Sealyham Terrier Ch. Gunside Babs of Hollybourne, BIS Morris & Essex in 1934.
Mon, 01/22/2024 - 9:23pm

100 Years of Best in Show

The Second Decade, 1934-1943

As mentioned in the first installment of this series of articles, the American Kennel Club introduced rules for the judging of Best in Show at all-breed shows in 1924. These rules have changed remarkably little in the 100 years that have passed.

The only dogs that were allowed to compete for Best in Show according to the new rules were those that won a group at the show, and the only dogs that could compete in the group were those that had won Best of Breed at that show. What had been a prize that could be awarded rather haphazardly to a dog that may not have competed at all in the breed classes — or that could even have been defeated if it did — became the ultimate award to the only dog that remained completely unbeaten at a particular show.

The first 10 years of “modern” Best in Show competition were outlined in the earlier article. The focus is now on the second decade, 1934 to 1943. The sport was a lot smaller in those days: There were only 166 AKC all-breed shows and 110 specialty shows in 1934, approximately one-tenth of later figures, but those shows were often as big as today's. Morris & Essex Kennel Club had 2,827 entries at their show in 1934, and by the end of the decade reached well over 4,000 entries for several years in a row; Westminster that year had 2,462 dogs and 2,992 entries. Everything was not always rosy, however. World War II broke out in Europe in 1939, and although the U.S. did not enter the war until December 1941, it affected even AKC dog shows: Many clubs chose to cancel their shows, there were far fewer all-breed shows in 1942 than in 1941, and in 1943 the total was the lowest for many years.

It must also be remembered that no Best in Show is reported from a few shows. It is impossible after so many years to determine if these shows had no BIS competition (which was certainly a possibility much later than is commonly known), or if whoever wrote the report from that show simply “forgot” to include it, which sounds unbelievable to modern fanciers but definitely happened also. There were no organized competitions for the top dog of the year, remember — that came later. From 1943, the last year in this decade, the list is complete, however.

1934: Wire Fox Terriers dominated with at least 15 individual BIS winners, and Ch. Leading Lady of Wildoaks was the most successful of all breeds with eight BIS wins — she had won her first in 1933. John Marvin in his wonderful old book “The Fox Terrier Scrapbook” calls Wildoaks “probably the outstanding kennel of Wire Fox Terriers of the twentieth century,” no mean compliment in view of the competition. The owners, Mr. and Mrs. Richard Bondy, had a large estate in Goldens Bridge, New York, but were active in England as well as in the U.S., with Bob Barlow showing their dogs over there and the American kennel managed by Mac Silver, who remained active in dogs long after the kennel closed in 1961.


BIS at Santa Barbara in 1934, Old English Sheepdog Ch. Smokey of Clearbrook with owner Mrs. Roy Le Ruth.


Leading Lady’s closest contenders were a Chow, Ch. Yang Fu Tang, with seven wins, and a Pointer from the Giralda kennels, Ch. Benson of Crombie, with six wins (he won at least 20 in all). There were also two English Setters, Ch. Gilroy’s Chief Topic and Ch. Rock of Stagboro, with six and five BIS wins, respectively — and seven more of the same breed also won BIS. The white Standard Poodle Ch. Nunsoe Duc de la Terrace of Blakeen, born in Switzerland but imported from England, won four BIS. Duc’s owner, Mrs. Hayes Blake Hoyt, took three additional wins with another import that year, Ch. Harpendale Monty of Blakeen. These were the first wins recorded in the U.S. for Poodles, which would soon be among the top contenders for major wins.

Amazingly, at least nine different Dobermans won Best in Show, but none won more than once. An Afghan Hound took the breed's first BIS in 1934: Ch. Badshah of Ainsdart, who was also a ground-breaking sire.


The Afghan Hound Eng. & Am. Ch. Badshah of Ainsdart won the breed's first BIS in America in 1934.


