Beginnings of the AKC: The Players

The formation of the American Kennel Club.

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Arnold Burges was an early authority on field sports and Sporting dogs, editor of American Sportsman and Rod and Gun, and publisher, in 1876, of The American Kennel and Sporting Field, documenting Sporting breeds during a critical phase of their development.

Arnold Burges
Arnold Burges came from a prominent family of congressmen and judges and worked as a lawyer and oil broker before gravitating to journalism. By the early 1870s he was editor of American Sportsman and Rod and Gun.“It was about this time that field sports were beginning to be regarded as fit for gentlemen,” and the Burges family fortune gave him “every opportunity for gratifying his taste for field sports... (H)e was among the first to advocate improving American sporting dogs by importation from the best kennels in Europe... (I)t was not long before he became a recognized authority on all subjects pertaining to field sports.” (American Field, March 31, 1888)

In 1868 Burges began importing Llewellin Setters from British nobleman Richard Purcell Llewellin, to found his legendary Rob Roy kennel. In 1876 he published The American Kennel and Sporting Field, documenting Sporting breeds during a critical phase of their development. This was the first American stud book, recording the lineage of 327 Pointers, Clumber, Cocker and Irish Water Spaniels, Irish, English and Gordon Setters and 44 crossbred setters. After issuing a revised edition in 1882, Burges announced that he was “withdrawing since a national club could give to such a work a character no private individual could.” (AKC Gazette) Burges continued contributing his views on the American dog world until his death in 1888 at age 48.

Dr. Nathaniel Rowe
Dr. Nathaniel Rowe began his career as a physician but his real passion was journalism and Sporting dogs. He started as a billiard columnist for Turf, Field and Farm, and worked his way up to editor of The Field at age 34. “Rowe’s interest in all sorts of matches and field trials was intense and his knowledge as to how they should be conducted was extensive. For these reasons, his efforts towards regulatory guidance became ‘the law.’ When a committee was in doubt they generally found it best to ‘ask Dr. Rowe.’” (AKC Gazette) He helped organize America’s first successful bench show on Oct. 7, 1874 in Mineola, and the earliest field trials for the Tennessee Sportsmen’s Association, with J. M. Taylor, who later became AKC’s first president.

Breeding and showing gundogs “directed him to the realization that field dogs in America were deteriorating.” (AKC Gazette) Rowe began importing dogs around 1872 and became the first person in America to publicly advertise a stud dog. Like Burges, he was devoted to Llewellin Setters.

On Jan. 26, 1876, America’s first national club, The National American Kennel Club, was founded in Chicago. Burges served on the board and Rowe became its first president. Soon afterward Rowe took over The Field, renamed it American Field, and ran it until his death in 1896 at age 54. Under Rowe’s leadership American Field devoted unprecedented “vigorous, fearless, honest and critical reporting” to canine topics. “His name still stands on title page as founder, which is not quite correct. Today it is the staunchest support of the Llewellin cult and in the stud book which it publishes there is a section entitled ‘Llewellin Setters,’ distinguished from English Setters.” (The Dog Book) James Watson, on the other hand, was no fan of the Llewellins or Rowe’s politics.

James Watson
James Watson, a breeder, judge and writer in Edinburgh, came to America in the 1870s. He introduced several breeds to America, including the Irish Terrier in 1880, and his imports were crucial to establishing American Collies and Cocker Spaniels in the U.S. He helped to found the first specialty clubs for both breeds. In contrast to Burges and Rowe, Watson actually trained as a professional journalist and wrote for numerous newspapers and sporting journals. In 1905 he published The Dog Book, which remains an undisputed masterpiece. Ironically, a profile of his career in the AKC Gazette omitted his pivotal role as publisher and editor of Forest and Stream and American Kennel Register, AKC’s chief adversary for many years.

Dr. Joseph Frank Perry
Although Dr. Joseph Frank Perry, a Civil War veteran, graduated from Harvard Medical School, his first love was journalism. “Throughout his life he was a prolific writer, contributing to most magazines on many controversial subjects of the day.” (AKC Gazette) Despite being handicapped by deafness, Perry enjoyed a wide-ranging, incredibly successful career. He authored three popular medical books and two bestselling dog books under the pen name of Ashmont. “Perry, like many strong personalities, was a somewhat controversial figure among his contemporaries. He always spoke his piece and let the chips fall where they may. This approach did not make many friends, but did create a number of enemies.” (AKC Gazette)

The celebrated Llewellin Setter 'Druid,' bred by Richard Llewellin in England and imported and owner by Arnold Burges.

This doesn’t seem an exaggeration. Perry’s kennel in Keene, N.H., primarily Mastiffs and also including Pugs, was featured in an 1884 profile. “The residents included a nondescript dog called a ‘pick up.’ This unfortunate animal had the freedom of the place but his major duty was to go into the kennels and runs before the pedigreed dogs were let in to pick up any meat that might have been thrown over the fences – poisoned meat that is. Apparently the good Doctor had a few intense enemies that would stop at nothing.” (AKC Gazette)

Perry was among AKC’s founding supporters but soon objected to what he perceived as unilateral decision making. “The organization was based upon club membership only, a setup that did not please Dr. Perry, who had fostered individual, rather than club, affiliation.” (AKC Gazette). He became devoted to creating a national organization providing members with individual representation.

Charles Mason
Charles Mason came to America in 1880, “seeking wider opportunities,” dog brokering being the first of these. He “brought over a steady flow of dogs in a myriad of breeds.” (AKC Gazette) He cultivated a high profile and introduced numerous breeds to this country; for instance, at the 1881 Westminster show he exhibited seven breeds, including ‘Bruce,’ the first Airedale ever shown in America.

In addition to breeding, exhibiting and judging, Mason edited the Fancier’s Journal and Turf, Field and Farm, and contributed to most sporting publications on both sides of the Atlantic. Mason was notorious for his outspoken opinions. His most famous work (now a collector’s item), Our Prize Dogs, was published in 1888 as the first in a series. “It failed to be perpetuated, possibly because of the work it entailed, more probably because the owners of the dogs involved could not take honest criticism.” Our Prize Dogs evaluated over 1,000 dogs placing first to third at 1887 shows.

“Mason’s appraisals were both honest and straightforward; they were surely not made to gain friends but did offer an objective view of the dogs involved.” (AKC Gazette) Although Mason made a fortune as an importer he later invited equal controversy by advocating a ban on foreign dogs at American shows. He believed this would halt indiscriminate importation by wealthy fanciers, stating that “many of these imports were not top quality and only won because of their high profile owners and ballyhoo in the press.”

Next: How the Show Scene Started >>

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