Here is information about The Norfolk Retriever, a now extinct English breed, which may have been another of the contributors to the gene pool of the Curly Coated Retriever.
This appears in Gordon Stable's book "Our Friend the Dog". My edition of this book is from 1895 but the first edition was published earlier.
The Norfolk Retriever
By Gordon Stables
My readers have heard of a Norfolk Spaniel, but few, I dare say, know that there is supposed by some very good sportsmen to be a breed of Retriever common to the same county. For this dog there is no class at our shows, which is equivalent to saying he is not recognized by the Kennel Club. I never saw the dog myself, although I some day hope to make his acquaintance. I therefore cull the following description of the animal from “British Dogs,”, a book by my friend, Hugh Dalziel. But I must premise that the description is by “Saxon,” a well-known writer on sporting subjects.
“The colour is more often brown than black, and the shade of brown rather light than dark—a sort of sandy brown, in fact. Coat, curly, of course, and the curls hardly so close and crisp as in the show Retriever of the present day, but inclined to be open and woolly. The coat is not long, however, and across the back there is often a saddle of straight short hair. In texture the coat is inclined to be coarse, and is almost invariably looks rusty and feels harsh to the touch. This, however, may be in some measure due to neglect. The head is heavy and wise-looking, the muzzle square and broad; ears large and somewhat thickly covered with long curly hair. The limbs stout and strong, with large and well-webbed feet. The tail is usually docked like a Spaniel’s, but not so short. This seems to be quite a keeper’s custom, and probably originated in the fact that, to an inexperienced eye, the tail of a puppy generally appears too long for the dog. However, although docking the tail improves the appearance of the Spaniel, in my opinion it completely spoils the symmetry of a Retriever. I remember once asking a Norfolk keeper’s opinion of a very handsome flat-coated Retriever I had. After examining the dog carefully, the man said, ‘Well, sire, he would be a rare, nice-looking dog if you only cut half a yard off his tail.’ I need hardly add that I did not act on the suggestion.
‘When white appears on the chest it is more frequently in the form of a spot or patch, than a narrow streak. They are usually rather above than below the medium size, and are strong, compact dogs. As a rule, they are exceedingly intelligent and tractable, capable of being trained to almost anything, both in the way of tricks and with the gun. In temperament they are lively and cheerful, making excellent companions; and it is very rarely that they are found sulky or vicious. When only half-trained they are apt to be headstrong and impetuous, and though naturally with a strong retrieving instinct, are often a little inclined to be hard-mouthed. This defect can be traced to two causes. It may be the result of injudicious breeding from hard-mouthed parents, or it may arise from careless or slovenly handling in their young days. However, when they are wanted almost exclusively for wild-fowl shooting, this failing is not of so much movement, for they will be principally used for retrieving birds that have fallen in the water; and as fowl are for the most part very tough birds, the rough grip as a dog seizes a duck will not cause much mischief, and while swimming the most inveterate “biter” will seldom give his birds a second nip. For wild-fowl shooting they are admirable. Their resolute nature renders them most determined in hunting coots, moor-hens, and half-fowl, as the gunners call many of the smaller members of the amas tribe, for which their too limited knowledge of natural history cannot supply a name. When accustomed to sea-shore shooting they will face a rough sea well, and they are strong swimmers, persevering, and not easily daunted in their search for a dead or wounded fowl.
There are a couple of passages in this description of the Norfolk Retriever that might resonate with Curly Coated Retriever fanciers. Let's review a couple of them.
In the Norfolk Retriever:
"The coat is not long, however, and across the back there is often a saddle of straight short hair."
"They are usually rather above than below the medium size, and are strong, compact dogs. As a rule, they are exceedingly intelligent and tractable, capable of being trained to almost anything, both in the way of tricks and with the gun."
Could a few Norfolk retriever relatives have given a saddle back to some of their Curly Coated Retriever descendants?
Curly standards through the years have mentioned a saddle back in a curly as a fault. Could this mention of a saddleback as a fault be an effort by early curly breeders to separate the breed from it's Norfolk Retriever ancestors?
When crosses were made in the development of breeds, a trait in some of the ancestors used to develop the breed was not desirable in the new breed. For example, a topknot is undesirable in a curly. Lack of topknot would have served to distinguish a correct and desirable curly from that of his closest known relative, the Irish Water Spaniel.
It is quite possible the mention of saddlebacks and caution against same in the Curly Coated Retriever hearkens back to some early curlies carrying the saddlebacks of their Norfolk Retriever ancestors.