Charles H. Wheeler On The History Of The Collie

Excerpted from The dog book, Volume 1, James Watson – 1906

Mr. Wheeler most kindly consented, when asked a year ago to contribute from his store of knowledge of the old-time dogs, and on being reminded more recently of his promise, replied that he was writing exactly what we had asked for the Illustrated Kennel News, and the one contribution should do for both. To Mr. Wheeler we are also indebted for most of the photographs of olden-time collies, including that remarkable one of Cocksie, another dog from Cockie, which in the printed description of dog and owner is specifically stated to be a photograph of the dog himself. It has never been hitherto published, neither has that of Nesta, which we owned, as we also did her sister, Floss, who died within a few days of her arrival in New York, when heavy in whelp to Mr. Boddington’s Rob Roy McGregor.

“That the strains of the majority of the early progenitors of our collies, whose pedigrees are in obscurity, emanated from Scotland, and that their blood is traceable to the pure working sheep dog, there is no reason to doubt. When the breed became fashionable as household pets, and classes were provided for them in dog shows, undoubtedly many of the most handsome specimens were obtained from the north region, and so supplied the material that founded the Warwickshire strain, which, in a great measure, forms the basis of the pedigrees of all collies that have any pretensions to prize-winning qualifications.

“About the year 1860 classes were first provided for sheep dogs at the Birmingham Show, and at the show in 1863 the entries numbered six only. However, the entries steadily increased until they reached as many as forty-five at the show held in Birmingham in 1874, and it was about this era that breeding for show points started in earnest, more especially as applied to Birmingham and the surrounding district, the principal breeders being Mr. M. C. Ashwin, Mr. J. Bissell, Mr. W. A. Walker, Mr. D. Tomlin- son, Messrs. W. H. and J. Charles, and the writer.

“At this period collies were to be seen of almost every imaginable colour—buff’, red, mottle of various shades, not many sables; but the commonest of all colours were black, tan and white, black and white (without tan), and what are now called blue merle but were then known as tortoise-shell.

“Of the names of the old progenitors, the first to claim attention is Old Cockie, a grand dog, who in his day had no compeer, although occasionally in the show ring he had to give way to his inferiors. Besides being a handsome show dog, he had the reputation of being a capital worker with sheep.

“Old Cockie was born in the year 1867, and was the winner of upward of forty prizes, including firsts and cups at Birmingham and Nottingham two years in succession, the Border Counties’ Champion Cup at Carlisle, and the Mayor of Maidstone’s Cup at the Southern Counties’ Show. On August 19, 1875, he was sold by auction at the Midland Counties’ Repository, Birmingham, the hammer falling to the bid of Mr. D. Tomlinson, who in a short time afterward sold him to Mr. J. Bissell, the age of the dog being then nine years or thereabouts, and the first litter begot by him for this owner marked the commencement of the show success of the Great Barr Kennels.

“Old Cockie was a medium-sized dog, as compared with some of the giants of the present day, very compactly built, and sound in legs and feet. His head was consistent in length, and certainly true collie in type, ears semi-erect, coat on body not extra long but very dense, being well supplied with a wet-resisting undercoat, and the habit of his coat was such that it formed a distinct mane on the neck and a cape on the shoulders. In colour he was rich sable, with white markings, and it is an absolute fact that, at the present time, every collie of the sable colour dates back to Old Cockie as the introducer of the colour.

“Carlyle, who was bred from an old Scotch strain of working collies, came from Denbigh, in North Wales, and was first exhibited by Mr. Skidmore by the name of Garryowen. He was very good in type of head, placement of eye, and collie character; was likewise good in coat and ears. In colour he was black-and-tan, but, being heavily marked with tan similar to a bloodhound, was often called sable colour. His greatest sin, however, was an overshot mouth.

“Mr. W. W. Thomson introduced Marcus, a black-and-white dog (without tan), bred in Scotland. A nice-headed dog this, with good ears and the right sort of coat. Old Mec and Old Hero, both black-tan-and- white, were good-coated dogs. The former had the better-shaped head of the two, but, being very dark in eye, just lacked the pleasing collie expression, whilst the latter’s head was wanting in character, being too square in muzzle.

“Mr. S. E. Shirley brought out several black-tan-and-whites, which were bred on his estate in Ireland, and they met with success on the show bench. These were Tricolour, Trefoil, Hornpipe, Hualakin and Tartan, and, although they were long-coated animals, there was a distinct taint of the setter about them, more especially the latter, who favoured the setter type more than that of the collie. Nevertheless, the crossing of this strain with those of Old Cockie and Old Mec proved successful, as evidenced by the production of the illustrious Charlemagne.

“Tramp, bred in Ireland, was a good-coated dog of a red colour, a bit sour in expression and weak in front pins; he was shown at the Alexandra Palace Show in 1879 by Mr. Richardson Carr.

“At the Bristol Show held in October, 1879, the Rev. Hans F. Hamilton put in competition a strong team, which consisted of Angus, Captain, Jock, Tricolour II., Eva, Ruby III., and a litter from the latter by Marcus, which contained Donald, Zulu Princess and Madge I.