1935: This was a big Sporting-dog year, with 10 BIS for an Irish Setter named Ch. Milson O’Boy, described as “one of the greatest show dogs ever” with a unique connection to his horde of admirers at ringside. The English Setter Ch. Sturdy Max, who won seven BIS, was bred and initially shown, as an advertising PR ploy, by the Sturdy Dog Food Company, but later sold to the Maridor kennels of Dwight W. Ellis, Jr. of East Longmeadow, Massachusetts. Both O'Boy and Max won BIS at Morris & Essex KC; the Irish in 1935 in an entry of 3,000, the English two years later when the entry had already shot up to more than 4,000.


Irish Setter Ch. Milson O'Boy, BIS Morris & Essex 1935.


One of the many imported Giralda Pointers of Mrs. Dodge's, Ch. Nancolleth Marquis, won seven BIS, sharing his spot among the top dogs with the Scottish Terrier Ch. Flornell Soundman. (Flornell indicated that the dog bearing this name was imported from England by the great Percy Roberts, and probably had its old name changed, as was then still possible. Roberts was a big-time importer and seller of many breeds, but later became a judge and was highly respected. He judged BIS at Westminster in 1967.)

In February, Mrs. Hoyt handled her white Standard Poodle winner from the previous year, Duc, to BIS at Westminster — he was the first Poodle to win, and she the first woman to show a BIS winner there. The four Standard Poodles that have won BIS at Westminster more recently than Duc — Ch. Puttencove Promise in 1958, Ch. Acadia Command Performance in 1973, Ch. Whisperwind On A Carousel in 1991 and Ch. Stone Run Afternoon Tea in 2020 — all descend from him.

There was also yet another Standard Poodle from Switzerland, Ch. Edelweiss du Labory of Salmagundi (half-sister to Duc), who won seven BIS in 1935. The Cocker Spaniel (pre-division between English and American) Ch. Torohill Trader won BIS six times, the English Setter Ch. Matthews’ Freckles and the Wire Fox Terrier Ch. Keen Lady four times each.

Due to the overwhelming dominance of imported dogs, mostly from England or Germany, the AKC for a few years in the 1930s held a competition for “Best American-Bred Dog of the Year,” based not on Best in Show wins but on the greatest number of Group Firsts during the year. One U.S.-born winner in each group was honored in New York early the following year, establishing a custom that was re-vamped, opened to all dogs regardless of nationality, and later continued with the Quaker Oats awards.

We tend to think of media interest in purebred dogs as something fairly recent, but cameras whirred and flashlights popped as AKC’s top dogs were presented to the press in New York in the mid- and late 1930s. Major publications, including Life Magazine and Sports Illustrated, ran feature stories about the winners, and it wasn’t all print stories, either: As many as 50 million viewers watched the top show dogs in the newsreels shown before the feature movie in cinemas around America in those days. (If you are among our senior citizens, you may remember them still, since they were around at least through the 1950s.)

The first winner of AKC’s Best American Bred award, in 1935, was the young Borzoi Ch. Vigow of Romanoff, who would go on to even greater glory in the next couple of years. Vigow was owned, bred and handled by Louis Murr, who would become an AKC judge and officiated Best in Show at Westminster in 1969.


Borzoi Ch. Vigow of Romanoff with Louis Murr, winner of AKC's “Best American Bred” award in 1935 and 1936.


1936: The Working breeds made a strong mark individually, with two German imports dominating the year’s top win: the Doberman Ch. Jockel von Burgund won 15 BIS and the Boxer Ch. Dorian v. Marienhof of Mazelaine took 11. The Borzoi, Vigow, came into full bloom this year: He won 10 BIS and the AKC’s Best American-Bred award for the second year running, but the year’s top exhibitor was undoubtedly Claire Penney, whose Clairedale kennel won 10 BIS with the Sealyham Ch. Wolvey Noel of Clairedale, and another seven — including Westminster — with another import of the same breed, Ch. St. Margaret Magnificent of Clairedale.

