Posts Tagged ‘Noranby goldens’

You can see the somewhat lighter tawny gold shadings on the darker dogs.

From left to right these dogs are: Silence of Tone, Noranby Black-eyed Susan, Ch. Noranby Diana (my favorite of the prewar goldens), and Noranby Jane.

The Noranby goldens belonged to Winifred Charlesworth, who, it can be argued, is the person most responsible for making the golden retriever a distinct breed.

This photo would have been taken in the early 1930’s.

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This dog is listed as Noranby Curfew in 1926. The woman featured with him is Winifred Charlesworth. i.e., the person I credit most with establishing the golden retriever as a distinct breed.

This dog is very typical of the type she liked to produce:  fairly dark and fairly moderate. Many of the earlier dogs were much more similar to the old heavy wavy-coated retriever type, but she and others worked to modify the dog so that it could be more useful. The dogs never became as fully racy as the flat-coated retriever eventually became, but they did move more towards moderation.

One of the early complaints about goldens is they were slow movers– no doubt the result of many of them having this heavier conformation. I doubt that many of the Guisachan or Melbury dogs were trialled much, so they retained the “1860’s model” type for the wavy-coated retriever. Trialling dogs almost always changes their type, which is why the wavy/flat-coated retriever evolved from a 70-80-pound St. John’s water dog-type in the 1860’s to 50-68-pound dog that was common by the 1890’s.

This dog also has a white “medallion” on the chest, a trait that still pops up int he breed today.

This dog looks very much like a modern working-type golden retriever. That keen expression, intelligent expression is very much typical of the breed.

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Winfred Charlesworth with Ch. Noranby Diana, Ch. Noranby Dutiful, and Ch. Noranby Deirdre

If I hadn’t been for the efforts of Winifred Charlesworth, it is likely that the golden retriever would have remained a minority color variant of the flat-coated retriever. Not only did she write the first proposed standard for the breed in 1910, but she also developed one of the three founding strains of the breed. Her Noranby dogs were part of the bedrock on which this breed is based.

The other two lines, the Earl of Shrewsbury’s Ingestre dogs and the 1st Viscound Harcourt’s Culham line, certainly played a role in the foundational stock of the breed.

However, it is very likely that without Winifred Charlesworth’s constant patronage, the fortune of these dogs would be tied up in the flat-coated retriever. The flat-coat was a celebrated working dog in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Britain. However, not long after the golden had been separated from the flat-coat, the flat-coat’s popularity dissipated,

It is very likely that the strains that gave us the golden would have remained a minority within the flat-coat breed, and when the flat-coat became a minority breed, these dogs would have disappeared.

We’ve seen similar colors and forms disappear in other breeds that have lost their popularity. Good luck finding a drop-eared Skye terrier, and I guarantee you that you won’t find a wheaten Scottish deerhound. 

Even relatively common breeds lose their minority colors. Solid red English springer spaniels were not unkown, but these dogs don’t exist all today.  The “mouse” color in the French bulldog is probably gone, but some claim that blue Frenchies are the mouse dogs. Black mastiffs were once relatively common in the breed, but today, all so-called black mastiffs are actually very dark black brindles.

It is likely that the very dark colors in the golden retriever will disappear. The FCI and KC standards don’t want red or mahogany dogs, even though red and mahogany dogs were part of the breed from the beginning (and were the majority of the breed). The tendency now is to breed for a dog with the recessive chincilla factor that produces lighter colored dogs. The net result of such selective breeding will mean that the dark colors will simply disappear. It is possible to produce light-colored puppies from dark-colored parents. It is impossible to produce dark-colored puppies from light-colored parents.

I just want to give you an idea of what the color range was for the Noranby dogs, including one of the dogs featured above.

The second dog from the right is Ch. Noranby Diana, which is the same dog featured at her mistress’s side in the top photo.


The first champion in the breed was a Noranby, Ch. Noranby Campfire.

Ch. Noranby Campfire, b. 1912. First champion golden retriever.


Yes, a lot of these early dogs were quite dark-colored, and here I need to make something clear.

