A Collector's Best Friend: Canine Collectibles



2015-06-26 10:54:38

In the 1990s, some 26,000-year-old footprints were discovered by archaeologists in Chauvet cave. They showed a young boy walking companionably alongside a large wolf or dog. This goes to show just how long man and dog have lived in harmony, as friends.

For centuries artists and designers have been inspired by dogs, and depicted them through various mediums.

Accordingly, collectors often become interested in these doggy portrayals, and amass various items that feature our canine friends.

We take a look at dog collectibles through history. The number of items that could feature a dog are endless, so we have focused on a handful of the most popular.


Dogs in Art

The ancient Egyptians represented their jackal-headed god Anubis in numerous sculptures and artworks. Sculptures in the form of great hounds have been discovered dating from the Roman era. Dogs pop up in art throughout history again and again.

Some artists rose to fame specifically as dog painters or sculptors. There is a whole genre of art that focuses on hunting dogs in particular, that rose to prominence in the latter half of the 19th century and into the start of the 20th. German-born painter Edmund Osthaus had a passion for hunting, and his most popular works are those oil paintings that feature hunting dogs at work, or play. His paintings were often used in advertisements.

American Percival Leonard Rosseau was influenced by the French school of Barbizon painting, which deliberately retreated from urban life and into the wild forests surrounding the Fontainebleau palace. This style was heavily connected with animal painting, and Rosseau dedicated himself to what he knew best and was incredibly good at – painting dogs.

The artworks of these two dog lovers are now extremely popular. An Osthaus oil, Hunting Dog with 7 Puppies, sold for $80,000 at DuMouchelles in September 2006. A Rosseau work, A Pair of English Setters in the Field, sold for $144,000 at Sotheby’s in December 2005. However, copies of the antique & vintage advertisements that these artists’ dog portraits were used for can be collected on a much lower budget.

Some of the most recognisable dog paintings in history are the Dogs Playing Poker series of sixteen oil paintings by C. M. Coolidge, commissioned by Brown & Bigelow to advertise cigars in the early 1900s. Two of the original paintings sold at Doyle New York’s ‘Dogs in Art’ auction in 2005 for $520,000. However, you can pick up a print of any of Coolidge’s dog paintings for a small fraction of this price.

And more contemporary art such as the work of George Rodrigue is heavily associated with his dogs paintings, also used in advertising for Absolut Vodka.

Aside from these artists who are strongly associated with dogs, a surprising number of other artists have used the dog as a theme at one time or another. Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Yoshitomo Nara, Jeff Koons, Dame Elizabeth Frink and Andrew Wyeth, to name but a few, have all at some point or another made the dog the focus of their art.

Amateur artists also often take the dog as a subject, including the retired ex-President George Bush, who paints numerous portraits of dogs to fill his time.

Places where a collector might find dog art range from eBay to antique stores to yard sales and flea markets. Doyle New York held an auction ‘Dogs in Art’ in 2005, so it’s worth keeping an eye on the auction world too. For example, Christie’s Sporting and Wildlife Art auction is coming up in June 2013, and they may well have a few doggy themed pieces on offer.

Vintage advertising

Dogs have also been used in much advertising throughout history. The most notable example is Nipper, the dog that was the subject of Francis Barraud’s His Master’s Voice painting, which was used to advertise the Victor Talking Machine Company, RCA Victor, and His Master’s Voice (HMV) for over a century. Nipper’s image can be found on vinyl records, record players, needle tins, counter displays, tin signs, thermometers, calendars, cigarette cases, salt and pepper shakers, and other items of more recent merchandise such as mugs, puzzles, crockery and stuffed toys.

Dogs were often used in advertisements and calendars for firearms and ammunition, such as Winchester rifles and Du Pont gunpowder, due to their obvious link with hunting.

Advertising memorabilia featuring dogs is a wide field, with many items across a broad price range available to collectors. As well as phonographs and guns, dogs have been used to advertise beer, tobacco, gas, whisky and of course dog biscuits.


Figurines in the form of dogs are perhaps the most widely connected dog related items.

China has been producing statues and figurines of ‘Foo dogs’, or guardian lions, since the ancient Han Dynasty. They were believed to have powers to protect, and were placed outside buildings, homes, offices and palaces. Smaller figurines of foo dogs were created from all kinds of material: jade, ivory, wood, stone, bronze, iron, quartz, marble, and porcelain.

