The Million Dollar Collie

A healthy transatlantic Collie industry supported the rist of the large kennels in North America. In 1888 the banker and financier J.P. Morgan set up a Collie kennel called Cragston on the Hudson River in New York and paid considerable amounts for British dogs. He purchased Wishaw Clinker, for example, for $4,000. Samual Untermyer, who joined the Collie breeding ranks in 1904, competed with Morgan for the ownership of important Collies.

In 1900, J.P. Morgan paid the record sum of $8,500 for an imported dog from England. While there are several common ways of evaluating the magnitude of such a purchase in today’s dollars–ranging from almost $200,000 to well over $5 million–the conclusion is the same: this was a serious purchase that not only set records, it set the tone for frivolity and excess that makes the fancy, well, fancy.

In 2007, $8,500.00 from 1900 is worth:

$216,511.92 using the Consumer Price Index
$185,441.57 using the GDP deflator
$575,611.19 using the value of consumer bundle
$992,678.57 using the unskilled wage
$1,437,377.28 using the nominal GDP per capita
$5,706,274.98 using the relative share of GDP

The battle between American Collie fanciers would escalate and reach $10,000 and up for a single dog before the first decade of the 19th Century was over. Here’s an article from 1900 that describes the purchase and also delves into the state of the Collie in general.

While exorbitant prices were paid for these famous British dogs, it doesn’t seem like anyone really got their money’s worth. None of these imported dogs ever produced offspring that lived up to their sires and the general attitude of the British was that they sold their crap dogs to the Americans for a premium.

The San Fransico Call
November 11, 1900

Collie Dog Worth $8500

By paying $8500 for Southport Perfection, the grand collie dog from the famous Stretch kennels in England, J. Pierpont Morgan has established the record price for a dog. The next highest price (paid for a champion St. Bernard a few years ago) was $1500 less than this sum.

Southport Perfection is an Ormskirk collie. Mr. Morgan and his kennel manager, Bob Armstrong, pin their faith on this grand strain, with much good reason, for most of the champions of the past few years are almost straight Ormskirk blood. One need mention merely such names as Ormskirk Connie and Ormskirk Galepin, owned by Mr. Morgan; Ormskirk Emerald, owned till recently by A. H. Megson of England; Roy, owned by Queen Victoria; Sowerby Squire and Ormskirk Cornishman, still owned by Mr. Stretch–to realize how powerful and reliable this blood is.

Until the arrival of Southport Perfection the star of J. Pierpont Morgan’s Cragston kennels, in his beautiful place in Highland Falls, was Ornament, notable for his size as well as for the beauty of his coat. Before him there reigned Sefton Hero and Ruford Ormond, both dogs which, all things considered, probably were in their day (and not so long ago, either) as beautiful collies as there were in the world. Sefton Hero is out of Gladdie and Lady Wonder, and Rufford Ormond is out of Ormskirk Chriss and Lady Margaret.

No other dog in the world to-day combines so many fine points as does the collie. In mere beauty he leads all other breeds easily. He is as stately and proud as a king. Few other breeds equal and none excel the collie in intelligence. He is as gentle as a child and as affectionate as a fine type of human being. He is large enough to satisfy any one except the man who loves dogs for the sake of size alone.

It is not likely that the Scotch collie ever will be come a cheap dog. Few dogs are so difficult to breed. Litter after litter from even the best obtainable strains have an exasperating tendency to turn out worthless from a fancier’s point of view. The pups are deficient either in bone or coat, or their ears insist on pricking instead of being semi-erect. This point about the ear is one of the most difficult to overcome. Some of the best dogs shown in recent years have had the prick ear to such an extent that it was found necessary to doctor them by slitting the skin inside the ear and stitching it down to hold the ear as it should be. Veterinary surgeons are being called on perpetually to perform this operation. A collie that is deficient in bone generally is hopeless. Sometimes careful feeding while he is still very young will help him, but generally such a dog remains undersized. This uncertainty about breeding makes blood that will tell like the Ormskirk blood particularly valuable. It made Rufford Ormond worth $1000 a year to his original English owner as a stud dog.

The fashionable color is now sable and white. Apart from fashion, there is no question about its being the most striking and beautiful color for a coll
ie. Handsome as the black and white or the tri-colored dogs are, there is something about the sable and white that makes the dog look absolutely regal. Almost all of the better dogs in the Cragston kennels are of this color, and it predominates so much generally nowadays that last year’s show in New York was made up almost exclusively of dogs with this marking.

The word “sable” when applied to the collie’s markings does not mean black. It means red. And the nearer the sable of a collie’s coat approaches the color of the fox the better is the breeder pleased. A fine dog with perfect coat of this color, with his wolf-like face and lithe movements, certainly looks more like some superb wild creature of the highest type than like a domesticated dog.

