T&H: At the Sign of the Dolphin


James Joyce and his World (1978).

dolphins.jpgDespite my earlier statement about not being much of a collector, today’s book purchase (above) was enough to confirm some well-established patterns (obsessions, even) that should make me reconsider any hasty pronouncements. Not so much for the subject in this case—I already have enough books by and about James Joyce—the significant thing here is the three magic words on the cover: Thames and Hudson. The sight of Joyce’s name on the spine above the old T&H dolphin logo (signifying the two rivers that comprise the company’s name; or maybe a discourse between London and New York via the Atlantic) was enough to demand further investigation. I realised I’d been hoping to eventually find this book after seeing it listed in the back of its companion title, Beardsley and his World by Brigid Brophy. Both books form part of a series that T&H produced in the Seventies, a collection of heavily illustrated mini-biographies of writers, with the odd artist among them. Very worthwhile they are too, with lots of photographs, paintings or drawings of the people and places relevant to their subjects’ lives.


Purveyors of fine books and…mints? The tin was a promotional
item produced for the company’s 50th anniversary.

Finding the Joyce book reminded me that I have a habit of looking out for the T&H dolphins whenever I’m browsing a shelf of secondhand books. Thames and Hudson titles are things I’ve often taken for granted in the past, their excellent World of Art series was one of my principle introductions to the history of art via school and library. Their standards of printing, writing and design have always been first class and, like Penguin, their titles have become so ubiquitous they seem to have always been around. I think I started seriously fetishising T&H titles in 1999 when the company celebrated its 50th anniversary and streamlined its logo. The realisation that the antique dolphins were now a fixture of the past made me suddenly notice how often they appeared on my bookshelves and how much I valued those particular books. I certainly have no intention of collecting all of their titles (they produce about 180 a year!) but those little dolphins are a trademark of quality for any book about art or design. As of this writing, two of the books in my “offline reading” list are T&H books.


Beardsley and his World (1976).

Considering that Thames and Hudson specialise in art and design, it’s surprising that the Brigid Brophy title is the only T&H Beardsley volume I’ve found to date. This small series demonstrates some of the company’s attention to detail. A lesser publisher would most likely make the boards of a book series a uniform colour; T&H makes the colour of the boards match the subject (and the title type on the covers match the boards), so the Joyce ones are green and the Beardsley ones yellow (for The Yellow Book).


The plaque from Beardsley’s birthplace in Brighton.
(Note the two dolphins). From Beardsley and His World.

And Aubrey Beardsley brings us to the second point of obsession, namely Beardsley books. To date I seem to have seventeen volumes of variable size and quality by or about Aubrey Beardsley. Two of these are by Brigid Brophy; in addition to the T&H one there’s also her Black and White: A Portrait of Aubrey Beardsley from 1968. Beardsley died when he was 25 and I have what must now be his complete works, juvenilia and all, scattered throughout these volumes. Yet every time I’ve thought “that’s it, I don’t need any more”, another one appears that has a photograph I haven’t seen before, or better reproductions, or colour photographs of his book covers, or… Such is the nature of obsession, there’s always something new to find around the next bend in the river.

Thames and Hudson
James Joyce at The Modern Word
Brigid Brophy at GLBTQ
Aubrey Beardsley at Art Passions

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5 thoughts on “T&H: At the Sign of the Dolphin”

  1. We’ve got a copy of the Joyce book in the library where I work

    London, Thames & Hudson [1967].
    Description 144 p. front., illus. (incl. ports), facsims. 24 cm.

    Call No: N920/J89/2

    Not sure if my father has a copy of this at home too. Will check next time I visit. He has lots of stuff on Joyce including what must be a first edition paperback of Richard Ellman’s biography which dates from the 50’s and has the spine completely missing so you can see where all the bits of pages are glued together and bound


  2. Nice quote about the Ellman biography

    James Joyce by Richard Ellmann was published in 1959. It is widely accepted as a masterpiece of literary biography. Anthony Burgess was so impressed with the biographer’s work that he claimed it to be “the greatest literary biography of the century”.

  3. Now I’m feeling guilty. I paid a pretty penny towards the end of last century to obtain a 2nd hand copy of Ellmann — minions in velveteen waistcoats and white gloves carried it with heads bowed by riverrun, past Eve’s and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay — and I only made it a hundred or so pages in before moving on. Not sure why. It’s one of about 20 JJ-related books in my little library. I know the T&H logo but I don’t know if I have any…time for a library perusal. And perhaps back to Ellmann..

  4. Well I did mange to read all of the biography although it took me quite a while but then I had a similar reaction to yours when I tried reading Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man.


    I remember trying to read it all and giving up a hundred or so pages in. Then about ten years later I tried to read it again and had the same reaction. So I assume the fault is with me rather than the book itself.

  5. Eroom: yes, the Joyce book I found is a reprint of an earlier one. Not sure if they started the series then or if that was a one-off that they later developed into a series.

    I’ve not read Ellman’s JJ biog either, which I usually regard as a failing although I’m never all that interested in biographies. I did read Ellman’s Wilde book last year but then Oscar Wilde had a rather more dramatic life than Joyce and it’s also good as an overview of a decade that fascinates me.

    I think the big, intensive biographies put people off because you have to struggle through a potted history of the subject’s parents then their childhood before you get to the part of their life that’s really interesting. And people like Ellman are very thorough. He was a great writer though and I really ought to give his Joyce book a go.

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