Mrs. Penney’s daughter, Margaret Newcombe, would win BIS at Westminster with a Whippet in the 1960s, and granddaughter Claire Newcombe won Bests in Show in the 1990s and is an AKC judge. The family came close to an historic third BIS at Westminster in 2006 when “Pennyworth Kennels” (Margaret and Claire Newcombe) won the Hound Group as co-owners of the Scottish Deerhound Ch. Thistleglen Margot, but it was not to be.

The English Setter Ch. Robin Hood of Maronial, the Great Dane Ch. Monarch of Halecroft and the Standard Poodle from the last two years, Duc, all won BIS four times each. Pointers had the most BIS winners this year, and there were as many English Setter winners as Wire Fox Terriers. A Bloodhound, Ch. Brigadier of Reynalton (owned by Giralda); a Harrier, Ch. Mr. Reynal’s Monarch, and a Papillon, Ch. Offley Black Diamond, each took the first recorded BIS in “modern” AKC competition for their breeds.


Greyhound Eng. & Am. Ch. Southball Moonstone of Halcyon, winner of five BIS in 1935 and 1936.


1937: The sport of showing dogs was “storming ahead full blast,” as one publication put it. It was also becoming a nationwide pursuit, which had not been the case earlier when the focus was always on the East Coast. The following is from AKC’s “Blue Book of Dogs,” published in 1938: “During 1937 the practice of competing in distant circuits was so wide-spread throughout the United States that for the first time since 1874, when the country’s first bench show was held near Hempstead, L.I., N.Y., the leading dogs of the various sections of the country could be compared. The East, so long considered as having dogs of far better quality than other parts of the country, found many of its major awards going to dogs from other parts of the country. Dogs from the East that competed in the South and the Southwest for the first time met serious competition.”


Wire Fox Terrier Ch. Flornell Spicy Piece of Halleston, BIS Westminster 1937.


Three of the top winners from 1936 were again in the lead: the Boxer, Dorian, was on top this year with another 11 BIS wins, giving a taste of what would follow for the Mazelaine kennels in the 1940s and ’50s. (I have been told that owner Jack Wagner made his fortune by owning the Yellow Cab Company, but I don't know if that's true.) Dorian was closely followed by the Dobe, Jockel, and the Sealyham, Noel, with 10 wins each. An ad for the Dobe in Kennel Review in August 1937 gives an idea of the scope of a top dog’s campaign in those days: In the past 17 months, Jockel’s win record was detailed at 87 Bests of Breed, 31 Group Firsts, and 20 Bests in Show. And he was not finished yet by a long shot!

The Borzoi, Vigow, added seven wins to his record; he died in a tragic kennel accident the following year, just five years old, barely a week after winning his second Hound Group at Morris & Essex KC, when somebody let an ill-tempered bitch in season into his kennel.

A new black Poodle, Ch. Pillicoc Rumpelstiltskin, owned and bred by Mrs. Milton Erlanger, won six BIS, and also took home the AKC top American-bred award. (Whether the Poodle won more groups than the Borzoi is doubtful; apparently the AKC had decided that too many repeat wins were not acceptable.) The Airedale Ch. Briggus Princess (shown by Tom Gately, I believe); the Scottie Ch. Cragshaven Clinker, and the already famous Pointer Marquis won BIS five times each, as did a Smooth Fox Terrier who would set records later on, the English import Ch. Nornay Saddler.


Smooth Fox Terrier Ch. Nornay Saddler, 50 BIS, including Morris & Essex 1941.


Wire Fox Terriers and English Setters again led the way for number of winners, 13 and 12, respectively, but none of them won more than the occasional BIS.

1938: Wires led in the number of winners, but the Smooth Fox Terrier, Saddler, won the most: an almost unbelievable 25 BIS — more than 10 percent of the total, since there were 212 AKC all-breed shows that year. Not much outdone, the white Standard Poodle bitch, Ch. Blakeen Jungfrau (or Jung Frau), a Duc daughter, won 15 times — and how often did Saddler and Jungfrau compete against each other at Eastern shows? Jungfrau won the AKC’s American-bred award as well, in spite of having to share ring time with several top-winning kennel mates. She was not heavily shown for the next few years but came back in 1941 and won BIS over 4,000 entries at Morris & Essex. Blakeen continued to produce top winners of all three varieties of Poodle into the 1950s and ’60s.