The dark color of these dogs did not exist because these three foundational strains were interbred with black flat-coat. Black (EE or Ee)  is a dominant color over yellow t0 red (ee). However, an entirely different gene determines the extent of the yellow to red coloration (C or c). Black versus liver is determined by another set of genes (B or b). It is possible for a yellow or red dog to have the alleles for dominant black coloration (BB o Bb). That’s because the (ee) prevents the black coloration from being expressed on the coat. If you have a golden, it is most likely a black dog with with the ee. That’s one reason why it is very easy to get black puppies if you breed a golden retriever to virtually anything, including brindle boxers and sable collies.

And yes, I’m aware the the recessive c alleles has several different versions, but I can’t type them here. (Source)


I should also point out that Winifred Charlesworth was a firm believer in the Russian circus dog theory of the golden origins. It has long since been debunked, but I think there are plenty of good reasons why someone would continue to promote something so bizarre. After all, it doesn’t take a genus to see how similar golden retrievers are to flat-coats, and the Noranby dogs really do look a lot like red flat-coated retrievers.

However, I don’t think the move to separate the golden from the flat-coat would have been so strong in 1910 if it was assumed that this was nothing more than a color variety of the usually black flat-coat. If the dogs had an exotic and very different origin from the flat-coats, it would be easier to justify separating them.

It is very likely that this is all the Russian circus dog story was. It was an origin myth that legitimated  separation.

I’m not saying that these people were all liars, but they were all believing Grade A bull-plop.

And although it is obvious that these dogs are very similar to comtemporary flat-coats in every respect except for color, this story had power to shape the distiny of two breeds.

The flat-coat became quite rare in the succeeding decades, while the separated golden retriever would become unbelievably popular. It would eventually become the second most popular dog in the United States, if we are to use AKC recognition statistics as a guide to popularity. Today, the breed is the fourth most registered dog with the AKC. It has lost its second-place ranking to the Yorkshire terrier.

And both breeds have diverged into different dogs, although I won’t go as far as to say that they are very different.  The tendency is breed goldens with more bone and coat, and the tendency in flat-coats is to breed for less bone and for less profuse feathering. But whenever you see a yellow flat-coat or a lightly built golden, you can tell that their history is connected.

And goldens aren’t from Russia.

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Sometimes pictures really do speak louder than words.  Very few breeds have the pictoral history of their development as golden retrievers do. I’ve sifted through the history of this breed rather closely and carefully studied the photographs and paintings. I have come the following conclusions:

  1. The vast majority of the early dogs, including those at Guisachan were not light colored. It is often said that they were, usually using Elma Stonex’s history as a source. However, she was simply wrong about this. It is possible that she was wanting to please the golden retriever club mandarins, who were beginning to breed the lighter colors and had changed the standard to allow for these lighter colors just a few decades earlier (in 1936). Most of the golden retriever intelligentsia of that time were deeply committed to the Russian circus dog story of golden origins, and it is likely that she was trying to make the story fit better with the politics of golden retriever society at the time.
  2. Heavy and very coarse dogs existed in the Tweedmouth strain. Whether these are part bloodhound or not is another question. I think they are showing a stronger Newfoundland influence than bloodhound. There is no really good documentation on bloodhounds being crossed into the Tweedmouth strain, except that it was said to be written down on a piece of paper, which was then lost. I’m of the view that it is likely that the Tweed water dog (“water spaniel”) did have some hound in it, and early retrievers were sometimes crossed with hounds. However, we do know that a dog appears in the Tweedmouth studbook with the name of Tracer. Tracer’s sire was Zelstone, who was known to have Newfoundland or St. John’s water dog influence. If he had the big Newfoundland in his ancestry, it is possible that his progeny could be heavy dogs.
  3. One of the problems that Mrs. Charlesworth, the real founder of the golden retriever, discovered in the strain was that they were too heavy and coarse to really be good retrievers.  The pictoral history seems to bear this out. Noranby Sandy and Noranby Balfour are much heavier-built dogs than her later dogs. However, her later dogs, Noranby Jeptha, Noranby Jane, etc. were of a much more svelte and workmanlike body-type.

