Monday, June 27, 2011

The Seed Man's Collies

W. Atlee Burpee and seven of his collies.

Google Books is a deep well for obscure information, and it's one I sometimes dive into just to see what I can find.

Early this morning, suffering from insomnia, I was looking for an ancient snippet on working terriers when I came across an online copy of the January 3rd, 1891 edition of The Fanciers Journal, a magazine that once covered everything from show pigeons and poultry to sheep, pigs and dogs.

Inside the front cover, as was common in that era, were a slew of ads for all kinds of products, pamphlets and kennels, several of which caught my attention. Just as I was about to flip the page, however, my eye landed on the ad to the right below, and I noticed the name.

Burpee. W. Atlee Burpee. The seed man.

Collies, of course, are both working dogs and show dogs and, like terriers and a few other breeds, have some interesting names attached to them.

A quick search for more information about Burpee's collies turned up a terrific little site on "farm" collies and shepherds, packed with history and photographs.

What I was interested in, however, was Burpee.  How did this seed man come to raise collies, and when did he stop doing that?

It seems W. Atlee Burpee borrowed $1,000 from his mother in 1876, at the age of 18,  and launched a small business to sell seed, chickens, turkeys and other fowl bred on his little farm near Philadelphia.

Over time, Burpee expanded to breed collies, sheep and hogs.

Burpee's business plan for dogs, stock and seed was simple: cull through European and Asian varieties and through selection, breeding and hybridization, improve that stock for American purposes and conditions.

In 1877, Burpee introduced a new cabbage variety, the first of hundreds of vegetable and flower varieties created or brought to America.

In 1894 Burpee introduced Iceberg lettuce, in 1902 he gave us Golden Bantam yellow sweet corn, in 1907 the Fordhook bush lima bean.  In 1948, Burpee introduced the world-famous Big Boy tomato -- still a staple of gardens from coast to coast.

A July 5, 1890 copy of The Fanciers Journal gives us a dog's eye view of Burpee's setup at that time:

Most of our readers are aware that Burpee & Co. have one of the largest seed houses in America. The Fordhook Farm is almost entirely devoted to the growing of seed and bulbs. Although our visit was rather late in the year to see the flowers at their best, still what we did see was the grandest horticultural display we ever had the pleasure of witnessing.

As we approached the farm a large field of salvia appeared in view, looking like a rich red velvet carpet. Then plots of phloxes, tuberoses and gladioli were passed. The variety of brilliant colors was a most attractive sight. Upon our arrival at the farm Mr. Burpee showed us over the place, pointing out the numerous new and beautiful plants, how the new varieties were made, the manner in which seeds were tested and separated.

But it was the dogs we went to see; so we reluctantly leave the flowers and pass by the poultry yards on the way to the kennels. These poultry houses, by the bye, are models of cleanliness and convenience. In the numerous yards we noticed nearly all the leading varieties of fowls, particularly some fine specimens of Indian Games, Light Brahmas and Black Minorcas. We also saw a new breed, secured a photograph of the birds, and an illustration and description of them will be given later in our paper.

The Fordhook Kennels are devoted exclusively to Collies, good, big, intelligent working Collies, with stamina and pluck that enables them to endure fatigue and hard work.

The kennel buildings are detached and scattered about over considerable ground, which is fenced off by wire into runs. The lying-in hospital was the first building entered. We found it partitioned off to hold six bitches, each having her private run. Daisy Dean, whose acquaintance we made in 1886 at Boston and New York, where she took first prizes, we found nursing a fine litter of puppies by the well-known Champion Scotilla. In an adjoining stall was Miss Constance, closely related to the renowned Metchley Wonder, with a nice lot of pups by Fordhook Squire. The hospital for sick dogs, an isolated building, we found empty, and Mr. Holmes did not seem anxious to have these quarters occupied.

When did Burpee stop breeding collies, and why?

I have no idea.

The "Fordhook Scotch Collies" kennel supplied collies by mail-order and shipped them by train until at least 1911. W. Atlee Burpee died in 1915, so perhaps the kennel operation died with him -- a personal obsession not shared by his son, David Burpee, who appears to have been more interested in plants and seeds and in moving the company's seed-production operation to California.

Burpee's 1945 catalogue -- the start of many a Victory Garden.


Donald McCaig said...

The library of Congress has a Fordhook Kennel's pamphlet. I vaguely remember it was 1912.

Donald McCaig

seeker said...

My first registered dog was a Rough Collie. He was a lovely dog I obedience trained. He got his CD and his CDX at the hands of a 16 year old farm girl who knew little or nothing about showing except from one obedience class. He had to be smart. I didn't show him in conformation because he was a 'Lassie' type and already out of style. I wound up giving him to a farmer in the Texas Hill County because he so loved to herd goats and I had none.
Yet another breed that the AKC has utterly destroyed, making them look like a cross between a saluki and a St Bernard. Barney was a good dog and I hope he and the old gentleman I gifted him to lived a long and happy life together. Sigh.

Debi and the TX JRTs

Seahorse said...

I like the drawing of the collie. Very nice head, unlike the needle-noses we usually see today.