Thirty years of attending dog shows have helped me to amass a serious collection of show catalogs. Most are from all-breed conformation shows, but many are from specialty shows, including the National Specialties I’ve attended as both spectator and exhibitor. Many of these booklets have been all but forgotten, taking up valuable storage space and collecting dust. They’ve become so much a part of our home’s décor that I don’t really even see them anymore.

Every so often, I’ll take one of the catalogs down from its shelf to verify a specific piece of information. More often than not, I’ll then find myself leafing through several pages and an entire day spent at a dog show comes back to life. Those dusty old catalogs provide the information that memory has all but erased.

The cover of the Kennel Club of Philadelphia’s 1981 show catalog.

The first show I attended was the Kennel Club of Philadelphia’s 86th benched show in 1980, held at the Philadelphia Civic Center. Back then, I was unaware that show catalogs were available, so I hadn’t purchased a keepsake to commemorate my humble introduction to the fancy. The following year, however, I did get my hands on one, and in this volume I find a photo with the names of the winning team from the previous year.

My recollection of that day has dimmed quite a bit, but I do recall a tremendous excitement when a happy little Terrier won Best in Show. Cheers and applause interrupted a hushed silence, and this dramatic finish is forever recorded in my well-worn, 248-page paperback.

Dr. Josephine Duebler awards 1980’s Best in Show to the Norwich Terrier Ch. Thrumpton’s Lord Brady, handled by Peter Green. Trophy presented by club president, William L. Kendrick.

Show catalogs, of course, contain more than just the names of the winning dog and handler. In fact, they contain the names of every dog entered in the show, as well as the names of their sires and dams, birthdates and AKC registration numbers.

The figures that represent the 1981 show are interesting to revisit. That year, 2,668 individual dogs of 132 breeds and varieties were entered in conformation, with a total entry of 2,763. Specialties were held for Doberman Pinschers and Saint Bernards, and seven regional clubs – Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, Borzoi, Irish Wolfhounds, Bullmastiffs, Siberian Huskies, Australian Terriers and Bull Terriers – supported the entry in their respective breeds.

By today’s standards, entries were fairly remarkable back in 1981. The Quaker City Doberman Pinscher Club Inc. welcomed 135 individuals for judge Mr. P. Levi Marsman to evaluate. Mrs. Estelle Booxbaum drew 94 dogs for the Siberian Husky Club of Delaware Valley Inc., and Mrs. James Warwick judged 75 Labrador Retrievers and 63 Golden Retrievers without the support of specialty club sponsorships. Likewise, Mr. Alexander Feldman found his unsupported entry in Great Danes at 63.

Breeds with noteworthy entries at this benched show were Afghan Hounds, 57; Irish Setters, 56; Boxers, 54; and Saint Bernards, 48. Mrs. Lydia Hutchinson’s entries in all three Poodle varieties: Standard, 49; Miniature, 45; and Toy, 37, were made without any organized effort from a regional club.

The 1981 judging panel of 33 lists some of the most sought-after names of the day including Jane Forsythe, Virginia Hampton, Ken McDermott, Charles Ruppert, and Mr. and Mrs. E.W. Tipton Jr. Twenty-four individual rings were necessary for these expert adjudicators to evaluate their entries, and the public welcomed the chance to meet the dogs at the massive benching areas established for this single show.

Going “best” at Philadelphia has long been prelude to a possible Westminster win. My old catalog bears the names of those dogs that followed up a Civic Center victory with a Madison Square Garden party to remember. Included on this list are: the Toy Poodle, Ch. Wilbur White Swan, handled by Anne Rogers Clark; the English Springer Spaniel, Ch. Chinoe’s Adamant James, handled by Clint Harris; the Sealyham Terrier, Ch. Dersade Bobby’s Girl, handled by Peter Green; and the Irish Water Spaniel, Ch. Oaktrees Irishtocrat, handled by Bill Trainor.

Mrs. Robert D. Smith awards Best in Show at the 2009 Kennel Club of Philadelphia to the Scottish Terrier Ch. Roundtown Mercedes of Maryscot, handled by Gabriel Rangel. Trophies presented by club director, William Burland, president, Wayne Ferguson, and representative from Purina.

The 2009 winner, Scottish Terrier Ch. Roundtown Mercedes of Maryscot, handled by Gabriel Rangel, was the last Best in Show winner at Philadelphia to triumph at the Garden the following year.

Standing idle on our shelves, show catalogs seem more relic than treasure. Yet, on those tattered pages, important figures that helped shape our sport come back to life. Everything we see and do today is owed to them.

More than simple record books, show catalogs are an important way to keep the past alive. They remind us of all the great dogs that circled the ring long before we had breeding programs of our own, and they inspire us to do our very best for the sport we’ve enjoyed for so many years.