Toy Bulldogs, 1904, taken from “The New Book of the Dog”
The foundation of the French Bulldog as a breed is perhaps one of the better documented canine breed histories. Instead of being shrouded in mystery, or allegorical stories, ours is a fairly pragmatic tale – some Bulldogs were born small, and some people liked them that way. Some Bulldogs were born with ‘tulip ears’, and some people liked them that way.
At the intersection of these two states of being arose the French Bulldog, which was both small and tulip eared, while the former gave rise to the Toy Bulldog. As a separate breed, Toy Bulldogs faded away around the 1930s, while the French Bulldog continued to thrive, albeit in a small way, for many decades.
In 1907, Robert Leighton published “The New Book of the Dog“, one of the most exhaustively comprehensive examinations of modern British dog breeds. In it, he devotes several chapters to the history of the “Bull Breeds”, including the Bulldog, the Toy Bulldog, and the French Bulldog.
This is the chapter on Toy Bulldog history, taken from that book, and written by Lady Kathleen Pilkington (more to come on this stellar Lady later).
“TOY Bulldogs are an acquired taste,” said a friend to me; and while I was meditating an adequate reply, he rashly added: “Like coffee or caviare.” This gave me my opening, and I hastened to assure him that there is nobody—who is anybody, that is to say—who does not nowadays both know and highly appreciate coffee, caviare, and Toy Bulldogs! Not to so do would be, indeed, to argue oneself unknown! It is also another of the many proofs that history repeats herself. For fifty or sixty years ago, Toy—or, rather, as a recent edict of the Kennel Club requires them to be dubbed, Miniature—Bulldogs were common objects of the canine country-side. In fact, you can hardly ever talk for ten minutes to any Bulldog breeder of old standing without his telling you tall stories of the wonderful little Bulldogs, weighing about fifteen or sixteen pounds, he either knew or owned, in those long-past days!
Prominent among those who made a cult of these “Bantams” were the laceworkers of Nottingham, and many prints are extant which bear witness to the excellent little specimens they bred. But a wave of unpopularity overwhelmed them, and they faded across the Channel to France, where, if, as is asserted, our Gallic neighbours appreciated them highly, they cannot be said to have taken much care to preserve their best points. When, in 1898, a small but devoted band of admirers revived them in England, they returned most attractive, ’tis true, but hampered by many undesirable features, such as bat ears, froggy faces, waving tails, and a general lack of Bulldog character.
However, the Toy Bulldog Club then started numbered on its committee the late Mr. G. R. Krehl (who previously to that date had already imported some good specimens to England), the Hon. Mrs. Baillie, of Dochfour, Miss Augusta Bruce, Lady Lewis, and the present writer. The club took the dogs vigorously in hand, and, having obtained them their charter as a recognised breed from the Kennel Club, proceeded to make slow but sure progress, and this notwithstanding the fact that in 1902 a violent split occurred in its ranks. Owing to various differences of opinion a certain number of members then left and proceeded to form themselves into what is now known as the French Bulldog Club of England. Thanks to the original club’s unceasing efforts, Toy Bulldogs have always since been catered for at an ever increasing number of shows. The original solitary “mixed open” class, for all sexes and sorts, is now split up into various separate classes, suited to sex, seniority, and other distinctions. Their weight, after much heated discussion and sundry downs and ups, was finally fixed at twenty-two pounds and under, this decision, by the way, costing them their original prefix. For the Kennel Club rightly decided that a sturdily built Bulldog of twenty-two pounds weight can in no sense be deemed a “Toy”! So the breed then blossomed forth as ” Bulldogs—Miniature,” and have thriven well on the change both of weight and name. In order to encourage small specimens a class for those under twenty pounds is guaranteed by the club at most big shows, and is generally well filled.
Another recent change has been that of ears. Bat ears, after being sadly suffered for a long time in the scale of points, have at last been firmly marked as a disqualification, and this by order of the Kennel Club. From the 1st of January, 1907, all inbreeding with French Bulldogs has been absolutely forbidden, and the two breeds, so long confusedly intertwined, have at length been finally dissociated. Equally disqualifying are the shades of colour known as black and blue—the latter a kind of slaty grey, detested in the eyes of big Bulldog breeders.
Note: this is one of the only references I can find, in early writing, to a specific distaste for the color “Blue”, as opposed to the more disingenuous term “Mouse”, and I have to wonder if this explains the roots of the disinclination for this color in French Bulldogs, as well.
Part Two Continues Next Week