Pekingese Ch. Chik T'Sun of Caversham, imp. UK, 126 BIS, including Westminster 1960.
Fri, 02/23/2024 - 11:45pm

100 Years of Best in Show

Third and fourth decades – 1944-1963

Do you have any interest in past winners? Sometimes the sport of dogs appears to be all about the here and now, who is winning BIS today or tomorrow, and what's happened in the past would seem, at best, quaint. But whenever I go to a dog show — not as often as in the past, unfortunately — somebody usually tells me that they like to read about old Best in Show winners in Dog News or on the Facebook page “Great Showdogs of the Past,” where I put up old photos. (And don't even start telling me about Facebook … I know less than nothing about it, have somebody else to post for me and usually don't even manage to read the comments.)

Personally, I find the old photos fascinating, but I'm sure they can't be everybody's idea of a fun time. There is even serious educational value involved; as Winston Churchill said: “The farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see” — although I am pretty sure he was not talking about dog shows.

Let me make it really clear that I don't think the “old” dogs were in any way better or worse than the current winners. I print these photos because I think they are interesting — that's all. Frankly I'm getting very tired of readers who think there's an ulterior motive and seem to think that any dog from the past is either much better or much worse than anything today — instead of just different. I agree that it's easy to imagine that what's already history is at least much safer than the present … but you don't have to know much about the past to realize that people were the same then as now, and that conditions for most — women, gays, people of color, anyone who was in the slightest way perceived as “different” — were in fact much worse. But I agree there's a warm and comforting aura about the past: It's so safe because it is … well, past! 

As mentioned in previous articles, the American Kennel Club decided that beginning in 1924 there would be new rules for the Best in Show competition. To quote myself: “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 was 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.” Yes, prior to 1924 it could actually happen that Best in Show went to a dog who hadn't been Best of Breed …

The first 20 years of “modern” BIS judging was outlined in previous articles. This concerns the third (1944-1953) and fourth (1954-1963) decade. It was a time of rapid growth: World War II was over in 1945, and the 138 AKC all-breed shows that year increased to more than 300 only three years later, more than 400 in 1955 and almost 500 shows by 1964. (These days there are around 1,600.) Registrations increased even more — from 77,400 dogs registered in 1944 to 326,234 10 years later and 568,300 in 1963. (According to AKC's annual report, there were 716,519 individual and 326,945 litter registrations in 2022.) The number of breeds AKC registered didn't increase that much, though, and even backtracked a little: The 106 breeds registered in 1941 shrank to 97 by 1945 and did not increase until 1958 (and then by only one breed). In 1962 there was a new high of 115 registered breeds, but that figure remained virtually the same until the early '70s. (As a comparison, AKC approved its 201st breed, the Lancashire Heeler, in January 2024.)

Obviously in this kind of survey only the winners of very large numbers of Bests in Show can be mentioned. Fortunately, three of the greatest show dogs of all time hit the show rings in the 1950s and early 1960s. Ever heard of the Boxer Ch. Bang Away of Sirrah Crest? The English Setter Ch. Rock Falls Colonel? Or the Pekingese Ch. Chik T'Sun of Caversham? The first two were involved in a mostly friendly race to see who would be the first to achieve 100 Best in Shows, the third one is still the only dog to have won Top Dog of All Breeds for three consecutive years.

Bang Away was first man out; in 1950, as a very young dog, he was #2 All Breeds with 14 BIS. (This was when number of BIS was the determining factor, not number of points.) He was still not top Boxer, though, because an older rival was ahead of him. That's right — two Boxers were #1 and #2 of all breeds that year. Ch. Mazelaine's Zazarac Brandy won 17 BIS in 1950, #2 All Breeds in both 1948 and 1949, BIS at Westminster in 1949 and a total at least 54 BIS. His owners, Mr. and Mrs. John Wagner, were gracious when they realized that Bang Away's career would actually outpace Brandy's; they even commissioned a cartoon showing the old Boxer king handing the crown over to the new one, and later bought a Bang Away daughter with whom they also won several BIS. (Brandy's handler Phil Marsh was furious, however: He told anyone who would listen that he had a better Boxer than Bang Away and could produce 50 judges who could testify to this …)


Boxer Ch. Bang Away of Sirrah Crest with handler Nate Levine and owner Dr. Ray Harris after winning BIS at Westminster 1951. Bang Away was #1 All Breeds in 1951, 1954 and 1955. He was the first dog to win 100 BIS.


