This section is from the book "British Dogs, Their Points, Selection, And Show Preparation", by W. D. Drury. Also available from Amazon: British Dogs: Their Points, Selection And Show Preparation.
No breed of latter days has sprung into greater favour than that of the Flat-coated Retriever; but whereas he has improved in both quality and quantity, his Curly-coated cousin has sunk in disfavour, despite the efforts of the devoted band who formed themselves into a club for his development and maintenance - an advantage (?) which the flat-coated variety has never fully enjoyed, although in the year 1900 a subsidiary society was formed for its benefit, which society was affiliated to the Gun-dog League; but no great encouragement has been offered by this body, with the exception of the institution of Retriever trials in connection with those periodically held for Pointers, Setters, and Spaniels.
That the Curly-coated Retriever is doomed to practical extinction is a notable and an undeniable fact, which must be put down to the inevitable law of the survival of the fittest.
For every Curly-coated dog (speaking of the recognised show type) used in the field, or exhibited on the bench, there are now a score, at least, of Flat-coats. The origin of the latter variety is not very remote, and is by no means difficult to fathom. It may be taken that the Labrador dog and the old English black Setter are the tap-roots from which it has generated and developed. Sometimes the cross of the Gordon, and even the Irish, Setter has been resorted to, as evidenced by the throw-back of red- or liver-coloured puppies, and others showing a sprinkling of brindle on the legs, muzzle, and thighs, whilst the tan eye-spot not infrequently displays itself. It may be that in the earlier days of the nineteenth century Retrievers closely resembling the modern finished article were to be met with; but it was not until the days of Mr. Gorse, Mr. Thorpe-Bartram, and Mr. S. E. Shirley were reached, that a uniform and recognised type was arrived at; and to the champions of the show-bench belonging to these gentlemen, our present-day representatives, almost without exception, trace their lineage.
Adonis, Merlin, Sailor, and Ben were amongst the earliest patriarchs to claim recognition. The last named was the sire of Champion Zelstone, who was without doubt the bed-rock of the breed. Contemporary with him was Mr. Shirley's Champion Thorn, and the concentration of the blood produced Champion Moonstone, (possibly the most perfect Retriever of all time, and assuredly of his day). He sired Champion Blackthorn, sire of Black Paint, dam of Black Drake, sire of Champion Wimpole Peter, sire of Paul of Riverside.
In a collateral line Champion Darenth (Hopeful - Donna) is another notable landmark, for he is responsible in the direct line for many of the highest-class specimens of later days - such a line, for instance, as his son Black Cloth, sire of Black Drake, the latter by far the most notable dog of modern times, for his stock have won and are still winning (1902) more prizes than that of all the other dogs of the last decade put together.
As the writer had the honour of breeding and owning Black Drake throughout the whole of his career at stud, on the show-bench, and in the field, he is naturally diffident in singing his praises; but the position of the dog in the Stud Book is unique, and the influence that his blood must have on the Retriever of the future is so obvious that he may be excused for giving a brief biography of so remarkable a Retriever. His sire was Black Cloth, by Champion Darenth - Black Skirt by Champion Blackthorn - Mavis; Blackthorn by Champion Moonstone - Champion Sloe; Champion Sloe by Champion Thorn - Lady in Black. His dam, Black Paint, was own sister to Black Skirt; hence it will be seen how closely inbred he was with the Zelstone strain, and that of Mr. Solly, which had its chief origin in Mr. Gorse's Sailor. But this is blood that apparently stands any amount of inbreeding; for, even when recrossed, there is no evidence of a general or of a constitutional weakness. On the contrary, the show and stud dogs of the day, who represent what is practically a family party, are a particularly robust and hardy lot. But a time must inevitably arrive when a distinct outcross will have to be resorted to; and as it is hardly likely that a ready-made Retriever of sufficient quality will be found who does not trace back on either side to one of the tap-roots enumerated above, it is obvious that recourse must be had to the primary elements of the modern Retriever's entity.
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.
Fig. 72. - Mr. Harding Cox's Flat-Coated Retriever Black Drake.
To revert to Black Drake (Fig. 72). His early show career was anything but brilliant, for he was a leggy, backward puppy that did not appear to full advantage until he was over two years old, and he was quite eclipsed by his litter-sister Black Hen. As a youngster he had a grand head, but it suddenly grew coarse, and then, later on, again fined down, until there was little fault to find. He won innumerable prizes, and beat most of the champions of the day, securing two challenge prizes himself, and just missing the full championship title, owing to an extraordinary oversight on the part of a judge. But it was as a stud dog that his achievements are worthy of historical record. In his early days he naturally had but few chances, and it was not until his son Wimpole Peter burst upon an admiring Fancy that breeders began to patronise the sire; but from that time he never looked back. His career was as short as it was brilliant, for he succumbed to gastritis at the comparatively early age of five years.