When I wrote this article in July 2008 for publication in the Pomeranian Review March 2009 I always felt one day an earlier reference to Boswell’s 1764 sighting would be found. And I’m delighted to share my recent discovery with you. This information is also debuting May 20th in Dog World’s special on Poms.
For the time being the earliest reference to the Pomeranian by that name in England can be found in the voluminous correspondence of Mary Granville also known as Mrs Delany. From Bath on the 18th October 1760 she informed Mrs Dewes -
‘When we arrived at Tedbury, at four o’clock, who should we see in the inn-yard but the least of men, Mr Sampson! he seemed so glad to see us that, notwithstanding all his littleness, we asked him to come and drink tea with us, which he did, and he and a droll Pomeranian puppy served us instead of cribbage till nine!’
What is perhaps most exciting about this reference is King George II was still alive (although he died within the week) and therefore interest in the breed pre-dated the arrival of Queen Charlotte (1761) and debunks the traditional view that Pomeranians were introduced to England as a result of the Queen’s influence. George III was initially enamoured of young Sarah Lennox, daughter of the Duke of Richmond, and it was not until later in 1761 that Lord Bute convinced George to marry Charlotte.
A personal quest to find the earliest reference to the term Pomeranian was fulfilled while researching for this article pre-dating the famous letter of Queen Charlotte written in 1767 by 3 years. A minor observation in the travel journal of James Boswell, then a twenty four year old Scottish law student on The Grand Tour in 1764, provides us with important historical data that modifies Pomeranian breed history.
Boswell’s diary recorded his journey by coach between Mainz and Mannheim:
‘Friday 2 November - The French traveller was Monsieur Bertollon, a merchant of fine stuffs at Lyons. He and I and my servant and a German woman got into an extra post for Mannheim. The Frenchman had a Pomeranian dog called Pomer whom he was mighty fond of. He was a singular Frenchman, a great lubberly dog with a head like a British tar. He sang most outrageously. He was jolly.’ (Ref. Boswell On The Grand Tour Germany and Switzerland 1764 edited by Professor F. A. Pottle 1953)
The Frenchman and Boswell stayed at the Prinz Frederic Inn in Mannheim for a few nights before parting company but unfortunately no more is said of his dog Pomer.
However, from this information we glean that Boswell clearly recognised the breed (there is no reference to this being an unusual/unique sighting) and he used the anglicised version of the breed’s name. Pomer is a curious choice of pet name as in German the word ‘Pommer’ meant a Pomeranian or Spitz dog (ref. Zimmermann 1780). The French name for the breed at that time was Chien Loup (ref. Buffon 1756). This choice of name must have amused dog- loving Monsieur Bertollon.
Additional evidence for the early use of the term Pomeranian is provided by Thomas Pennant. Mr Brookes, a reputable animal merchant in New Road, Holborn London (more renowned for his exotic birds), at the request of Lord Clanbrassil and Lord Monthermer in 1765, agreed to breed one of his Pomeranian bitches to a Wolf he also owned. The noblemen agreed to pay a good price for the puppies. This is documented (Hunter 1789) as the first experiment in Britain of breeding a dog to a wolf. The 1766 litter of ten resembled ‘a wolf refined; the fur long, but almost as fine as that of the black fox’. Pennant observed one at the Scottish residence of The Duke of Gordon in 1768 noting the dog was sportive and very good- natured but easily able to kill a deer by attacking its throat. Some of the original litter and later their offspring were bred to a variety of dogs including a pointer, mastiff and a bulldog. Owners of either 1st or 2nd generation offspring included Lord Pembroke whose bitch Lupa (2nd gen.) died on October 16 1782 aged 12 years, the Duke of Queensberry, Dr Eyre of Wells, John Hunter the anatomist & surgeon, M Cerjat of Switzerland and Mr Buckett of Stockbridge. The Wolf may therefore be a more recent ancestor to many of our dogs than previously believed.
Summary - In all the numerous accounts and personal testimonials of this experiment the bitch is referred to as a Pomeranian. By 1766 Mr Brookes owned a mature Pomeranian bitch and additionally it is unlikely she was either rare or of high value as otherwise it would seem reckless to endanger her by breeding her to a semi-feral wolf. Evidence suggests Mr Brookes’ Pomeranian was a large bitch of the type categorised by Linne (Linnaeus) in 1740 as ‘Canis Pomeranus’ and cross- referenced in a 1788 edition of Linne’s ‘Systema Naturae’ to Buffon’s term Chien Loup or wolf dog.