So I think I am going to go through the golden’s history in photographs starting with “Lady,” Archie Marjoribanks’s Texas ranch golden. Lady’s descendants would include Culham Brass and Culham Rossa.  Culham is one of the three foundational lines of golden retriever, and it is closely related to Mrs. Charlesworth’s Noranby line. The Culhams were owned by the 1st Viscount Harcourt, a Liberal cabinet minister. The other strain was Ingestre, which were kept on the Ingestre estate, which was owned by the Earls of Shrewbury. However, let’s start from the beginning, with Lady the Texas ranch. She was not the first golden in North America, for the Lord Aberdeen, who was married to Ishbel Majoribanks, imported several goldens to British Columbia during his tenure as Canada’s governor-general.

Lady with Archie Majoribanks:

lady and archie

From her descended Culham Brass, b. 1904.

Culham brass (1904)

Mrs. Winifred Maud Charlesworth founded her strain. Some of her ealier dogs were a bit heavy and lighter in color.  Here, she is photographed with Noranby Sandy and Noranby Balfour. Both of these dogs are a bit heavier than her later dogs. Sandy is a light gold, which at that time was sometimes called a shaded gold. Occasionally, really light golds were born with cream shadings. I have a photo, though not digitized, of an even lighter golden belonging to Lord Aberdeen in Canada. However, you can tell that this dog is not a “white” one. It is about the color of my dog.

Mrs. Charlesworth

Now, in the early days, goldens were part of the flat-coat breed, and most lines were interbred with them. Also contrary to Mrs. Stonex’s history, breeding a black flat-coat to a golden will not make your goldens darker. Goldens are genetically the same color as yellow Labradors. Yellow Labs are often bred to black Labs, yet the number of “fox red” Labradors remains quite low. The genes that make goldens dark or lighter in color is not related at all to the genes that determine whether a dog is yellow-to-red or black or liver, except that yellow to red is recessive to both black and liver. One of the top trial retrievers of the early twentieth century was Don of Gerwn, a liver flat-coat. Don was born to another liver flat-coat named Rust and  “cream-colored” (meaning light gold) retriever of Tweedmouth’s strain. Don very strongly resembles what later goldens would become.

don of gerwin

Don of Gerwn

Don of Gerwn

Now, Mrs. Charlesworth wrote the first standard for the golden retriever in 1911. In 1910, a group of yellow flat-coat fanciers decided to separate their breed. Mrs. Charlesworth was one of the ring leaders. I suppose the desire to have them separated had more to do with the fact that in flat-coats, blacks did better in dog shows. Livers occasionally won, but yellows and reds were simply out of the running. Futher, just a few years before, there was a widely circulated story about the origins of the Tweedmouth strain of wavy-coat. It claimed that the dogs were actually descended from a race of Russian sheep dogs that were performing at a circus in England. The 1st Baron Tweedmouth purchased them and took them to his estate in Scotland, where he crossed them with bloodhounds. (I think it is from this story we get the bloodhound entry into the golden retriever). If that were true, then the golden retrievers were never wavy or flat-coats. They were their own unique strain. Mrs. Charlesworth was a proponent of this theory. I think she actually believed it, but it simply was not true. The golden retriever, as we all know, is derived from the wavy-coat, which is the ancestral strain for both the golden and the flat-coat.  In fact, the 1st Baron Tweedmouth used lots of black wavy-coats in his strain.The Kennel Club rightly had placed these yellow dogs with the flat-coats. However, with such a story, it would be easier to get the Kennel Club to recognize the golden as a distinct breed. The breed eventually was recognized in 1912, but it was still bred to the flat-coat until 1916.

Mrs. Charlesworth was also interested in making the breed competitive in British trials, so she began to work on breeding out the lumber and excessive bone that had appeared in the strain during the early decades of the twentieth century.

By the 1920’s, she was producing mostly lightly-built and darker golden retrievers, not unlike what we see in working strain golden of today.

Noranby Jeptha was a mahogany born in 1925. I have a photo of her in one of my books that shows a very, very dark dog. In those days, flat-coats and goldens were more heavily trimmed than they are today, but most dogs lacked the really excessive feathering we see in too many show dogs today.

noranby jeptha

Ch. Noranby Jeptha

Of course, she was not the first dog of this type to exist. Indeed, Mrs. Charlesworth also bred the first champion in the breed, Ch. Noranby Campfire. You’ll never see a dog like him in the ring today.

