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Jack and Carl Cole, orphaned brothers from Detroit, opened their first Coles Books store near the University of Toronto in the mid 1930s. A decade later the first Coles Notes was published. As the story goes, a number of local high school students were having difficulties translating a french text, so the Cole brothers hired a translator and published the results. After selling nearly a thousand copies within a matter of days, Coles Notes was born.
Since the 1940s more than 80,000,000 copies of Coles Notes have been sold on five different continents. Each copy features the instantly recognizable black and yellow striped background with either a green or red foreground (except for the special Shakespeare editions which feature red and black stripes only). As an interesting sidebar: Coles Notes predates CliffsNotes (the American equivalent) by a decade. For a time, CliffsNotes were simply Coles Notes with different covers; that is until Jack Cole’s heirs denied CliffNotes Inc. the rights to use Coles Notes content without using the classic Coles Notes covers. CliffsNotes refused, and began publishing their own content.