Most historians believe the Deutscher Spitz (German Spitz) and the Volpino Italiano descend from the pre-historic turbary dog or Torf / Turf Spitz. This is also the view of the FCI. Therefore the modern small Pomeranian, the Volpino Italiano, the German Spitz Klein or Mittel, the Gross Spitz and the Wolfspitz or Keeshond all descend from the same ancient central European dogs. This view is supported by archaeological evidence. The early history of the Iceland Dog (Chien d’Islande) is worthy of consideration. Some historians believe they also may have contributed to Pom ancestry in Britain. There is some historical evidence to support this opinion.
1400s - Before the advent of Natural History books, which became very much in vogue during the 1700’s (Linnaeus, Buffon, Cuivier, etc), there had been a few efforts at accounting for dog breeds, Dame Juliana Berners’ 15th century list included Teroures, Mengrells, Myddyng Dogges and Pryckeryd Currys. It is known that Myddyng (Dunghill) dogs had traded hands in Anglo-Saxon and Viking age England being valued at 1/30 th of the value of a Greyhound (reference Regia Anglorum). The etymology of myddyng sources to Scandinavian countries, meaning muck and dung. There would have been two middens – one for dung and for general waste (modern archaeologists often refer to their interest in the latter type of midden). This may suggest an early Spitz type dog in England as an old German nickname for Spitz dogs was apparently ‘mistbeller’ or dung- hill barker.
left - Pip posing as a 'Dung-hill barker'
1500s – It is quite possible that among Berners’ prick eared curs were dogs imported from Iceland. From Shakespeare’s play Henry V (Act 2 Sc1) Pistol to Nym ‘ Pish for thee, Iceland dog! Thou prick-eared cur of Iceland’. Early English spellings for Iceland were Island or Iseland and imported Island dogs were very fashionable in Tudor England. However, it may come as a surprise that Shakespeare’s prick-eared cur was in fact a very small dog less than 12 inches in height.
right - Shock dog or 'shough dog' of the Icelandic type from the Tudor era
In 1577 William Harrison contributed ‘Of our English dogs and Their Qualities’ to the Holinshed Chronicles he describes a toy dog called a whappet ‘ a prick eared cur’ (called a’wappe’ by Dr Caius in 1576) and also wrote ‘Besides these also we have sholts, or curs, daily brought out of Iseland, and much made of among us because of their sauciness and quarrelling. Moreover, they bite very sore, and love candles exceedingly, as do the men and women of their country; but may I say no more of them, because they are not bred with us’. It was the quarrelsome, nippy aspect of the Iceland dog’s character that Pistol alluded to in Henry V. Comparison to a Spitz was also an insult in Germany.
It was the view of Knight (1867) and many others that Shakespeare’s ‘cur of Iceland’ is ‘unquestionably the cur daily brought out of Iseland of Harrison. Tudor lapdogs are often all called ‘shock dogs’ from the Icelandic word ‘shough’ showing the influence of Iceland dogs on terminology. The question remains if from one of the several dog breeds known to exist in Iceland downsized specimens were developed to compete with the ever- popular, docile Maltese/Bolognese type comforter dog or whether they were merely attractive runts. Iceland was a poor country and dog breeding would have provided some additional income. They also exported falcons as early as the 1200s.
Note - Norwegians settled in Iceland about 874AD – there were no indigenous dogs so all dogs were imported. Eventually Iceland was controlled by a Danish Norwegian monarchy, in 1416 the Danish king was Erich der Pommer, the son of Duke Vartislav of Pomerania.
Did trading between Iceland and Pomerania include dogs?
1600s – Sir Thomas Browne wrote an account of Iceland and trading links in January 1663 ‘ Beside shocks and little hairy dogs, they bring another sort over, headed like a fox, which they say are bred betwixt dogs and foxes; these are desired by the shepherds of this country’. This is probably the beginning of the term ‘fox-dog’ which eventually came to mean a Pomeranian.
Undoubtedly this was a smart piece of salesmanship by the Icelanders – the sagaciousness of a fox combined with canine attributes. Shock dogs were losing popularity at this time in favour of small Spaniels so it was a wise move to popularise another one of their dog breeds. (It is apparently genetically impossible to interbreed a fox and a dog but many educated people including Darwin considered the possibility at one time. As late as the 1870s in America some felt that the white Pom or Spitz dog had fox ancestry – referring to the winter coat of the arctic fox).
below right - Chien d'Islande as featured in Prichard's book of 1843
Linnaeus coined the term Canis Pomeranus in his natural history book Systema Naturae. By the third quarter 18th century this type of dog was usually called ‘the Pomeranian Dog’ in Britain. Edwards noted it was also called ‘the Kees’ (1800). By about 1840 the name ‘Spitz dog’ is sometimes used. The name Fox Dog and later on in the 1800s Pomeranian Fox Dog were also alternative names.