Ch. Noranby Campfire, b. 1912, the first champion Golden retriever.

Ch. Noranby Campfire, b. 1912, the first champion Golden retriever.

Another important Noranby dog was Ch. Noranby Diana, who also placed in a few field trials.

Ch. Noranby Diana

Ch. Noranby Diana

Noranby Diana was born in 1929. If you cannot tell her color from the black and white photo, she is a golden red. She’s just a shade lighter than a mahogany. Here’s her color photo:

Noranby Diana on the right. Noranby Jane on the left. Photo from the 1930's.

Noranby Diana on the right. Noranby Jane on the left. Photo from the 1930's.

The main goal of the early golden retriever club was to have a working retriever that could be shown. That’s why all of these show dogs were also worked, and their body type was much closer to functional than we see in show dogs today, which very often aren’t worked at all. Very often show-line goldens haven’t been bred for working coformation or instinct many generations. But in those days, most show dogs looked like what we would today call field line dog.

Here’s Ch. Flight of Kentford. A very nice looking dog with good legs and very moderate bone.

Ch. Flight of Kentford

Ch. Flight of Kentford

And then there’s the lovely bitch, Ch. Abbot’s Daisy.  She appears to have a bit more bone but not so much as we see today.

Ch. Abbot's Daisy, b. 1934

Ch. Abbot's Daisy

And then there’s the famous stud, Ch. Michael of Moreton. Now, as I’ve said before, using a single stud dog in many different matings within a closed registry system is a very bad practice. One of the early “most used studs” in the golden retriever was Michael of Moreton. He was said to be a very high priced stud, but today, I don’t think show golden breeders would spend a dime on him. In fact, they would have a cow if such a dog bred one of their blocky bitches.

Ch. Michael of Moreton, b. 1925

Ch. Michael of Moreton, b. 1925

And dogs of this type were commonplace in the late 1930’s.

Ch. Dunkelve Rusty was a top show dog in the late 1930's. He's a very nicely built dog, although, as per the custom of the day, he was a bit over-trimmed.

Ch. Dunkelve Rusty was a top show dog in the late 1930's. He's a very nicely built dog, although, as per the custom of the day, he was a bit over-trimmed.

Now after the Second World War, British goldens began to change dramatically. Heavier bone, which had been bred out of the breed in its eary years, suddenly became popular in the ring, as had the lighter colors. The golden in Europe began to evolve very differently from those in the US and Canada, which were largely based on imports that came to North America in the 1920’s and 1930’s. These dogs would provide the basis for most North American line dogs until th 1970’s, when breeding for more coat became more popular here. The working line dogs on both sides of the Atlantic would tend to keep this “old-fashioned appearance,” beause in working retriever work, conformation is not set by a standard of appearance, which changes a little every couple of decateds.  Working retriever work favors a lighter frame and less feathering, although it is possible to train a heavier-coated and heavier-built dog to work with some style. It just will lack the real agility, speed, and style of one of these performance-bred dogs.

Today, this is the version that does well in the AKC ring.

Heavy in bone, short in the leg, and excessive in feathering, this show golden probably swims with all the grace of a Clydesdale.

Heavy in bone, short in the leg, and excessive in feathering, this show golden probably swims with all the grace of a Clydesdale.

This version is certain a far cry from the early days of the breed!

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It has long puzzled me why most working strain goldens are dark gold to golden red in color. I have argued that this coloration is an example of the the “founder effect,” in which the original working strain goldens were of this color and this trait was passed onto their offspring. Color has next to nothing to do with the actual abilities of the dog, but bloodlines do. Because the lines that produce field-type goldens tend to be darker, the dark colored dogs become associated with working ability. Because of this coloration association, I have argued that the European standard (KC/FCI), which penalizes “red” in the golden retriever, actually hurt the breed’s ability to compete with the Labs, which already have very specialized lines for gun dog work. It’s true that goldens have the same split, but Labrador people are more willing to admit this. Because of this split, I have argued that it is next to impossible to have a dual champion golden or Lab in the United States or Canada. In Europe, where competition isn’t as extreme on both sided, it might be possible. But really, the show type goldens and Labs actually don’t have working conformation.  I have made all of these arguments in various parts of the blog, but it turns out that I am wrong about color.

