Few activities are focused on the present as much as dog shows. If you don’t win today the disappointment is all consuming: nothing else matters, and the feeling of rejection can be so strong it’s easy to lose all sense of proportion. It’s the same when you have a big win: you forget that this was just one show, a tiny spot in a vast universe of dog shows that take place all over the world, every weekend, year round, stretching back for well over a hundred years… What happens at dog shows is destined to be forgotten pretty soon by most people. OK, if you win BIS at Westminster that’s not true, and perhaps not at your national specialty or a few other shows either – but they are the exceptions. Even if you win a lot, will you remember a top dog once the ribbons start to fade? You may recall the name of whoever was Number 1 in your breed last year, but what about the year before that? Or in earlier years?
It was probably a longing for some permanence in the chase for wins and glory that first made me interested in dog show history. Wouldn’t it be nice if what we are doing today were somehow remembered in the future? If we have an impact on our breed and on the sport we love so much, shouldn’t somebody remember what we did? I’m not really sure why I first started collecting old dog magazines, books and catalogs, but on some level a wish to preserve the present for posterity must have had something to do with it.
The collection mania has gone on for many years now, and I have so much stuff that whenever any serious dog person comes for a visit and takes a first look at what I call my “archives” – which is really just part of our garage – they often wonder if they may spend a few weeks going through it all. Not that even several weeks would give anyone enough time to read it all: there’s a lot to look at, well over 100 feet of shelves filled to the bursting point. Whenever I go looking for anything, I almost invariably find something else that’s so interesting I forget what I was searching for in the first place, lose all concept of time and place, and just continue to read about days long gone. I know, realistically, that the past wasn’t necessarily any better than today, in fact quite often the opposite, but those faded pages have an allure that’s somehow unique. I keep turning the pages and forget about the present entirely…
Throwing Out that ‘Old Stuff’
There’s also a feeling that I have an obligation to save all these things because it seems nobody else is doing it. Most people throw out “old stuff” indiscriminately, and even the organizations whose responsibility it should be to safeguard the past often don’t have either the time or the interest to do so. Does your club have a really serious, dedicated historian or archivist? Does your club list all the past winners at your shows? Do you save photos of your club’s big winners for future generations, and do you make sure old breeders’ photos and memorabilia aren’t lost? Initially I got a lot of help whenever I wanted to research dog show history from the AKC library in New York, one of the most wonderful places in the world for anyone interested in this type of thing, with row upon row of well organized books, magazines and show catalogs. When I started to write my own breed club’s history, we didn’t even know when our club had been founded, but the AKC librarian at the time (Roberta Vesley, if my memory serves me correctly) helped me locate the American Whippet Club’s original letter of application for AKC membership, dated May 6, 1930. She also found records of all the early AWC specialties, which means that we now have complete, up-to-date information about the most important club activity. A lot of the major early breeders donated photographs for our club files as well. These days, however, AKC doesn’t employ a librarian, and although I believe you can still apply for time to visit, there’s no librarian there to guide you.
My “library” isn’t nearly as well organized or as large as AKC’s, of course, but I do have a lot of interesting stuff. This isn’t really a question of regular dog books. I’m sure many others have collections of dog books that are much more extensive than mine. I probably don’t have more than 1,000 volumes, which may sound like a lot, but really isn’t. I especially wish I could afford to buy all the antique dog books I’d like to have for reference, but most of them are very expensive.
Thousands of Photos
It’s on the subject of photographs and magazines that our library scores. In 1993, when Kennel Review closed its doors forever, my partner Paul Lepiane and I were lucky to take over its photo archives: six deep file cabinet drawers with thousands of photos of top winners of different breeds, many from as early as the 1940s and ‘50s, and covering half a century. Later on, when we published Dogs in Review, dog show photographers around the country generously sent sheaves of color glossies on a regular basis of the past month’s Best in Show winners. I can’t even begin to guess how many print images we have now, but there are hundreds of BIS photos in each of the more popular breeds (Dobermans, Cockers, Poodles, Fox Terriers, Pekingese…), fewer of the rare breeds, and almost none of those that AKC has added in more recent years.