A Wire Fox Terrier, Davishill Little Man, owned by Forest Hall’s Hallwyre kennels in Dallas, Texas, was possibly the only top dog at this level not to be a champion. According to John Marvin, “For many years, [handler] Dick [Davis] had used […] to upgrade his dogs by starting them out in the ‘Specials’ class and frequently going on to win groups and Best in Show. After a dog had been properly identified through repeated top placements he would shift it to the classes and get the necessary points for the title.” This ploy worked for Little Man, who took 13 BIS wins that year without being an AKC champion, while a new Doberman, Ch. Troll v. Engelsburg, won 12. Troll was a German import, owned by Mr. E. Bornstein of Peoria, Illinois, and was advertised as having sired “ALL of the 1938 German Siegers and Sigerins.” Between them, the top four dogs won close to a third of all the year’s Bests in Show!


Smooth Dachshund Ch. Herman Rinkton, nine BIS 1938-1939.


Other winners of note were the Wire Fox Terrier Ch. Rosebud of Research with seven BIS, the Dachshund (Smooth, although that’s not noted in the show results) Ch. Herman Rinkton and the English Pointer import Ch. Pennine Paramount of Prune’s Own, both with six BIS wins. The Standard Poodle Ch. Pillicoc Aplomb and the Sealyham Ch. Samphire Shindy of Erracht took five BIS each.

A Bedlington Terrier, Ch.  Lady Rowena of Roanoaks; a Labrador Retriever, Ch. Earlsmoor Moor of Arden (owned by Dr. Samuel Milbank, Westminster KC chairman for 1935, ’36 and ’37), and a Miniature Pinscher, Fritz v. Arnowtal, became the first AKC all-breed winners of their kind.

1939: Standard Poodles produced the top winner in Mrs. Erlanger’s black Aplomb, who added another 14 BIS to those he had won the year before. Runner-up was a new Giralda star, the imported Doberman Ch. Ferry v. Rauhfelsen, with 12 wins, starting out with a sensational win at Westminster, “fresh off the boat from Germany,” as a report said. (This would not happen later, as you had to qualify at an AKC show to participate at Westminster. These days only AKC champions may be entered.)

Ferry would win much more but never again as much as in 1939: He quickly got a reputation for being “very sharp.” Sold several times, Ferry met a sad end in California a few years later.


English Setter Ch. Maro of Maridor, winner of at least 55 BIS 1939-1943.


An orange belton English Setter, Ch. Maro of Maridor (son of the previous top winner, Sturdy Max), won BIS eight times and would be heard of many more times. Two “new” breeds achieved unprecedented success at this level: the Beagle Ch. Meadowlark Draftsman won seven BIS (as well as the last AKC top American-bred award; the AKC then discontinued the competition), and the Dalmatian from California, Ch. Four-in-Hand Mischief, won six BIS, as did the white Standard Poodle Ch. Blakeen Eiger (litter brother to Jungfrau) and the Scottie Ch. Shielings Stylist.


Dalmatian Ch. Four-In-Hand Mischief, 18 BIS 1938-1941.


First-time BIS wins were recorded for the Great Pyrenees, K’Eros de Guerveur of Basquaerie; the Keeshond, Dynasty of Canford, and the Saluki, Ch. Marjan II. English Setters were again the top breed with 10 different BIS winners, followed by Pointers, Cockers and Wire Fox Terriers, with Poodles (all Standards) close behind.