It is this “wild beast” feature of the collie which has instilled into many minds the idea that the dog is snappish and treacherous and dangerous. Nothing can be further from the truth, however, and if one will study the beautiful, deep and truthful eyes of the breed he will have no reason for adhering to any unfavorable opinion. When a collie’s temper is bad he is about as bad a dog as can be. The only safe thing to do with such a specimen is to give him away at once to one’s enemy. But there is hardly one thoroughbred collie in five hundred that is anything except lovable from the top of his honest head to the tip of his glorious brush.

The collie, as he has become known in the United States, is a dog far different from his progenitor, the working sheep dog of Scotland and the north of England. He has been bred too “fine” for many generations to withstand the weather and the hard work which are the lot of the shepherd’s dog. Exposure like that to which the working collie is subjected night after night and day after day would carry the pure bred type off with pneumonia in twenty-four hours. In order to maintain ruggedness in their dogs the shepherds cross the collie every few generations with other breeds. This produces a dog with much more bone and chest, and without the perfect beauty of the collie as we know him. Black and white are the predominating colors of the working collie. The head is shorter and the face is blunt as compared with the fine fox-like mask of the show dog.

Size and bone have been a predominant feature of the collies that have been exhibited recently in the United States. But in England there is a fad just now for dwarf collies, and delightful little creatures they are. They have all the typical collie points. Indeed, it is demanded that they be pluperfect. They must be fully as fine in coat and their shape and limb must be exactly as good as they are in large collies, but they are not much larger than a spaniel. Dwarf collies may turn out to be a fad even more expensive than the ordinary dog, for if it is hard to breed a perfect large collie it is still more difficult to breed a perfect dwarf. Few have been seen as yet on this side, but it is said that there will be an importation in time for the next dog show. One was bred in New Jersey and now is owned in Brooklyn, which is said to be a perfect type.

She is a blue-blooded little collie, for she has Sefton Hero, Rufford Ormond, Duncan Gray, Rose Hill Certainty, Lady Christopher, Ormskirk Dolly, Champion Scotilla, Bertha and Bendico in her pedigree. She illustrates in a marked manner the uncertainty which attends collie breeding. Almost all her line were large dogs. None was unusually small.

The standard of excellence in judging collies now is as follows: The dog must be a lithe, active dog of elegant and pleasing outline, with a combination of speed, strength and intelligence. The head should be moderately long, covered with soft, short hair, skull flat and with very little stop, eyes almond-shaped, of fair size, but not prominent, placed rather wide apart, and the darker brown in color the better. The ears should be small, covered with soft, short hair, and carried semi-erect when at attention, but at other times thrown back. The neck should be long, arched and muscular; the chest deep and narrow in front, but wide behind the shoulders, and the back short and level with the loins, rather long, slightly arched, yet powerful. The legs should be straight, muscular, rather flat of bone, hind quarters slightly drooping and very long from hips to hock and hocks well bent, the pasterns long and springy, with the soles of the feet well padded and the toes arched and compact. The tail, to be carried low when the dog is quiet, of moderate length, and when he is excited to be carried gayly, and almost straight when he is running.

The coat as required should be abundant, except on the head and legs’ the outer coat straight, hard and rather stiff; the inner coat soft, furry and very dense, so as to make it difficult to find the skin; the frill (a mass of hair on the breast) very abundant; hair on the tail very profuse and on the hips long and bushy; forelegs slightly feathered, while the hind legs below the hocks are smooth. Weight of dogs, forty-five to sixty pounds; bitches, forty to fifty pounds.

The defects most to be avoided are a domed skull high-peaked occipital bone’ heavy, pendulous ears; full, round eyes; heavy feathered legs and short tail.

As an example of a collie head, that of J. Pierpont Morgan’s Ormskirk Galopin may be cited. His head is 11 1/2 inches long, very fine and tapering in the muzzle, and is considered typical.

The above description is a fascinating snapshot of a breed which is already distinct from the Border Collie, a pale imitation in intelligence and temperament, but not yet a total inbred wreck. The difficulty in “breeding them well” comes from heterzygosity and a diverse gene pool. This is a good thing for health, a bad thing for show breeders who want to produce clones.

The description also lets us know that the dog is useless for work, starting to show nasty problems in temperament, and is well on the way to having structural exaggerations inbred sufficiently to breed true. The little almond eyes, the ornamental ears, the excess coat, and the pointy face.

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About Christopher

Christopher Landauer is a fifth generation Colorado native and second generation Border Collie enthusiast. Border Collies have been the Landauer family dogs since the 1960s and Christopher got his first one as a toddler. He began his own modest breeding program with the purchase of Dublin and Celeste in 2006 and currently shares his home with their children Mercury and Gemma as well. His interest in genetics began in AP Chemistry and AP Biology and was honed at Stanford University.