Written January 31, 2019
The Black Curly-Coated Retriever
By Dr. Gordon Stables, 1895
Dr. Morris of Rochdale, Mr. Staples-Brown of Brashfield, Mr. S. Darbey of Tiverton, and Mr. Arkwright of Sutton Scarsdale, all stand high in the curly-coated Retriever world. Mr. How's old Toby I have often judged, and consider a grand specimen. I judged a portion of Mr. Darbey's kennel; one of them was placed first, beating his mother, and I believe afterwards claimed at the catalogue price of 120 pounds.
Good specimens of this breed are exceedingly taking; the close curly coat shows the nice form of the body to great advantage; and if the dog is well built and in good form, you can see the movement of every joint, and even the play of the muscles under the skin.
I am of opinion that this breed is a mixture of Newfoundland with the old English curly Water Spaniel. Dr. Morris's X.L. (prounounced "excel," not "forty") was one of the grandest specimens ever I saw; so too was "Toby." I say "was," because I have not seen either of late, and both, I believe, have gone over to the majority, to the canine happy hunting-ground.
The dog under consideration is both taller and heavier, as a rule, than his flat-coated brother, and there are other differences of shape, &C, between the two breeds I will now note.
The head, take, then, first. It is a longer head in proportion, even to the extra size; it is not so deep in the muzzle, although there ought to be a fine large mouth, one that can grasp and carry a hare with ease. The skull is also a narrower one.
The general conformation of the body, shoulders, stifles legs, and feet are the same as in the flat-coated.
The tail, or stern, is carried pretty straight and stiff; it is a longish, tapering tail, very strong and thick where it joins the body. I specially direct the reader's attention to the fact that the tail should be like the other parts of the body, covered with little crisp curls, with no flag.
The coat is altogether different from that of the flat-coated Retriever. The muzzle and whole face and brow are covered with short, soft, close hair, but all the other parts of the body, tail and all, should be covered with short crisp curls. I do not like to see the curls come too far down on the brow, and of course there ought to be no vestige of a top-knot.
Sometimes in bad specimens, you see a flat-coated patch on the top of the shoulders; this is called a saddle, and shows too much of the Newfoundland.
The colour of this dog is likewise jet black, although that wee wicked white spot is often see on on the breasts of very good specimens.
Both these dogs, the flat and the curly, are justly celebrated for their extreme intelligence and sagacity, and for their indomitable pluck and perseverance. They make excellent companions out of the field as well as good servants in it, and are general favourites wherever they go.
Not many years ago, before dog shows were so common in bonnie Scotland as they are now, some English exhibitors crossed the borders with a team of curly Retrievers that had already gained many honours in England. They had entered them at a certain show, which shall be nameless, and in due time appeared in the ring before certain judges, who shall likewise be nameless. Very much to the surprise of the Saxons, the prizes fell to mongrels with wavy flagged tails, while their grand specimens were not looked at. When one of the Englishmen ventured to appeal to Judex, he replied in the following strain:
"What! I didna look at your dog? Is that what you're saying? Losh, man, I couldna look for lauchin'. Sic a tail I never saw in a'my born days afore. Gae awa hame, man, and shut the puir brute up till the hair grows. I wonder you're no ashamed to gang aboot wi'him."
Well, what do you think of our very opinionated and not very shy Scottish judge quote? He didna' have a very high opinion of dogs with crisp curls all down their tails, did he?
When I read he couldn't "look for lauchin'", I thought he meant launching or vomiting! I was like: Is this judge saying he wanted to hurl!? Looked up the word in a Scottish slang dictionary and it means laughing. He could not look without laughing, not hurling. Still not good, but not as bad as I thought!
Why would a judge criticize Curly Coated Retrievers with crisp curls on their tails and no flags? He was likely judging a combined retriever class, with no separate classes for wavy (flat) and curly retrievers. This happened a lot back in the 1800s, especially at smaller shows.
He likely knew very little about the traits of a good Curly Coated Retriever and judged based on the wavy/flat coat requirements or, even more likely, on the gun dog breeds he was probably more used to seeing: Irish, English, and Gordon setters.
Back in those days, in some countries, judges still didn't have standards to base decisions on. Aside from the standards written by Dr. John Henry Walsh, most judges based their decisions on the opinions they heard from other gun dog men or acknowledged breed experts. Many breeds didn't have official written standards as of yet (the first official Curly Coated Retriever standard was introduced in 1899--several years after the judging incident with our 'lauchin' Scottish judge.)
If a judge had never interacted with an acknowledged breed expert or breed owner, he judged 'em as he saw 'em, often basing his decisions on what was correct in his own preferred breeds.
Stables separated the black curly from the liver-colored curly--somewhat common to do so when he was judging and writing.
Keep reading for his description of liver-colored retrievers. The description apparently refers to both liver flat-coats and liver curly-coats.
By Gordon Stables
I do not know if I have very much to say about these. They should in every respect, except colour, be counterparts of the black breeds. They are very seldom seen so good, however, either in coat or in shape. But for all that they are very excellent workers in the field, and excellent water dogs. They are even more lively than the black Retrievers, and, I think, more easily excited.
Note: I have tried to keep the original spelling and punctuation of these passages from Stables' book.
William Gordon Stables was a Scottish doctor, surgeon in the Royal Navy, prolific author, and dog show judge. He even judged at the Westminster dog show in New York City in the late 1800s. He was one of the first canine authors/experts to mention white curly coated retrievers existed. He did that in his book "The Practical Kennel Guide" which is quoted elsewhere on this site.
The Curly Coated Retriever description on this page is from Stables' books, "Our Friend, The Dog". I own this book but, unfortunately, it does not have a Curly Coated Retriever illustration.
Wow! Stables writes a dog of Mr. Darbey's he judged and placed over the dog's dam was claimed (sold) for the price listed in the catalog: 120 pounds.
I looked up 120 pounds on a UK inflation calculator. The equivalent in today's (2018) pounds would be more than 15,000 pounds, or more than $19,000 for we colonists!
As I've said previously on this site: dogs in the 1800s were big business. A primary reason stud books were created and national kennel clubs formed was to keep track of pedigrees. Pedigreed dogs became all the rage in the Victorian era and people were willing to pay big bucks for them.
Those familiar with the AKC breed standard might see some common wording in Stables' description of the curly.
I've been a fan of Stables' dog books for a long, long time and borrowed the word "indomitable" when we were writing the AKC breed standard. We used "indomitable perseverance" but left the word "pluck" out. We substituted the word "courage" which is another word for pluck.
We also used his idea of emphasizing the breed as both a lovely home companion and a valuable field dog.
Fascinating, isn't it, that Stables believed there was a difference in temperament between the blacks and livers?
Perhaps it relates back to the different dogs used to create the curly. Maybe initially there were differences in the temperament of the various dogs of a certain color before the breed became more homogenized. Perhaps as the two colors were more frequently bred together, the temperaments in both colors became more alike.
I've always believed the Tweed Water Spaniel breed was actually the same as what was later called the liver Curly Coated Retriever.
Stables was primarily a Newfoundland fancier and owner. I don't know if he ever owned a curly coat but he certainly judged some of the earliest and most important founders of the breed, like Toby.
He wrote many adventure and science fiction book as well as several non-fiction books about dogs and cats.
He ended up writing or co-authoring about 130 books.