1940: The English Setter from the previous year, Maro, topped the list with 12 BIS wins, followed by another repeat, the Dalmatian Mischief, and a new Irish Setter, Ch. Rosecroft Premier, both with seven wins. Four dogs won six BIS each. One was the Doberman Ferry, now sold to the Randahof kennels in California, already the owner of the older (and reputedly quite sweet) record-holder, Jockel. Another was the English Springer Ch. Showman of Shotton, who apparently did not impress everyone: In the book “The New English Springer Spaniel,” the dog's handler, Billy Lang, later an AKC judge, is quoted as saying that Showman was a “mean-eyed rascal,” and another judge commented that he was “the greatest disaster that's ever happened to American Springers” … A third was the Great Dane Ch. King v. Leonehart, and a fourth was the Poodle, Aplomb, who, like the Doberman, had moved to a new home out West — although with happier consequences. (His new owner was Col. Ernie Ferguson, who won several BIS at Santa Barbara KC in the ’60s.) The English Setter Ch. Blue Bar Limited won five BIS (three of them in a four-day circuit), as did the Wire Fox Terrier Little Man’s Double.

For the first time, but not the last, Poodles were the most successful in all-breed competition, with 10 different BIS winners. (Size is not listed, but it’s safe to say they were all Standards; the days of the Miniatures were yet to come.) English Setters, Pointers and Wire Fox Terriers followed, with Dobermans, then Cockers and Afghan Hounds close up, indicating a much more even distribution of top wins among the breeds than before.

The only new BIS breed this year was the German Shorthaired Pointer with Ch. Sportsman’s Dream.


Two-page ad spread for Percy Roberts' kennel services, 1940.


1941: Maro, the English Setter, continued to fend off all comers with 14 BIS. He seems to have gone through a number of ownerships: from Mr. and Mrs. A. Biddle Duke to Charlie Parker to W. S. Kennedy. Maro, incidentally, should not be confused with Ch. Daro of Maridor, his litter brother; Daro won “only” five BIS, but one of them came at Westminster in 1938, a victory that escaped the otherwise much more successful Maro.

These days pretty much all Westminster winners are campaigned heavily before they win “the big one,” but that — as should be obvious from the above — was not always the case in the past. One of the most impressive records in that respect was that of the Cocker Spaniel Ch. My Own Brucie, whose total of eight Best in Show wins included BIS at the 1939 Morris & Essex show, the biggest ever with 4,456 entries (just three more than the 2021 show!), and back-to-back BIS at Westminster in 1940 and 1941. Does anyone have so high a percentage of “big” wins these days?


Cocker Spaniel Ch. My Own Brucie, BIS at Morris & Essex 1939 under judge William H. Pym (right). Brucie also won BIS at Westminster in 1940 and 1941.


Runner-up to Maro was the Beagle Ch. Craftsman of Walnut Hall with 10 wins. An already established Pekingese winner, Ch. Che Le of Matson’s Catawba (owned by Mrs. James A. Austin, whose husband owned Nornay Saddler), took home nine BIS, while Mrs. Dodge’s newest addition, the imported Greyhound Ch. Giralda’s Cornish Lad, won eight BIS, as did the Great Dane in California, Ch. Hansi of Garricrest. The imported Whippet bitch Ch. Flornell Glamorous, owned by the Mardormere kennels (where current BIS judge Desi Murphy grew up), won seven BIS, as did the Cocker Spaniel Ch. Holmeric of Brookville. Another Cocker, Ch. Stockdale Town Talk, took five BIS and became the first of many winners from the famous California kennel belonging to C. B. Van Meter. The Miniature Pinscher Ch. King Eric v. Konigsbach and another black Standard Poodle, Ch. Pillicoc Reverie, also won five times each.


 “Cocker Spaniel, American type” Ch. Stockdale Town Talk with owner, breeder and handler C. B. Van Meter, won five BIS in 1941 and continued to win BIS for several years.


The Smooth Fox Terrier Saddler took BIS at Morris & Essex in 1941, after which that show shut down for the war years. Saddler continued to win for a couple more years until he was retired with a reported but unconfirmed 50 BIS. English Setters led the way with nine individual BIS winners — none except Maro winning more than once — followed by Afghan Hounds, Cocker Spaniels and Poodles.