And porcelain became the classic material for western figurines. China kept the method of porcelain manufacture a secret for centuries, until a German alchemist discovered the process of creating hard paste porcelain, and his patron Augustus the Strong established the Meissen porcelain manufactory in 1710.

From this time onwards, Meissen produced porcelain to great acclaim, including figurines, many in the form of dogs of all different breeds. A pair of Meissen porcelain pug dogs dating from around 1740 sold for £361,250 at auction in 2008. However, less expensive examples are collected the world over, including modern produced porcelain dog figurines from many different manufacturers, such as Royal Doulton, Lladro, Royal Dux, Heubach, Beswick and others.

Dog stamps

There are a number of philately enthusiasts who focus on animal stamps, and some who focus solely on stamps that feature dogs.

The Newfoundland dog stamp is one popular example. This was the first stamp issued by any country to feature a dog of any breed. Newfoundland issued a stamp picturing a Newfoundland dog in 1894, in a ½ penny denomination. Versions in black, red and orange were produced. When Newfoundland honoured their namesake dog once again in 1930 with another stamp, it was a 14 cent example. This is in fact harder to find than the 1894 ½ penny stamps.

Until the 1960s, there were not many more dogs pictured in stamps, but then suddenly interest was renewed. Now there are over 4,000 different dog stamps celebrating nearly every breed. Collectors have many to choose from, and tracking down dog stamps can provide a real treasure hunt for the intrepid collector.

There is even a Dogs on Stamps Study Unit allied with the American topical association dedicated to further the collection and study of philately pertaining to dogs.

Celebrity dogs

Dogs owned by celebrities, even dogs that became celebrities in their own right, add a touch of glamour to dog collectibles.

Marilyn Monroe was given a dog by Frank Sinatra, whom she named ‘Maf’, short for ‘Mafia Honey’, a joke about Sinatra’s reputed Mafia affiliations. There are many photographs that picture the doomed starlet with her little dog. In 1999, six colour polaroids not of Marilyn at all but simply of Maf in her apartment, possibly taken by her, sold for $222,500 at Christie’s.

The dogs of literary greats are likewise sought after. The collar of Charles Dickens’ dog, bearing the writer’s name and address, sold at Bonhams in 2009 for $11,590.

The first celebrity dog of the White House was President Warren G. Harding’s Airedale terrier, Laddie Boy. Newspapers regularly featured the Presidential dog in their pages, and he so often accompanied Harding on meetings, social dates and fundraising events, that he became a permanent personality of the White House. Harding was so enamoured of his dog that he had 1,000 bronze Laddie Boy miniatures made shortly after becoming president. He gifted these to friends and colleagues, and now they are collectible items.

Famous fictional dogs

Sometimes, fictional animals become celebrity personalities in their own right. From comics, to books, to television and film, people fall in love with imaginary dogs, and collectors with the bounty of merchandise and memorabilia. Walt Disney knew it, and produced a film based on the love affair between two charismatic dogs in 1955, Lady and the Tramp. They followed this in 1961 with the adventures of One Hundred and One Dalmatians.

One remarkable story of a fictional dog, whose popularity bled into reality to a great extent, is that of Lassie. The Lassie stories sparked a novel, 12 films and numerous television episodes. Between 1943 and 1997, the role of Lassie was played by one dog, Pal, and his descendents, Lassie Junior, Spook, Baby, Mire, Hey Hey and Boy, right down to eighth generation descendent Howard. It caused outrage when a non-Pal descended dog was pulled in to play Lassie in a 1997 television series. After this, a ninth and tenth generation descendent of Pal were cast in the role, and the legacy continued. There is accordingly a vast market of memorabilia relating to Lassie, such as photographs, toys, games, jewellery, cookie cutters, figurines, lunchboxes, crockery, glassware etc. More information can be found on the Lassie Collectibles and Memorabilia website.

Another beloved fictional dog is Snoopy, from Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comic strip. Snoopy was a dog that belonged to all of America for decades, who they spent each morning with in their newspaper, and whose character became increasingly eccentric and whimsical as time went on, endearing him to the public forever. Snoopy gained additional fame through his connections to the Apollo moon missions, journeying with the astronauts on that momentous occasion. Snoopy memorabilia is widely available, from vintage Snoopy collectibles down to modern-produced merchandise.

You might also be interested in the following articles

  • Top 10: Dog collectibles
  • Art
  • Meissen porcelain
  • Antique & Vintage advertising
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