint managing director in 1940 and sole managing director in 1944. In the post-war years, Edgar led the company through a period of expansion that earned him the title of ‘The Takeover King.’ Major retailers acquired on his watch included Selfridges Ltd in NSW in 1950, F&G Stores Ltd in Victoria in 1951 and the Queensland chain of Penneys Ltd. in 1956. With the acquisition of the John Connell Dickins Pty Ltd group of 54 grocery stores in 1958, Beilby’s of South Australia in 1959 and the Matthews Thompson chain of 265 grocery stores in NSW in 1960, Coles moved into grocery retailing, with the first Coles New World supermarket openening in Frankston, Victoria in 1962. The following year, in the three days after Robert Menzies and Edgar Coles together opened Canberra’s pioneering Monaro Mall, the Coles New World Supermarket therein sold 15 tons of meat. Edgar Coles retired as controlling managing director of the company in 1967, but remained as chairman. Under his direction the company had grown from 86 to 570 stores, and turnover increased had from $10 million to $250 million a year. Coles’s wife, Mabel, was a formidable charity fundraiser in Melbourne. A biography, A New World of Shopping: The Sir Edgar Coles Story, was written by Edgar Coles’s son, Robert, and published in 2009.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of Coles Myer Ltd 2002
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
© Roger Dargie

Accession number: 2002.50

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

William Dargie (age 58 in 1970)

Sir Edgar Barton ‘EB’ Coles (age 71 in 1970)

Subject professions

Business, trades and industry

Donated by

Coles Myer Ltd (6 portraits)

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.