Yes, Curly and Wavy coated retrievers were breeds long before Golden and Labrador retrievers.
One of my wonderful golden retriever owning friends liked my article about the curly-coated ancestors of the golden retriever breed but questioned whether I might be mistaken about the pedigrees I cited as proof of such ancestry. My friend was confused because she had read a conflicting account of retriever breed history in a book about golden retrievers. After she shared the information from the book, I thought a quick article documenting breed registrations was in order.
In the book, The Golden Retriever, written by Jeffrey G. Pepper and published in 2012, the history section of the book says all retrievers were lumped together under one generic category when registered with the various kennel clubs until 1903.
This is simply not true. Here is the exact passage from the edition of the book I read:
"While the Kennel Club (England) did register "Retrievers" early on, all were lumped under that broad label for a number of years. Labradors were the first to be sifted out and recognized as a "variety" of retriever in 1903."
An examination of the official stud books of the Kennel Club of England shows us Curly and Wavy coated retrievers were considered to be separate breeds by 1877. There was no lumping of retrievers under one category--there were just two retrievers breeds recognized by then. Here are partial pages of the Engish Kennel Club's official studbook, Volume IV, published in 1877 but listing dogs registered in 1876.
This is only a partial list of the curly-coated retrievers registered in 1876 and published in 1877. Note the dog named Mac and his color: black with white spots on the breast.
Here is the beginning of the wavy-coated retrievers registered in 1876 and published in the 1877 studbook.
Here are the dogs registered in England in 1876 under the Sporting category. Sporting dogs were those used for hunting. A second category listed in the studbook was Non-sporting dogs or those not used for hunting. Here are the sporting dog breeds published in 1877. As you can see, there were only two kinds of retrievers but listed separately--curly and wavy.
So, here is the proof there were only two retriever breeds recognized as such in 1877. When someone says goldens or Labradors are older breeds than the curly-coated retriever, it just isn't true. As far as Labradors having been bred in Canada for decades and decades before being exported to England, evidence indicates this isn't true either. I will write about that in a future post. The Labrador retriever and the Newfoundland as we know them today were both developed in England, NOT Canada.