“Lufra, who was bred from a celebrated working strain indigenous to the district of Blair Athol, mated with an unshown son of Old Cockie, produced Duncan, a dappled sable in colour, and the remainder of the litter were blue merles. Old Bess, black-tan-and-white, was true collie in type, very intelligent, and a clever worker with sheep. From the union of her with Duncan the issue was Lorna Doon, Nesta, Floss, Varna, Bonnie Laddie, Druce, and Malcolm I., and thus the Duncan-Bess quality strain was founded.


“The starting-point of Mr. Bissell’s show success was a litter by Old Cockie ex Mr. Ashwin’s Lassie, which produced Clydesdale and Cocksie, both winners of many prizes. Meg, by Old Mec, ex Clyde, visited Old Cockie, from which union came Maude, a short-legged sable bitch, rather short in head, yet nice in expression. This bitch was bred to Tartan, and produced Lorna, who was put to her grandsire, Old Cockie, and produced Wolf. The next litter from Maude was by Trefoil, and contained six, which were remarkable for their dissimilitude one to the other. The star of the litter was Charlemagne, a beautifully shaded sable with showy white markings, whose immense coat helped to give him a very attractive appearance, but he was built on cloddy lines. He, however, had a decent head, and although his ears were not absolutely pricked there was only a slight suggestion of a bend at the extreme tips. Trevor, another sable-and-white, was a dog of distinctly different type and conformation; head a fair length, but deep in muzzle and lippy; ears big, and carried low, was well furnished with coat, and built on racing lines; his very gay tail carriage, however, was an abomination. Topper, another dog with heavy ears, in colour black with rich tan markings, had a long coat, but in head and general appearance too much of the setter type. Bell, a black-tan-and-white bitch with one prick ear, had a good coat and not a bad type of head. Effie and Flirt, two red sable bitches, whose superiority lay in their typical heads, were cloddy in build. They, however, had good coats, and both gained distinctions in the show ring.

“Following Charlemagne, the next sensational dog to be produced was Rutland, a black-and-tan, bred by the Rev. Hans F. Hamilton. He had a very good coat, but was a bit on the small side, and his head was not long, but nice in shape and correct in expression, and his ears were small and carried in perfect manner.

“Being by Wolf ex Madge I., Rutland was a combination of the blood of Old Mec, Trefoil, Old Cockie and Marcus.

“The next important dog to make history was Metchley Wonder, a nicely marked sable-and-white. Just a nice-sized dog, not too big nor yet a little one, excelling in body, legs and feet, he possessed a beautiful coat and frill, and a typical head, set off with good ears. He was born in March, 1886, and was without doubt the best all-round show collie produced up to the date of his initiation to the show ring. In analysing his pedigree, it will suffice to say of his sire, Sefton, that he was by Charlemagne, out of Madge I., whilst on his dam’s side, at the starting point, is Lassie, by Bailey’s Jack, the latter a winner of second prize at Birmingham Show in 1872. Lassie was a very nice blue merle, and a real good worker with sheep. She, mated with Druce, produced Bonnie Greta, who, mated with Bonnie Laddie, produced Catrine, sable-and-white (the remainder of the litter blue merles), who was mated with Loafer, and Minnie was the result. Bonnie Laddie and Druce, being both by Duncan ex Bess, and Loafer’s granddam being Hasty, by Carlyle ex Glen, fresh blood enters into the combination at this point, with specimens of the blue merle colour in the families of Duncan and Lassie.

“Metchley Wonder’s son, Christopher, was the next sire of notoriety, but it cannot be said that a change of blood was added till the phenomenal sire Edgbaston Marvel made his effort. He was by Christopher ex Sweet Marie, the latter conveying the blood of Tramp, through Smuggler, likewise the blood of Old Hero, whilst Yarrow and Comet appear in the pedigree of Edgbaston Marvel’s son, Southport Perfection. At the starting point of the pedigree of Mr. Agnew’s strain is to be found Scot, who belonged to Mr. Wright, of Birmingham. Scot was never shown, albeit a truly characteristic medium-sized collie, with a profuse coat and a most typical head, and he was as good a worker with sheep as he was handsome. Being the sire of Quicksilver, he was, of course, grandsire of Molly Swan. Besides the aforementioned, Mr. Arkwright’s blue merle strain, as well as a host of bitches of unknown pedigrees, mostly obtained from shepherds, enter into the composition, so, after all that may be said about collies being inbred, it is a question whether or not they suffer as much from the probable effects of in-breeding as show specimens of other breeds.

“Now, with regard to the special features of the different strains, undoubtedly in head and expression claims of superiority were due to Old Cockie, Duncan, Bess, and Madge I., whilst for coat the strains of Charlemagne and Smuggler were conspicuous.

“Comparing the exhibition collies of to-day with those of twenty-five years ago, a distinct improvement is manifest, and a smaller percentage of worthless mongrels appear on the show bench.

