This dog is Ch. Kerry Palmerston, a top show dog in the early twentieth century.
He is heavier in bone than we normally see in Irish setters today, but it is well within the range that we see in retrievers. In fact, if I hadn’t identified this animal as an Irish setter, I bet that many of my readers would think I had posted another photo of an early flat-coat.
Setters, especially Irish setters, were originally much more retriever-like in their appearance. Golden and flat-coated retrievers have significant heritage from these dogs, even though many goldens have since been bred away from this type.
Irish setters were known for their intelligence and air-scenting abilities– traits that would have been useful for a working retriever. Today’s Irish setters do not have that same reputation.
These setters may have been crossed into Labrador retrievers. The late nineteenth and early twentieth century retriever fancier Harding Cox thought that Labradors should be interbred with setters to make the dogs less coarsely built:
Of late years the Labrador has grown in favour, and though the writer has no personal experience of his merits, there are knowledgable sportsmen who swear by him, by reason of his alleged possession of all the virtues which a Retriever should possess. Many of these dogs have been carefully bred and the strains jealously guarded; but to the writer’s eyes they appear, for the most part, rather coarse and cloddy; so that the element of the Setter becomes a necessity, if the quality of the modern Retriever is to be maintained. But first get your black Setter – no easy matter forsooth; though the cross of the red Irish Setter with the Labrador would probably produce a fair percentage of blacks. These could be crossed in with a high-quality, show, Flat-coated Retriever, and thus a fresh current of blood would be introduced, which not only would check the tendency to excessive inbreeding, but would probably increase the powers of scent, and induce that steadiness which, it must be regretfully admitted, is often sadly wanting in our modern dogs; for they are high-couraged creatures, and somewhat impatient of restraint.
From British Dogs, Their Points, Selection, And Show Preparation (1903) W.D. Drury.
I don’t know if any Labradors had setter ancestors, but I do know that the common practice of breeding Labradors/St. John’s water dogs to flat-coats means that many Labradors have setter ancestry, although not as close in their pedigrees as golden and flat-coated retrievers.
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