2013-05-08 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

Part of the excitement verifying the site of the Westminster Kennel Club (WKC) clubhouse and the 1887 grave of Sensation, WKC logo Pointer in Babylon is hunting for artifacts dating from the WKC (1880-1904) era.

Last summer I purchased an elaborately illustrated 1889 WKC award of commendation signed by the famous WKC Dog Show superintendent who lived here. The artwork and signature grabbed my eye. It took six months to figure out the identity of the dog named on the certificate.

In August, eBay offered a framed certificate from the 13th Bench Show of the Westminster Kennel Club which was held on February 19 through 22, 1889 in the first Madison Square Garden. That year, 1,372 dogs were entered at Westminster. I wanted to know more about just one dog.

The award of commendation was presented to “Tansy” or “Fansy” (gorgeous cursive writing was hard to decipher) from “Nahmke Kennels.” It was signed by James Mortimer who happened to be superintendent of the world’s most famous dog show from 1885 until 1915, the year of his death. Familiar Pointer profiles adorned two corners of the certificate that Mortimer himself had filled out.


Sensation on my 1889 certificate. James Mortimer with Bang Bang and Naso of Kippen at Westminister Kennel Club kennels in Babylon. Sensation on my 1889 certificate. James Mortimer with Bang Bang and Naso of Kippen at Westminister Kennel Club kennels in Babylon. From 1885-1892, Mortimer was also superintendent of the Westminster Kennel Club’s 64 acres in Babylon, and resident kennel manager for up to 200 WKC dogs in the kennels which I believe were near Morrison Street in the Southards woods at the north end of Babylon Village. A pack of Pointers used to tag along whenever Mortimer went shopping in the Village.

Mortimer (a well-respected dog expert from England) and his family resided in a Babylon farmhouse built in the 1700s that is now at 358 Livingston. This lovely home was the temporary WKC clubhouse (from 1880-1884) when it stood next to the pond. Then it was transported to the west side of Livingston where Mortimer lived, and moved again directly across the street after a huge fire. It is uncertain whether this was the 1918 fire that destroyed the newer WKC clubhouse built on the same spot by the pond where the old farmhouse had been for a century or by a 1923 brush fire that started in Pine Lawn. Confusing, right?

The seller listed the winner as a Mastiff, but dog memorabilia often falls into the hands of dealers who buy items at auction or from estates yet have no knowledge of canine history. In other words, we wanted to verify that “Tansy/Fansy” had been a Mastiff. His call name didn’t sound macho enough.

Besides private collections, only two places have sets of WKC show catalogues- the American Kennel Club (AKC) Library and the WKC office, both on Madison Avenue. First I called the archivist at the AKC Library, asking him to look at the Mastiffs in the 1889 WKC catalogue. There were none with either name, and no listing of Nahmke Kennels. When he heard the connection to Sensation, I was hoping he’d offer to go through the whole book but he didn’t.

Best In Show didn’t start at WKC until 1907. In the early days every winner was listed in the NY Times and Brooklyn Daily Eagle, so I went through the archives. Only first, second and third were posted, since “award of commendation” was similar to an honorable mention. I stumbled on the kennel name in reference to a Cocker, which then moved the focus to Spaniels. Nothing more comes up when you Google the kennel.

After a pre-show press conference, I visited the WKC office to look through the 1889 catalogue. Their booklet had belonged to James Mortimer because he had penciled his name inside, which makes sense, since he was in charge of the show.

While searching for “Tansy/Fansy,” calls started coming in to the WKC. Exhibitors were in a panic because the blizzard was forecast, and airports were already canceling flights which meant West Coast dogs and their handlers wouldn’t be getting to NYC in time for the show. Made me wonder how Mortimer would have handled such a scenario. Alas, 1889 was before Orville, Wilbur and Kitty Hawk.

A “Tansy” was listed in Class 94- Spaniels-Dogs (which means “male”) Field or Cocker (any color). Then his breed was narrowed down further in Class 85- Field Spaniel (other than liver or black). His birthday was May 17, 1888, and parents were Jumbo & Woodstock Nora. The present AKC standard for Field Spaniels doesn’t allow any solid colors other than black or liver, so my guess is that “Tansy” was a buff–colored Field Spaniel, and in those days the boundaries between Cockers and the larger Field Spaniels were less defined.

M y 1889 certificate has two Pointer head profiles. I am so fortunate to have the help of incredible experts. We knew the top was Sensation because we recognized the Tracy painting it came from, but Karen Blasche in Oregon, historian for the American Pointer Club realized the lower head was Bang Bang, another Babylon WKC Pointer when comparing it to his Tracy full body portrait.

Barbara Kolk who was AKC librarian for 17 years commented on the evolution of these certificates and how they morphed with changes in the dog world when she wrote: “We had one like that on the wall in the library. For me it was important because the motif of the certificate had changed by the end of the 1890s - as I remember it became more angular, linear, modern, urban, almost pre-industrial -- whereas this one is much more agricultural in tone. (In other words, the show started off as a reflection of real sportsmen in the field with real working dogs and, by the end of the 1890s, had become an urban exhibit of specimen dogs who hadn’t been tested for their functionality.) By the end of the 1890s, the show - and dog fancy - was growing enormously due to the influx of non-sporting breeds - like Collies - and ladies’ toy dogs.”

She has suffered at the hands of men; her beauty glows from within. “Chanel” #13-39 was picked up emaciated in January. Someone cropped her ears in a ridiculous way. Her face is a bit twisted so she has a perpetual smile. Despite all this, Chanel is lovable and easy going. She deserves a much better life.

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