DIGITAL ANTIQUES JOURNAL - GONE TO THE DOGS BLOG POST
A History of man and his faithful companion as portrayed through art and antiques
This wonderful blog post was written by John Fiske, editor of Digital Antiques Journal - if you don't already subscribe, they produce a great digital magazine twice a month. which carries a calendar for US fairs and events and is well worth following if you are fan of folk art and Americana.
GONE TO THE DOGS
Colonial Williamsburg: Pugsey portraying Glasgow, the bulldog who went missing in 1774, courtesy Colonial Williamsburg Journal
In Williamsburg, Virginia, Glasgow had gone missing. A brown-and-white bulldog with an iron collar, he usually growled and snoozed behind the Governor’s Palace walls. But one day in 1774, he disappeared, stolen it seemed, from the Palace grounds. That his name, breed and description survive is an indication of a shift in attitudes toward man’s best friend, attitudes reflected in the lost-and-found advertisements of the Virginia Gazette. The name of Glasgow’s owner is forgotten, but for his return, 20 shillings was offered, a sum that underscored his master’s attachment.
It was not so substantial a reward, however, as the $20 posted in 1777 for a pet Pomeranian called Spado. Spado’s notice, inserted by Williamsburg’s William Finnie, said that the shaggy little black canine had been spotted in the possession of a man who called himself Joseph Block, but “belongs to our brave but unfortunate General LEE.” The general in question may have been Charles Lee, a gentleman seldom seen without his dogs, who was captured by the British in 1776.
Small Dog or Monkey Collar with Padlock, 2 ¾” diam. Inscribed “Ann Jones 1769” The collar originally had a fine leather lining to reduce chafing.
Advertisements like these indicate that dogs were highly valued enough to be stolen. So, too, did the padlocked collars that they often wore – immovable records of the rightful owner.
Pair of Dogs, 6” tall, Delftware, dated 1720 There are no other known examples made from this mold. They were made for decoration only, for a mantlepiece or shelf.
The relationship between people and pooches had been evolving ever since the dog’s domestication. An animal initially valued for its service became man’s best friend. The change began in the seventeenth century and was largely complete by the end of the eighteenth.
In Medieval times, dogs were primarily valued for their usefulness – hunting, guarding, rat-catching. Shakespeare employed the nouns “dog” and “cur” as terms for unworthy persons. Their collars were strictly functional, and we have never seen a personalized dog dish from that period.
Spiked Collar for Mastiff or Boar Hound, iron, 17th century, 7” diam. Early dog collars were designed to protect the dog, especially on dogs bred for hunting or fighting: broad iron collars with spikes shielded the dog’s throat from attacks by boars, bears or other dogs. Courtesy Fiske and Freeman
But this was to change by later in the seventeenth century, as evidenced by the popularity of the King Charles Spaniel, a lap dog whose function was to provide companionship and warmth, which was appreciated particularly on winter rides in unheated carriages.
Circle of Pier Francesco Cittadini, Madame de Pompadour with her Dog, (detail) 17th century. Public Domain, via Wikipedia Commons
Not everyone went along with the change. In his seventeenth-century diary, Samuel Pepys tells the story of traveling on a barge with King Charles II and “a dog the King loved” that fouled the boat (“which made us laugh, and me think that a King and all that belongs to him are but just as others are.”) Pepys was not so amused by his wife’s dog, which he threatened to “fling …out of window” if it dirtied the house anymore. Charles II was so devoted to his canines that he let them distract him during meetings, leading a courtier to growl: “God save your Majesty, but God damn your dogs.”
Adjustable Brass Dog Collar with Padlock, 7” diam. Inscribed “Timothy Lowe, Esq. of New Work 1721” In the eighteenth century, collars became more decorative. They bore the name of the owner rather than the dog and often named the place to which the dog should be returned if it got lost. The master of the dog that wore this collar was Timothy Lowe of Newark Park in Gloucestershire
In the eighteenth century, dog collars became a fashionable necessity in canine costume. In about 1730, Alexander Pope perfectly captured the high society tone of voice in the epigram he inscribed on a dog collar that he presented to Frederick, Prince of Wales:
“I am his Highness’ dog at Kew
Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?”
And by 1738, Benjamin Franklin could write, “There are three faithful friends—an old wife, an old dog, and ready money.”
In 1808, Lord Byron wrote,
“The poor dog, in life the firmest friend
The first to welcome, foremost to defend.”
A philosophical reason underlying this change was the Enlightenment, which “made it more acceptable to engage in humanitarian activities, whether for people or animals,” says Stanley Coren, author of The Pawprints of History: Dogs and the Course of Human History. This shift, in eighteenth-century Britain in particular, led people to think of animals as having identities and a value in their own right.
Brass Dog Bowl, 7-1/2” diam. Personalized with the inscription, “Will 1721”
Adjustable Copper Dog Collar, 6” diam. Inscribed “Steal not this DOG/ For fear of SHAME; RICH’D STACEY/ Hurley Bucks/ 1773/ For hear you See/ The owners NAME” On July 23, 1772, Richard Stacey, “Innholder,” married Susannah Lawrence in the church of St. Mary the Virgin, Hurley, Berkshire. A year later, Stacey had this collar made for his dog, which would have helped him keep order at his inn. His Inn may have been the Olde Bell, a timber-framed coaching inn that is still in business today, just a stone’s throw from the church.
It also led to including dogs in portraits, to giving them expensive, decorated brass dishes and collars, and to treating them as companions rather than servants. Our current phenomenon of “Covid puppies” makes the case abundantly clear.
“It’s a dog’s life” certainly has more than one meaning.
James Breig, Colonial Williamsburg Journal, Autumn 2004
Images and captions: Edward Town & Angela McShane (Eds.): Marking Time: Objects, People and Their Lives, 1500-1800, Yale Center for British Art, 2020.
Frans van Mieris, The Letter Writer, oil on panel, 25x20cm, 1680. Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. Dogs were clearly as close companions then as they are today: this one has its own upholstered stool. Visually, the dog, the lute and the letter form a tight triangle of fashionable accouterments: She loved her dog, writing letters and playing music. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Unknown artist, Portrait of Lady with Dog, Dutch, 1665-1700. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Our own Covid puppy, now six months old, spoiled rotten, and perhaps a direct descendent (27 generations on) of those painted in the 17th century!