“The great improvement so apparent in legs and feet is really remarkable, as years ago weak ankles and cowhocks were common faults, whereas to-day they are rarely in evidence, and to Metchley Wonder is no doubt due the advancement in that direction. .

“Taking the general average of specimens, there is a noticeable improvement in coat, but still there is a tendency to the lack of those distinguishing features—mane, frill and cape—which embellished some of the old favourites, and which affords an admirable background to set off the head and ears of a collie. But how many exhibits are to be seen nowadays with the hair plucked from round the base of the ears, evidently done with the idea of helping the animal’s appearance, instead of which the opposlte effect is produced, and the ears have an unnatural appearance, suggestive of a dog recovering from skin disease.

The greatest disparity observable is in type of head, and, to an extent, no doubt the responsibility is traceable to Charlemagne; for although his own head was tolerable in shape, other members of his family were very faulty in head properties. Charlemagne’s stock was very unreliable in type and colour, some coming with short heads and big eyes, and others dished-faced and lippy, most erratic as regards ears, and in colour many white with dark markings on face and ears, and some liver and white similar to some varieties of spaniels.

“Years ago, many collies had objectionable light eyes, an introduction came through Carlyle with specimens of the mouse colour, but such have been bred out, and now it is seldom one sees a collie with eyes approaching lemon colour. The colour of eye that most suits the expression of a collie is a deep shade of hazel, a very dark eye better h the expression of a terrier.

“Texture of coat is often mentioned, and may be misunderstood by novices. Therefore it should be worthy of note that where the undercoat is plentiful the outercoat is prevented from feeling harsh to the touch.

“Then there is the question of size, and the reason why the craze for extra big dogs should exist can only be attributed to the fact that the inestimable value of the work this breed of dog should be capable of performing on the hills is being lost sight of. Collies are not naturally such big, heavy dogs as one sometimes reads about, or they would be too cumbersome to encounter rough mountain work.

“There is not the slightest reason why collies should not be judged on the exact lines that serve to suit them for the work they have to fulfil, because general appearance need not be sacrificed thereby. Therefore in giving due consideration to the important working qualities of this, the most useful of all breeds of dogs, an additional advantage should not be given to exaggeration in size (other points equal) over a competitor whose size fits him for the work of a sheep dog.

“It is often said that a good big one can beat a good little one, but it does not apply in the case of a sheep dog’s work on the mountain. As for instance, with the sheep trial dog, Ormskirk Charlie, by Christopher, no dog could display a better exhibition of work when on the lowland, but he very often had to give way to smaller dogs when the run out was up a mountain, his extra size and weight proving a disadvantage.

“The weights given below of some of the dogs that took part in laying the foundation of our present strain of collies will serve to convey an idea of the natural size of a sheep dog, but it is necessary to point out that the animals of the lighter weights were in working condition: Lufra, 30 pounds; Old Bess, 28 pounds; Lorna Doon, 28 pounds; Nesta, 28 pounds; Bonnie Laddie, 44 pounds; Druce, 44 pounds; Malcom I., 49 pounds, and Loafer, 49 pounds.

“The prevailing characteristic that most strongly denotes the breed of any dog is the head and expression, and in the typical collie these features are most pronounced, the formation of head and placement of eye rendering an expression peculiar to the race which is not easy to describe. Upward of twenty years ago, Mr. J. A. Doyle described the true expression of a collie as being a mixture of “kindliness and craft,” which seems as near correct as possible. Of late years there has been too much discussion in favour of abnormal length of head, which seemed likely to have the pernicious effect of forcing some foreign concoction to displace the true characteristic collie, but quite recently has been most gratifying to observe that some of our oldest and most experienced judges have awakened to the fact, and their adjudications have pointed conclusively to their tenaciously keeping to the correct type, to the exclusion of the long, untypical-headed brigade.

“Some difference of opinion exists as to the capabilities of our show breed of collies for the work of a sheep dog, but doubt need not intrude on this point, for it is a safe affirmation that hundreds of them are engaged in that occupation all over the country, and many of them very clever performers. One in particular, by Edgbaston Royal ex a Tottington Pilot bitch, is a winner on the show bench and a wonderfully good worker.”

We can fully support what Mr. Wheeler says as to the working capabilities of show collies. When we were breeding from the Nesta strain at Philadelphia, Charley Raftery, a well-known stockyards drover, always had one or more of our dogs at work, and these included our best prize winners. More recently we let Mr. W. S. McClintock, of Galva, 111., have Cavehill Cardinal, a son of Parkhill Pinnacle, which was a winner at the Collie Club and New York shows of two years ago. When we wanted him East six months later, the manager at Mr. McClintock’s farm told him the dog did two men’s work on the place and positively refused to let him go, so Mr. McClintock bought him. Then we sent him an old Parkhill Squire bitch that did not know anything about sheep, and Cardinal taught her in a few weeks nearly all he knew. Finally we left Lady Pink with Mr. McClintock when we took her to the Chicago Show, and it is only a few days ago that we got a letter from Galva in which Pink is mentioned as being in good health and proving herself a first-class stock dog.

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