Tue, 05/04/2021 - 6:56pm

Seven of the Best

A survey of the 19th Century's most influential dog books

It is frequently said that one has to know and understand the past in order to plan for the future. This is never truer than with purebred dogs, for they are all creations of humankind, and one must never lose sight of why each breed was developed as it is, both for aesthetics and function. 

Britain is fortunate for the wealth of literature that has been published over the years, mainly from the middle years of the 19th Century onward, the days when the Kennel Club was formed and “livestock improvers” were creating and establishing so many breeds of livestock.

I have selected seven images from what were considered by the two late, great canine bibliophiles, Gerald Massey and Clifford Hubbard, to be the best published dog books from the 19th Century.

Sydenham Edwards.


The year 1800 saw the publication of “Cynographia Britannica” by Sydenham Edwards (son of a Welsh organist), one of the rarest of dog books and credited by Massey and Hubbard as being “one of the most important of all books on dogs in the British Isles.” Only the second dog book to be published in the English language, it was the first dog book to be illustrated by color plates, all drawn from life by Edwards, and these are the most vital feature of the book. Twenty-three distinct varieties are shown in the 12 plates, 14 of which are British in origin.

Taplin Reinagle.


Close on the heels of Edwards comes William Taplin’s “The Sportsman’s Cabinet, or a Correct Delineation of the Canine Races” (1803-04). It is entirely a dog book, the third to be published in the English language. The chapters are long winded – one describes in detail the centuries-old pastime of bull-baiting – but the book’s value to the students of British dogs are 50 excellent illustrations over two volumes of every breed mentioned in the work. Most of the illustrations are by Philip Reinagle and Thomas Bewick, two of the artists who have contributed so much to our understanding of how breeds were in the first half of the 19th Century.




George R. Jesse’s “Researches into the History of the British Dog” (1866) is another two-volume work, the front covers of which are embossed in gilt with a beautiful Bloodhound’s head. It is a pioneering work, the first to deal at any length with the history of dogs from ancient laws, charters and historical records. Contained within are original anecdotes and illustrations of the nature and attributes of the dog: humorous, sympathetic, determined.




“Dogs: Their Points, Whims, Instincts and Peculiarities,” edited by Henry Webb, was published in two editions, 1871 and 1873. The earlier edition is the first dog book to be illustrated by actual photographs, six plates on which 60 dogs are represented. It is also the first dog book to contain an illustration of a Pekingese, “Chin,” bred by the Emperor of China and one of five “Mandarin Pugs” brought to Europe.

The engravings feature successful dogs owned by some of the early pioneers in their respective breeds, including “Tartar,” owned by T.J. Pickett. Pickett owned Bedlington Terriers since 1844 and did much to popularize the breed; he became so involved with the breed he was often referred to as “the Duke of Bedlington.”

Dr. John Henry Walsh – “Stonehenge” – was one of the most important figures in the world pf purebred dogs in the 19th Century and has been described as “the father of the modern dog show.” A practicing doctor, he kept a kennel of coursing Greyhounds; compiled “Stonehenge’s Coursing Calendar,” the first compilation of authentic Greyhound pedigrees; was one of the three judges at the first recognized dog show – for Pointers and Setters – in 1859; was concerned with the inauguration of Birmingham Dog Show Society (the longest continuous-running dog show in the world) and judged the Toys at its first show in 1860; was a founder member of The Kennel Club in 1873, and organized the first Field Trial – for Pointers and Setter – in 1865.




Long-time editor of “The Field” magazine, Walsh contributed three standard works to the genre: “The Greyhound,” published in 1853; “The Dog in Health and Disease” (1859), and “The Dogs of the British Islands” (1867). All went through many editions. “Health and Disease” is the first comprehensive general dog book. Along with chapters on breeding, rearing, diseases and treatments, and breaking and training, all the breeds know then are dealt with, in many cases with a standard of points and engravings of show winners of the time. “British Islands” is compiled mainly of articles and letters previously published in “The Field.” Contributors were important writers and breeders of the time, and include Hugh Dalziel and George Krehl. The number of engravings increased through the editions, with there being 58 in the fifth and last edition of 1886.




The Rev. Thomas Pearce – Idstone – was one of the judges at the first field trial in 1865 and father of Frank Pearce, first editor of the “Kennel Club Stud Books.” Thomas’s only contribution to canine literature was “The Dog,” published in 1872. It is an important little book, for it deals for the first time with quite a number of breeds with more than mere passing remarks, and the history of each breed is thoroughly covered. Its 12 full-page engravings are “drawn from life” by George Earl.




Vero Shaw’s “Illustrated Book of the Dog” (1879-1881) is a “must have” for any serious collector of dog books. It is the largest work of the 19th Century to be published in English, and with its 28 color plates is the fourth general book on dogs to be illustrated by color plates. It contains the earliest portrait of an Airedale – the famous “Thunder” – with many of the other breeds portrayed in color for the first time in a work on dogs.

The book was so widely accepted as a standard work on dogs that its German edition translated by von Schmiedeberg won the 1883 State Medal in Berlin and first prize in Vienna in 1884. Massey described the book as “a most important and instructive work on dogs.”



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