Bang Away was owned and bred Dr. and Mrs. Ray Harris of California; he was shown in the East by Nate Levine and in the West by Harry Sangster. He was #1 All Breeds with 28 BIS (including at Westminster) in 1951, #2 in 1952 with 15 BIS, and #3 in 1953 with a comparatively meager 11 BIS He was obviously on his way to retirement — but then it was rumored that a certain English Setter was heading for the all-time record number of BIS, and the Boxer entered the fray with renewed vigor: #1 All Breeds in 1954 with 24 BIS and again in 1955 with 21 BIS.


English Setter Ch. Rock Falls Colonel won his 100th BIS just a few months after Bang Away. The Colonel was #1 All Breeds in 1952 and 1953.


The Setter was of course Ch. Rock Falls Colonel. He started his career rather slowly with three BIS in 1950, won BIS at the famous Morris & Essex Kennel Club show in 1951 (which Bang Away never did), but really came into his own in 1952 and 1953, when he was the #1 dog of all breeds both years with an unprecedented 59 BIS during that time alone — more than twice as many as the Boxer. (And remember, there were only 382 AKC all-breed shows in 1952, 375 in 1953.) In 1954 The Colonel won 20 more BIS against 24 for Bang Away, and the Boxer was also the first to reach 100 BIS — reportedly at the Bronx County Kennel Club show on December 4, 1954. The Colonel reached this magic milestone a few months later and was then retired. He was always handled by his owner and breeder, William T. Holt.


Pekingese Ch. Chik T'Sun of Caversham, imp. UK, 126 BIS, including Westminster 1960, #1 All Breeds Canada 1956, U.S. 1957, 1958 and 1959.


As far as is known, the great Pekingese Ch. Chik T'Sun of Caversham never competed against Bang Away or The Colonel. Technically he could have — he born on September 4, 1954, and was imported from his native England as a promising youngster in 1955, while the Boxer and the Setter were still being shown (and winning BIS). However, “Gossie,” as the Pekingese was called, moved to Canada first, and was #1 All Breeds there in 1956. His owners and importers were active as popular all-rounder judges into the 2000s: Nigel Aubrey Jones and Willam Taylor. They brought Gossie to Westminster in 1957, where he won the Toy Group. After the show the dog was sold to Mr. and Mrs. Charles Venable of Atlanta, Georgia, and turned over into the loving care of a professional handler who specialized in Toy dogs, Clara Alford. With her Gossie set records that are still almost unbelievable, not just because he was #1 All Breeds three times, 1957, 1958 and 1959. As far as is known he was defeated for BOB only once during his long specials career — at Westminster in 1958. On the 173 occasions that he competed in the Toy Group he won on all but seven times. In all, Gossie won 126 BIS, a win percentage that very few dogs have equaled before or since. During one especially memorable month and a half, Gossie attended 16 all-breed shows and won BIS at all of them. He ended his career by winning BIS at Westminster in 1960 and retired as the top-winning dog in America ever; it took more than 20 years for someone to win more, at which time there were almost twice as many shows where you could win BIS as in the Peke's time. Gossie was obviously too busy with his show career to be used much as a stud dog but still managed to sire 17 AKC champions.

These three were without question the most successful of all show dogs during the 1950s and '60s, but there were others that won a lot, especially when you remember that there were less than 200 all-breed shows per year when the third decade of modern-style BIS judging started in 1944. All dogs weren't shown quite so much or campaigned for as many years as the three above, but lots of dogs won at least 20 BIS between 1944 and 1953. There is no way to know exactly how many, because unless a dog places really high in competition with other breeds, the BIS win(s) won't be generally known and the total number will be lower for this dog than it should. (There is always one, or several, BIS won before the dog is really famous, or after it's basically retired, that a latter-day researcher will be unaware of … so there are probably some dogs and certainly a few BIS wins missing from the following.