The founder effect may have something to do with it, but it turns out that dark color is actually functional in the field. I have had some golden people tell me that the dark color is useful for camouflage in the duck blind, while others have told me that the dark color is actually a superstition. Dark colored dogs are supposedly hardier than light-colored ones, just like horses with dark hooves are supposedly hardier than those with light hooves. (Neither of those hypotheses have been fully studied, because these are superstitions). I’ve seen a few light colored dogs have retrieving ability, but these have been relatively rare. I thought it was the “founder effect” and nothing else. Well, I’m wrong. 

In a column in Gun Dog, Chad Mason points out how color functions in various types of bird dogs. Some of these spotted and roan pointing breeds actually can disappear in snowy fields that happen to have areas of exposed vegetation. Because pointing breeds don’t bark on the hunt, a dog that cannot be seen clearly against the landscape is a major liability. What I found most interesting in the piece is the discussion of yellow Labs and golden retrievers:

Speaking of duck ponds, today’s trend toward bleach-blonde Labrador and golden retrievers may be advantageous to pheasant hunters, but seems grossly impractical for waterfowl hunting. I once saw a picture in a magazine of a virtually white Labrador retriever in a camouflage neoprene vest. They weren’t trying to be funny, but the dog looked like an albino elephant wearing a bowtie. There is nothing less conspicuous in the widest possible range of wetland (or grain field) scenarios than a tawny dog. Message to yellow Labrador and golden breeders: Give us darker coats

A light colored dog is a liabilty in the duck blind! However, it still doesn’t explain why black retrievers were preferred for so many years.  Oh well, I might add this to the working conformation list. But keep in mind the old saying: “No good hound is of a bad color.” The author points out that color isn’t everything, and he uses two black Labs that work well.  

The original goldens were dark in color. The only ones that were light gold were those produced in the first litter produced with Nous and Belle. The rest were really dark, showing a strong setter influence.

I am more interested in preserving the dark color because most of the working dogs have dark coats.  The KC and the FCI have shot themselves in the foot. They have essentially decided that the cream golden will be the only type considered. The working lines in North America are devoid of this color. We barely have this color in our show stock.

I’m not against light colored dogs at all. I’m against getting rid of the “red dogs.”  If you breed for the light color alone, the dark color will disappear (as it nearly has in Europe), simply because dark color is dominant to light color. Light colored dogs cannot carry a gene for dark color, but dark colored dogs can produced light colored puppies. If you select for light color alone, you will end the dark color forever.

Although I’ve read in several golden retriever books that the FCI/KC standard actually allows for a wider range of color, the opposite is true. The FCI/KC simply ban the dark gold and golden red colors, and promote the light gold and “cream” colored dogs (also mass produced in the US as “white” golden retrievers).  Now, this would be okay, but the working retriever people have selected for dark color for reasons of camouflage or superstition or “founder effect.” What happens is that those people who want to breed for a dual purpose dog  will be searching for light colored dogs that can retrieve. These dogs exist, but there aren’t many of them. And when you’re selecting for that light color, you are going against the grain of selection for the dark color in the working lines. This means that you will be searching for much longer to find a dog with the ability and the color, and this means that at some point you have relax on working ability. If this process is repeated for several dogs and generations, you can forget about competing with the Labradors, which are being selected solely for working ability. (I mean this as a general idea. I’m sure there are a least some light-colored goldens that can give the Labs a run for their money.) But because you’re already selecting for a light-colored dog and the people who came before you selected for the dark color, it’s just become that much harder to preserve and enhance the working abilities of the golden retriever.

What if it was decided that border collies could no longer come in black and white? And what if all the herding champions, except maybe ten every decade, were of black and white coloration? The working ability of border collies would drop rather significantly. This is what is happening to golden retrievers.

I should note here that Mrs. Winifred Charlesworth,  one of the people who separated the golden from the flat-coated breed, refused to breed a light colored dog, even though he was an excellent worker. Her Noranby dogs were often very dark in color, as this picture shows:

These dogs reflect the preferred original range of color in goldens.

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