The founders named the company Phaidon after a pupil of Socrates, to reflect their love of classical culture. The company's distinctive logo derived from the Greek letter phi, which represented the golden ratio, employed by artists, architects and designers since antiquity. Their first titles were on literature, philosophy and history, including a German edition of Plato's works. Great attention was paid to value and design, two factors that remained throughout MY undergraduate career. Their objective was to deliver quality books at an affordable price; Goldscheider's contribution came in the elegant layout and handsome production; mine was to stun and amaze the Art History Dept where I studied.
The company soon became known across Europe for its high-quality books about art and architecture. The large-format art books first emerged in 1937, featuring works by Vincent van Gogh, Sandro Botticelli and the French Impressionists. Then they expanded the programme to include the works of art historians like Burckhardt, and the addition of beautiful photogravure plates. Then the published editions of fine C19th biographies of Raphael & Michelangelo both by Grimm, and Velázquez by Justi.
British success was possible with the help of publisher Sir Stanley Unwin, who later gave a graphic account of how he beat the German authorities in his autobiography The Truth about a Publisher (1960). For the next 14 years Phaidon books were distributed via George Allan & Unwin Ltd. Horovitz and Goldscheider expanded the large-format series to include books on Donatello, Bellini and Michaelangelo, many edited by Goldscheider himself. They had fine photo-gravure printers who kept high reproductive standards.
After the war the company launched innovative scholarly and popular art publishing. They published monographs on established and new artists, as well as surveys of various art movements. Their best known title, The Story of Art first published in 1950, had its origins in a chance meeting between Horovitz and Ernst Gombrich (1909-2001) on the top deck of a London bus. A fellow pre-war refugee from Vienna, Gombrich had become a research fellow teaching at the Warburg Institute in 1936. It was inspiration on the part of Horovitz to persuade him to write a one-volume survey of the history of art. The Story of Art, Ernst Gombrich's narrative survey, has sold 8+ million copies and has been translated into 30+ languages, becoming one of the best-selling art books EVER. The company also published the world's second best-selling art survey: The Art Book, which presented the work of 600 artists from the medieval era on.
Gombrich was just one of the great art historians published by Phaidon. Other famous authors were Sir Kenneth Clark, Bernard Berenson, Anthony Blunt and Rudolf Wittkower. Sir John Pope-Hennessy's high quality Introduction to Italian Sculpture was re-published later.
In 1951 publishing history was made with the first Phaidon Colour Plate book, which made artists' work readily available in colour to a wide audience at a reasonable price.
Following Horovitz’s death in 1955, Phaidon was taken over by his son-in-law, Harvey Miller. Miller continued the tradition of scholarship and high quality monographs and catalogues in New York. He expanded the Colour Plate series and many of Gombrich's more scholarly titles.
In 1967 Phaidon was sold to Frederick Praeger Inc, a part of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Praeger found the business unprofitable and in 1974 he sold to Elsevier. Phaidon books continued to be distributed in America and translated into many other languages.
The 1970s saw a great expansion in the number of staff and the number of titles. Like other contemporary publishers, Phaidon diversified into a range of areas, took on production and distribution of some Elsevier titles and began to buy in titles from publishers abroad. While many good quality books were published, the strong and distinguished Phaidon identity had been lost. Elsevier also found art books unprofitable and in 1981 a management buy-out was sorted by 4 directors under a holding company. Phaidon was acquired by Richard Schlagman in 1990. Schlagman hired the designer Alan Fletcher in 1993 to be the creative lead, and in 1998 Fletcher brought on board the young German designer Julia Hasting. She focused on conceptual book design, emphasising the art book as an object.