Before the Unification of Germany in 1871 the area comprised of a number of independent states. Pommern or Pomerania, as it was called in Britain, was partially controlled by Prussia. Most regions favoured specific dogs and had regional variations of Spitz dogs. Popular breeds of Pommern included the Pommersche Huetehund and the Pommern Spitz or Pommer. Pommern Spitz translates as Pomeranian Spitz. This explains why the names ‘Pomeranian’ and ‘Spitz’ are interchangeable and both names could be used.
George III’s wife Queen Charlotte was from Mecklenburg -Strelitz situated to the west of Pommern. Mrs Tietjin’s book records a letter Charlotte wrote to Lord Harcourt in 1767 to accompany a gift to him of two ‘Pommeranians’ called Mercury and Phebe imported directly from Pomerania. Lord Harcourt had gone to Mecklenburg in 1761 as the King’s special ambassador to negotiate the marriage between George and the 17 year old Charlotte and then to accompany her to
There is no description of Mercury and Phebe other than they were ‘beautiful for that Species’. As several types can be seen in artwork for this period, ranging from small to large, it cannot be assumed they resembled the classic Gainsborough type or even that they were white.
Earl Spencer owned a large reddish/tan dog (1773) and The Prince of Wales (later George IV) is known to have owned a large black and white parti-colour (Fino) and a wolf sable dog. A handsome small/medium black dog appears in a 1791 painting and Wheatley (1775) featured a medium sized white resembling Ch Rob of Rozelle born circa 1888.
Hone (1776) painted a small white dog. Thomas Gainsborough immortalised Carl Friederich Abel’s large white in 1777 - below right. ‘The Family of Sir William Young’ painted by Zoffany in 1770 included a fine cream specimen of the larger type.
Queen Charlotte appears to have favoured other breeds such as toy Spaniels and little Terriers (as evidenced in art work) for pet companions. Badine was an early favourite of the Queen. It was not until 1807 as an aging and very unhappy lady the artist Stroehling painted her with a diminutive Spitz. A few years later Owen portrayed a smaller/medium size, frisky white Pom in the company of Lord Egremont’s mistress.
1785 – The travel journal of Baron Riesbeck noted little black or white Pomeranian or spitchen were very fashionable and could be purchased in the dog market of Vienna for 10 to 15 ducats. No doubt these small dogs found their way to England.
May 1786 – A lost ad was placed in The Times newspaper in London –‘ Lost on Wednesday last, a large Pomeranian Dog, answers to the name of Fox; has a remarkable fine Coat and Tail.’ Mrs Castle offered a 2 guineas reward for his return to either a Charing Cross or a Spring Gardens address. The ad ran for 4 days.
1800s – Pomeranian dogs were often referred to in literary works in the early 19th century, such as, Mr Mule’s dog ‘Juba’ in 1824, ‘Caesar’ in Mackenzie’s ‘ The Lounger’ (1803) and in 1844 Walter Landor’s constant companion ‘Pomero’, from Florence (he would be a Volpino). Ainsworth toured France in 1848 with his’ little white Spitz, or Pomeranian dog’ acquired in Germany.
1832 – There is an intriguing reference in Dr. Leuckart’s book Naturgeschichte under varieties of ‘Der Pommer – Der Spitz – C. pomeranus’ to ‘der Englische Spitz’- a small dog with long, fine, white hair.
left - Goya - circa 1810
1859 – Stonehenge (J.H. Walsh) described the Pomeranian Fox Dog or Loup Loup noting this ‘cheerful little dog’ had become increasingly popular in the past 20 years and was now a common house- dog but not highly prized. His description pretty much matches the Volpino in type ‘ very fox-like, pricked ears, sharp nose, neck thick and covered with a ruff of woolly hair, body also clothed in thick woolly hair not curled; legs free from hair. Tail carried high, curled over back. Generally white, sometimes pale cream rarely black’. A number of years later under the term Pomeranian or Spitz dog he also described a larger variety. Walsh noted they were mostly imported from France or Germany in addition to those bred in this country.
In 1861, John Meyrick wrote, ‘The Pomeranian dog, unlike the Pug, is a recent importation into this country, though he has been always well-known in Germany’. He noted they were usually white, cream or black and averaged 14” in height. He added ‘the Pomeranian is esteemed in proportion to his small size, the shortness of his legs, and the length, thickness, and silkiness of his coat’. Interestingly he felt they were a hardy, prolific breed and for this reason ‘ a Pomeranian fetches no price in the dog fancying market’.
left - HRH Princess Frederica - Princess Royal of Prussia and Duches of York by Hoppner 1795 - note the small size of the dog