I realize that “thousands of photos” may not sound like a lot today, when any amateur with a digital camera can shoot endless, nearly identical images of a single dog. This is different, though: we’re talking about the days when a photo session often resulted in just one single, carefully selected and treasured print photo. The older a photo is the more unique it is, and the chance that there will be any other images of that dog diminish exponentially with time. There are a few photos of BIS winners in the early 1900s that are almost irreplaceable, at least as far as I’m concerned. Some of them have already appeared on Best In Show Daily; others will be published in the future.
Identifying the winners, at least from the 1970s and later, presents its own problems. In the early days, photographers carefully pasted a typed label to the back of each photograph with details of the date and the club, name of the BIS winner, breed, owner, judge, and sometimes even handler and trophy presenter. Later on, probably because there were so many more shows, that habit stopped, so we have hundreds and hundreds of beautiful color pictures where nobody is identified. Sure, anyone who was around in those years may recognize some of the judges and handlers, but how do you figure out who the dog is? You would be surprised to find how quickly one forgets the actual registered name of even the greatest winners.
Identifying the Winners
Fortunately for identification purposes, in every BIS photo there is also a sign with the club’s name, the date or at least the year of the show, and of course the photographer’s name. That means it’s possible to find results from the show, and the names of the judge and the BIS winner, in the monthly issues of the AKC Awards, which include results of all AKC shows. Since we have a complete set of AKC Awards from 1991 until they ceased publication six years ago, and the CDs that were produced with these results from May 2007 through the end of 2011, I can figure out who almost any BIS winner for those years was. It takes a little time, but it almost always works. Today, of course, the results from all AKC shows are on its website. I can only hope that they will stay up there forever.
Now, when you next see a photo of a famous past winner on Best In Show Daily, you’ll know that most likely a certain amount of research went into figuring out who that dog was. To be honest, there are also hundreds of informal photographs in our files of dogs that can’t be identified with any certainty because there’s no sign, no name on the back, and no handler or judge is pictured. That’s when I wish I had a really knowledgeable breed historian to consult. (One day, in fact, it might be interesting to print some of these photos under the heading “Who’s This Dog?” Readers may know more than I do.)
There is also a fair number of photos of dogs from foreign countries in the archives. I’ve always felt it’s important for American fanciers to know what the best dogs in other countries look like. Over the years, many overseas photographers have contributed generously to the collection we have, but it’s important to remember that not so long ago the world of show dogs was a lot smaller than it is now. In the early days many American dog fanciers felt it was really only Great Britain and continental Europe that mattered “overseas.” Australia and New Zealand entered the general consciousness of U.S. dog people in the 1970s, around the same time as Scandinavia and, gradually, Latin America, and over the past couple of decades it’s amazing to see how many good dogs have come out of Asia, Russia and Eastern Europe, areas that in the past were simply white spots on the dog world map. But of course today we’re dealing almost entirely with digital images, and they require a whole different kind of archive than the one I’m talking about.
Modern Dog Show Advertising in the ‘50s
Along with the Kennel Review photograph files came the magazines. Today’s fanciers, if they have even heard of Kennel Review, may know that this was a ground-breaking magazine that introduced modern dog show advertising in the 1950s and ‘60s, setting the bar high for later publications. For many years it was the ultimate in California glamour, but Kennel Review in fact started in Kansas in the 1800s. My oldest issue dates from 1896, and we have an almost complete set from the early 1900s through the late 1920s. From 1934 through 1958 there are bound, annual volumes, and then there’s a complete set of increasingly thick issues going all the way up to the end in 1993. By the 1950s and ‘60s, some of the monthly issues were already getting huge, but I think the peak came with the 1983 Kennel Review Annual that was 656 pages thick!
Of course there is also a complete set of Dogs in Review, the magazine that Paul Lepiane and I published in the past, from its humble start as a slight but serious newspaper (remember?) in 1997. The change in format and increase in size came gradually, and several of the annuals in the early years of the 21st century were around 600 pages or more. I don’t think Dogs in Review was necessarily the biggest dog magazine ever, but I doubt that any other print publication about show dogs has ever contained as much high quality reading material as Dogs in Review did in those years. Maybe I’m biased, but enough dog people I respect – including Kennel Review publisher Rick Beauchamp – have told me that I must believe it’s true. Again, this was very much a question of “preserving the past.”