1942: Two of the three top dogs were familiar faces from earlier years. The English Setter Ch. Maro of Maridor remained in the lead for the third year running with 10 BIS, and the English-imported Pekingese, Ch. Che Le of Matson’s Catawba, won nine. The new winner was the Welsh Terrier Ch. Flornell Rare Bit of Twin Ponds, who had also won nine times. The owner, Mrs. Edward P. Alker, would be heard from again in later years. Blakeen's Standard Poodle of the year was named Ch. Broadrun Cheerio (or possibly Cherrio?) and won seven BIS. This was as many as those won by the Whippet Ch. Flornell’s Glamorous, at home in England known as Tiptree Honey but going through a complete name change while being shown in the U.S. by Percy Roberts to a BIS breed record that would stand for several decades.


Mid Hudson Kennel Club, June 5, 1943. Left, Percy Roberts with the Whippet Ch. Flornell Glamorous and Hayes Blake Hoyt with the Standard Poodle Ch. Blakeen Jungfrau. Center with trophy, Louis Murr.


The English Setter Ch. Sir Guy of Delwed and the Irish Ch. Kleiglight of Aragon won five BIS each, while two other Irish Setters, Ch. Rosecroft Premier and Ch. End O’ Maine Partridge, won four. (Premier had the same owner as Ch. Milson O'Boy from 1941, Mrs. Cheever Porter, who would campaign a lot of top dogs of different breeds.) A Boxer, Ch. Overture of Mazelaine, and a Wire Fox Terrier, Ch. Boarzell Brightest Star, rounded out the top tier of the BIS winners of this year.

No breed clearly dominated by having more BIS winners than any other. Perhaps the fact that AKC now recognized many more breeds than in 1924 had something to do with the wider distribution of the top award. A hundred years ago AKC registered dogs of just 70 breeds, but 20 years later it had increased the total to an even 100.


Standard Poodle Ch. Pillicoc Aplomb. The 1942 caption to this photo says that Aplomb has been retired from the ring “until his master, Ernie Ferguson, returns from the armed forces, where he is doing his bit for Uncle Sam.”


1943: Amazingly, the English Setter Maro was again this year's most successful show dog, with 11 BIS. He won a total of at least 55 BIS, remained at or close to the top for five years in a row and would be a lot better remembered today if he did not have the misfortune to be followed by an even more successful dog who was just a few years younger — Ch. Rock Falls Colonel, winner of 100 BIS, including Morris & Essex KC in 1951. (Maro and Colonel were actually related: Maro was the result of a half-brother/half-sister breeding, with Rummey Stagboro being the sire of both parents. Colonel is also the result of a half-brother being bred to a half-sister; both Colonel's parents are by Ch. Greyland Racket's Boy, who is a son of Stagboro.) Maro was born March 18, 1937, so was “only” almost seven years old at the end of 1943, his last year at the top.

The other frequent winners followed at a respectful distance. The imported Welsh Terrier Rare Bit won seven BIS this year (and would go on to win Westminster in 1944), and was followed by the Whippet Glamorous, registered by AKC with the same Flornell prefix as the Welsh. Both the Whippet and the Great Dane Ch. King v. Leonehart (who had won so much a couple of years earlier) won six more BIS. A Boxer bitch, Ch. El Wendie of Rockland, and the Irish Setter, Kleiglight, took five BIS each; an English Cocker Spaniel that was owned by Giralda, Ch. Shikarwyn’s Sentinel, won four, as did a dog listed in the records only as a “Retriever,” Ch. Chum of Sandblown Acres. I think it's a Labrador, but there's no way to tell for certain …    

The number of shows hit 200 for the first time in 1938, and by 1941 was up to 231 shows. After that, however, wartime restrictions set in: gas rationing and mobilization into the Army of many owners, breeders and handlers, curtailing activities so much that by 1943 the number of shows had been cut in half. World War II ended in 1945. Then came a big boom of the 1950s, in dog shows as in so many other things, but that belongs in a future article …




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