Jim’s Spectacular Christmas

October 27, 2022
A dog holding an envelope in his mouth

Today is a huge day for V&A Publishing because we get to talk about Jim (and Christmas, but mainly Jim). Jim is – as the bookcover says – a dog.

Jim isn’t just any dog though, he was the real-life museum dog of real-life V&A director Sir Henry Cole and he has posthumously ‘chosen’ Dame Emma Thompson to bring his (partly true) story to life, aided by heart-warming illustrations by Axel Scheffler. In Emma and Axel’s hands, Jim appears on page as a scruffy, book-loving and mischievous dog, as happy hobnobbing with Queen Victoria as supervising workers building the museum, and certainly glad to escape his first employment as a chimney brush…

Henry Cole handing Jim the dog a letter

We know a little about what the real Jim was like from Henry Cole’s diaries, if not whether he really did have a ‘gamey whiff’ or a love of books. His behaviour was not always exemplary – ‘In Museum with Jim, who barked as usual’, Cole wrote in January 1874 – and he certainly got into a few scrapes, disappearing during a family trip to Ramsgate, only to turn up later on his own. We can only guess as to what seaside adventures he may have had.

Henry Cole's illustrations of Jim the dog
Jim at Broadstairs by Sir Henry Cole, 1864. Museum no. 26471:4 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

It seems Cole and Jim matched each other in energy. When Jim lived in South Kensington, lots of new museums and colleges were being built, and the pair would tour the building sites together early in the morning, clambering over bricks and girders, up ladders and about scaffolding, inspecting all that was going on.

We certainly know Jim was much loved.

As many of you will know, the V&A is labyrinthine, but one of the upsides of getting lost is coming across wonderful things you weren’t looking for and that spark new ideas. It is wonderful that a drawing that Sir Henry made of his scraggy pet has ‘jimspired’ a new children’s book that we hope will soon become a classic. One of the best things about museums is that they are jam-packed with stories, and you’d be hard pushed to find one more adorable than this.

Jim the dog running through the museum

Jim’s Spectacular Christmas is available now from the V&A Shop.

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