Does anyone today remember National Dog? In the 1970s it was a serious rival to Kennel Review, and this is where Paul Lepiane learned his first publishing lessons as a teenager – something that later came in handy when we published several special-interest dog magazines at the same time as Dogs in Review. However, the National Dog publishers eventually ran out of steam and ceased publication. Other old dog publications had a longer life: Popular Dogs was, as far as I know, the first one to publish annual statistics about top show dogs, and Dog World was for many years a serious show dog magazine that later on morphed into a pet publication. There were many others: Field and Fancy was published for at least a couple of decades in the early 1900s, and all the important breeders seemed to advertise their kennels in it, but eventually the magazine obviously ran afoul of AKC: a 1923 issue openly proclaims on its cover that “THIS PAPER IS BOYCOTTED BY THE A.K.C. OF N.Y.”
A World of Dog Magazines
Then, of course, there are the foreign publications. I have read the Dog World newspaper from England (no connection to the U.S. title) every week since the 1960s, and if I had saved every issue I could build a house with them. It is not like any American dog publication that I know of, more like Variety and some other trade weeklies. These days I cut out the good features once a year and toss the rest, but the wonderful, glossy Dog World and Our Dogs annuals stay on the shelf. I have a complete set of Dog World Annuals from 1958, although the oldest issues are so worn they are carefully preserved in plastic bags!
There are Kennel Gazettes from England’s Kennel Club, National Dog from Australia, and tons of Hundsport from Sweden – would you believe this magazine has a wider circulation than most dog publications in larger countries, with over 100,000 copies printed monthly? There are big stacks of dog publications from Europe, Latin America, Japan, China and Russia. Most recently I received a glamorous Eastern European magazine titled simply “Best in Show,” which in spite of its name has nothing to do with this newsletter. On occasion a foreign magazine may even reprint something I wrote, by permission or not, although of course I have no way of knowing how accurate a translation is if I don’t speak the language.
Then there are the catalogs. Although I have a few dog show catalogs from early in the 1900s, we have complete sets from Westminster and Santa Barbara only since the late 1970s. (The late, great photographer Joan Ludwig gave me a couple of her SBKC catalogs from the 1960s. They are invariably beat-up, because she used to toss them to get the dog’s attention, and there are lots of mostly indecipherable, sometimes entertaining notes: “Do NOT send photos to XX before payment,” for instance…) There are also a few old and all the “new” Morris & Essex catalogs (can’t wait for the next M&EKC show in 2015!), and several from the Montgomery County Kennel Club Terrier extravaganza. I have saved quite a few Crufts catalogs and also several from the FCI World Show, but we don’t have complete sets of either. (Does even FCI have all its own records? I have heard from exhibitors who tried to establish past World Show records and got no help whatsoever from the organizer.)
There’s the catalog from the AKC Centennial show in Philadelphia in 1984 – 8,074 dogs were entered, more than any AKC show before or since – and of course all the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship catalogs. I even have a complete set of AKC’s printed Judges Directory starting in 1979, from which it’s possible to determine exactly when someone was approved for this or that breed.
Records of All AKC Top Winners
It has been my pleasure, or perhaps I should say obsession, to consult the archives I have at my disposal for facts and data that were then published in a number of books, articles and special features. Thanks to the archives – first AKC’s, then my own – I have records of every documented top winner in American dog show history. At the touch of a few keystrokes, I can tell you who the top winners were in 1985, or 1955, or even 1925. Not that these records are infallible: for one thing, in the early years nobody took Best in Show as seriously as we do today. You can find old show reports that don’t even mention who won the show – if there even was such an award, which was not always the case. And of course I make mistakes. But for what it’s worth I have made an effort to save as many valuable old publications and records as possible with the ultimate objective to preserve them for the next generation of dog fanciers. It is my hope that in the future we will be able to publish much of all this information, old articles and historical photos, on Best In Show Daily.
Just like all other AKC judges, I receive a slew of print magazines in my mailbox – every month, every week, almost every day. Most of them are basically glossy ad catalogs, not worthy of more than a cursory glance, and every couple of months or so I have to clean out my “current” shelf. However, before I do that I go through everything and cut out anything that could possibly be of lasting interest. There’s usually not a whole lot, which is probably just as well. If I saved everything we get, I would, quite literally, drown in dog magazines…
But it’s important to find and save the good stuff for those who come after us. If it’s true, as wise men have said ever since Confucius, that to know about the future you have to learn from the past, we can only hope that the next generation of dog people will be interested in what happened in our sport over the past century and a half.