From The Fanciers’ Journal, January, 1892 – contributed by Linda Rorem.
There have been three phases, or we might call them “epochs.” in collie exhibiting, says “Trefoil.” First there came the workman epoch, when judges would only award prizes to fine working dogs; when good size, bone, legs and feet, quality and density of coat were a sine qua non, while masculine faces with intelligent expressions were looked for as the correct head properties. Then came the coat epoch, when judges went crazy over the collie’s dress, which terrible infatuation too often made them blind to the most serious defects and faults. It was then such dogs as Smuggler, Dublin Scot, Rutland and their progeny had their innings. Some call it “the flat-catcher age.” However this may be, it is true that at this time the collie, like the nightingale in the feathered world, which is voice and nothing more, had coat and little else beside to recommend it Yet the craze of this epoch was not nearly so pernicious to the collie’s welfare as is the infatuation of the present day. Judges and fanciers, with a few exceptions, now bow down and worship before the narrow head of a brainless idol.
The collie’s historic sphere of utility and unique qualities and properties with which he was so liberally endowed to carry out the arduous work in that sphere are now thought of little moment in comparison with a long, refined head and semi-erect ears. The manufacturing towns of the North appear to be the rallying point of this false worship, for seven out of every ten prize winners of this type hail from this locality. A strange nursery indeed for the guardians of the flock on the snow-clad Grampians! A poet might write some touching lines on these poor exiles; how, amid the din and bustle and smoke, they turn their sad expressionless faces towards the thin blue Hue of their native hills and sigh over an enforced degeneracy. That they are beautiful dogs in their way nobody can deny, but to speak of them as lovely collies is another matter, for the majority of them are no more fitted to perform the work of the old Scotch collie than is the Laird, the lion of some London drawing room, to pursue the avocation of his Highland shepherd. There is no reason why beauty should not go hand in hand with utility, but at present unfortunately such is not the case.
There are now two classes of exhibitors —the moderates, who work quietly on the old lines, seeking to beautify and refine a working dog, and the progressives, who sacrifice utility and intelligence for beauty. At present the progressives hold the fort, and consequently the old Scotch collie is in danger of being improved off the face of the earth. “Why did you part with that bitch which was winning for you all over the country,” said one well-known exhibitor to another. “Because she was a fool,” was the reply. This, surely, should be the true spirit. Winning honors and prizes with brainless idiots should be but a poor compensation for the loss of intelligence and companionship, which every true fancier should look #for in his dogs. Unfortunately, the spirit of mammon is abroad, and “grist to the mill” is often the sole consideration.
The Collie Club has still a great work before it, and if the members will only rally round it, giving it a genuine and hearty support, there is no question that the club will do good service in bringing forward the true stamp of collie, and ensuring success in the show ring for specimens of the right sort. At the last general meeting it was evident that many members had the welfare of the club at heart; subscriptions towards a show early in the year were liberally given and everything points to a well-deserved success. It is to be hoped that such will be the case—otherwise it will sooner or later have to be recognized that the show bench collie is absolutely distinct from his ancient prototype, and the formation of an old Scotch Collie Club will have to be seriously considered.
Among the successful dogs of the year have been Metchley Wonder, Stracathro Ralph, Sefton Hero, Mons Meg, Southport Pilot, Edgbaston Excelsior, Red Comyn, Blair Athol II and Donovan II. Metchley Wonder has been too often criticised to need repetition. Good dog that he is, as a working sheep dog he would go down before the heroes of old times. Stracathro Ralph is on more workmanlike lines, full of quality and about at the top of the tree. Southport Pilot excels in head and ears. Edgbaston Excelsior, a dog of a different type, is spoilt by his expression, but still a useful sort. Blair Athol II is a beautiful dog, full of character, with plenty of bone and substance, and a grand coat of the right texture. Unfortunately, he is not a good mover behind, otherwise he would be hard to beat. Donovan II is the right stamp and a good mover withal. Sefton Hero has plenty of quality to satisfy modern tastes, the length of his head is prodigious, but he has a soft expression, and has the appearance of being more at home on the hearth rug or show bench than on the side of some snow-clad hill.
Among the bitches plenty of weeds have been prominent, but in selecting Portington Belle, Barwell Pearl and Pansy, Ormskirk Goldie, Mother Shipton and Dorothy for pride of place, we have in them beautiful specimens of what a collie bitch should be, and which,with judicious mating, ought to produce stock combining beauty, utility and intelligence.
To conclude this retrospect, the question has to be answered, has the breed made any progress? The answer depends solely on the light in which the collie is viewed. As a thing of beauty, or as a drawing-room pet, there has been distinct progress; as a working animal the retrograde movement is still to be lamented. The breed’s working qualities ought no more to be lost sight of than those of a pointer, setter or spaniel, but since this has been the case it is impossible to speak of material progress and advance. Give us a good working dog and let beauty come as an adornment and an added grace, and we shall cry content.