Miniature Poodle Ch. Blakeen Christabel with her handler Russell Zimmerman on the cover of Kennel Review, December 1947, when she was #1 All Breeds.


With that caveat, and “at least” added to the number of wins for each listed dog, the list includes the Boxer Ch. El Wendie of Rockland (#1 All Breeds 1944, 23 BIS 1943-'44), the Boston Terrier Ch. Mighty Sweet Regardless (#1 All Breeds 1946, 23 BIS 1945-'47), the white Miniature Poodle Ch. Blakeen Christable (#1 All Breeds 1947, 21 BIS 1946-'47), the English Springer Spaniel Ch. Frejax Royal Salute (#1 All Breeds 1948, 31 BIS 1947-'50), the Scottish Terrier Eng. & Am. Ch. Walsing Winning Trick of Edgerstoune (imported from the U.K., #1 All Breeds 1949, 26 BIS 1948-'50, including Westminster 1950), Yorkshire Terrier Ch. Star Twilight of Clu-Mor (21 BIS 1953-'55), etc.


English Springer Spaniel Ch. Frejax Royal Salute, #1 All Breeds 1948.


Miniature Poodle Eng. & Am. Adastra Magic Fame.


Miniature Poodle Ch. Tedwin's Top Billing, #1 All Breeds 1962.


For the fourth decade (1954-1963), it is necessary to increase the list to include just those who have won at least 30 BIS, as there were more shows, and therefore more opportunities to win: well over 400 shows for most of the '50s — by 1963 there were 488 AKC all-breed shows. The list isn't shorter anyway and, with the same reservations as above, includes two white Miniature Poodles, the imported Eng. & Am. Ch. Adastra Magic Fame (46 BIS 1955-'57, shown by Maxine Beam) and the American-bred Ch. Tedwin's Top Billing (#1 All Breeds 1962, 53 BIS 1961-'63, shown by Frank Sabella); three Boxers, Ch. Marjack's Golden Windjammer (30 BIS 1956-'58), Ch. Evo-Wen's Impressario (41 BIS 1958-'61) and Ch. Treceder's Painted Lady (No. 1 All Breeds 1963, 39 BIS 1962-'63, shown by Joe Gregory); English Springer Spaniel Ch. Salilyn's Madcduff (36 BIS 1957-'60); Pomeranian Ch. Rider's Sparklin' Gold Nugget (37 BIS 1957-'60); Bulldog Ch. Vardona Frosty Snowman (35 BIS 1958-'61); Miniature Pinscher Ch. Rebel Roc's Casanova v. Kurt (75 BIS 1959-'63, shown by E. W. Tipton); ASCOB Cocker Spaniel Ch. Pinetop's Fancy Parade (#1 All Breeds 1960, 33 BIS 1959-'60, handled by Norman Austin); French Bulldog Ch. Ralanda Ami Francine (55 BIS 1961-'64); Afghan Hound Ch. Sahadi Shikari (32 BIS 1963-'66); Scottish Terrier Ch. Carmichael's Fanfare (32 BIS 1963-'65, including Westminster 1965), and Toy Poodle Ch. Loramar's I'm A Dandee (54 BIS 1964-'66).


Boxer Ch. Marjack's Golden Windjammer.


Boxer Ch. Treceder's Painted Lady (#1 All Breeds 1963) with her handler Joe Gregory.


Included are the names of a few professional handlers who turned judges later on. None of them is with us today, but maybe you showed under them and were unaware that you encountered “dog show royalty” …


English Springer Spaniel Ch. Salilyn's Madcduff.


Pomeranian Ch. Rider's Sparklin' Gold Nugget.


Miniature Pinscher Ch. Rebel Roc's Casanova v. Kurt.


Cocker Spaniel (ASCOB) Ch. Pinetop's Fancy Parade, #1 All Breeds 1960.


Afghan Hound Ch. Sahadi Shikari.


Scottish Terrier Ch. Carmichael's Fanfare, BIS Westminster 1965.


Toy Poodle Ch. Loramar's I'm A Dandee.


French Bulldog Ch. Ralanda Ami Francine.




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