Found in that repository of odd facts, The Collector’s Miscellany, is the following short piece by reporter H. A. Owen in the issue for May 1935.
THE MYSTERY MAN OF COWES
In a certain narrow street of Cowes, Isle of Wight, lives Mr W. Cole, locally known as the Mystery Man on account of the many strange things he has in his house. He is a chemist and has been collecting all sorts of curios for over sixty years. The small room behind the shop contains hundreds of valuable curios and the other rooms are also crammed full with them. All the windows are closely shuttered and fastened and the atmosphere is stuffy, as they have not been opened for years. As a schoolboy he started collecting stamps, butterflies and birds’ eggs and now he has a valuable collection of stamps, hundreds of books and the largest collection of fossils in the Isle of Wight.
One room upstairs contains a collection of Skeletons, including one of the Bronze Age. Among his stuffed monstrosities he has a two-headed calf, a calf with six legs, a one-eyed puppy and a three-eyed kitten! There is also a double-headed pig and a four-legged robin. The latter he found himself at Calbourn many years ago. He also has many valuable pictures and prints and a complete record of the island since 1290.
Cole’s collection of curios have come from all over the world, many being brought in the yachts which used to sail from Cowes to foreign countries. Masks, Idols, old china and all sorts of curios fill the living room from floor to ceiling, leaving only a small space in which to move about. Only about a hundred people have so far ever seen them. It is impossible for him to describe them all, he tells me, and it is beyond him even to make a list of them.
Today, Channel 4 would probably make a documentary on him, so it is a little surprising that the Net remains silent on Mr Cole, whose first name was probably William or Walter, but whose dates of birth and death can only be guessed at. Phone calls to museums in Cowes and another to a large bookshop in Ryde yielded nothing. Cole’s collection was probably split up at his death, so if anyone owns an item from it, especially a book, a response to Jot 101 would be very welcome. As would any information on him and his wonderful collection. [R.M.Healey]