Ten St Bernard Collectables

Saturday, January 18, 2014 by

I was originally going to call this article “10 Great St. Bernard Figurines” but there really are not enough outstanding examples to justify the title. However, it does depend, of course, on what you mean by “great”, which is entirely a matter for the individual’s appraisal.

The first Mastiff-type dogs were introduced to the St Bernard Hospice in Switzerland towards the latter part of the 17th century, and from those dogs the distinctive St Bernard strain was developed. As is well known the Hospice dogs were bred for their exceptional qualities of intelligence, stamina, strength, gentle temperament and ability to track lost travellers. This was first and foremost a working dog. The early Hospice dogs were almost certainly all smooth-coated, the rough coat being introduced at a later date through a Newfoundland cross in order to produce weather-proof coats. The Hospice still exists as a hostel, but in 2004 its remaining dogs were bought by two foundations which preserve the lines, and some of the dogs are brought back to the Hospice in the summer so that visitors can still see them.

As a show dog, the St. Bernard has existed since the 1880s. Gradually the breed has become heavier in build and bone, and less athletic. But it is only in relatively modern times that exaggerations in type have emerged in some show dogs. The breed as it exists now would struggle to do the demanding job it was bred for – although that could also be said about many modern versions of older breeds.

That is why, if you are collecting St Bernard items, you will find that older models, paintings etc. of the breed may show a lighter built dog, more clearly ‘working’ in type, than modern depictions. The famous barrel of brandy around the neck of a St Bernard is a myth, though a much loved one, and with one exception I have ignored it.

And it is why I am starting this collection with two invaluable books, both of which graphically illustrate the history of the St Bernard with excellent text and photos.

All About The St. Bernard – Richard and Rachel Beaver, Pelham Books.

Rachel and Richard Beaver were instrumental in reviving the United St Bernard Club in 1980, Rachel was a very hard-working Secretary from 1984 until ill health forced her resignation in 2005. Richard was President of the Club until his death in 1991.

This is a wonderful book, well researched, full of the authors’ long experience, wisdom and love for the breed, informative and engagingly written. It was first published in 1980 and my copy is the revised version of 1988, but I believe the last revision was in 1998. All the photos are in black and white apart from the cover, but they are well chosen and of decent quality. Due the authors’ modesty there are only two photos of their own St Bernards – one, a beautiful-headed champion male, included to show how his wide blaze detracted from his expression! I can think of some special breed books that seem little more than an opportunity for the writers to advertise their own kennel stock.

This book can often be found on the secondary market and should cost around £20 to buy, less if you are fortunate.

A Chronicle of The St Bernard by the United St Bernard Club

This spiral-bound 70 page A4 sized book has a laminate sleeve over the front cover which is helpful protecting its fragility – spiral bound books tend to fall apart very easily. The Club produced it for the 2000 Millennium and it may now be very hard to come by.

Very well laid out and put together, it contains both black and white and colour photos. It is a potted history of the St Bernard with all the salient facts illustrated by accompanying photos, plus a selection of dogs, with two generation pedigrees, from 1956 to 1999. One photo that I love is of Ch Colossus of Peldartor watching Gilbert Walker create his ceramic likeness, in the potter’s studio.

Odin v. Gustrund medal

One day, I hope, some dedicated person will find the time and the money to produce a monograph on the magnificent bronze and other metallic medals/medallions produced by dog clubs from the end of the 19th century to approximately the end of the 1940s. Some were struck after that date, obviously, but not many, and the golden age of these wonderful works of art was from the turn of the century to the 1930s.

This one, if you can find it, was the creation of the St Bernard Club of Munich, it is unusually large (13 cm across), bronze, and features, in high relief, a classic and dignified St. Bernard head. It is signed in the mould by its modeller Wimsche, about whom I have been able to find out nothing at all.

On the reverse the wins of Odin are recorded – he was Sieger in Vienna in 1910, Linz in 1911 and in Budapest in 1912. The President of the Federation of St. Bernard Cubs was kind enough to research this dog for me; it turned out he was an important dog of the time both as a sire and for his lineage, who lived in Budapest.

Although you will not be able to obtain this particular medal, as it is in my own collection, you may be able to find another presented to and engraved for a different St. Bernard. I was lucky enough to find mine in a second hand shop in Budapest. There is a small hole bored at the top, presumably for the proud owner to hang it. Doubtless it found its way out of the family and into a dealer’s hands for the same reason so many valuable dog memorabilia end up this way – because on the death of the owner there was no-one to appreciate it.

Old dog show medals can be found on Ebay. The seller catchme8161 sells wonderful such items some of which, at any time, are usually St Bernard medals: another seller to look out for is eagle deedee.

Ch. Cornagarth Stroller – Beswick – D2221

Beswick made this large pottery model, about 5 ½ inches tall, between 1970 and 1989 and it was designed by Albert Hallam. It is very commonly found and has the dog’s name stamped underneath, as well as the Beswick stamp, as was usual when both Beswick and Royal Doulton issued a model based on a specific dog. It comes in matt and in gloss finish – this one is matt although I think it looks better in gloss. One version comes with a plinth.

The Beswick company is now owned by John Sinclair and its figurines are produced as Beswick England for the US market and John Beswick for the UK one. Their range of dog figurines is now entirely new and they no longer make dogs from old Beswick moulds.

The figure of “Stroller” shows a well made, strong-looking dog with a black head shading to rich mahogany. A photo in the St.Bernard “Chronicle” shows Stroller much as he looks in his model except that he is rather more rangy. Rachel Beaver, who I knew slightly, told me that Stroller had a wonderful head and was a very good dog but his owner could never get weight on him. Hence he had to be bulked up a bit for his official statue.

This remains one of the better St. Bernard figures you can acquire and it should cost only around £30. Some sellers on Ebay seem to think it will go for much more, possibly because it is a named dog and old, but it was a popular Beswick model and they must have made thousands of them. [editor's note, in fact I did find one on an internet search that sold through an auction house for £18, no doubt a buyer's premium would raise that a bit, but still it puts into perspective the price you should consider if looking at Ebay offers]

Royal Doulton lying down St Bernard K19 series No. 1097

This is a small pottery model, only around 2 1/2 inches long and 1 1/2 inches high, of a reclining Smooth dog. It was produced between 1940 and 1977. It is a very nice, typical St Bernard but the painting varies a lot on this model – some have much narrower blazes than others, some have very light eyes affecting the expression, and they vary in colour from rich red to almost fawn. £25 to£35 is about right for it. It is often described as rare but is in fact quite easy to obtain.

offered and sold through Premier Auction Center (listed on LIveAuctioneers)

 

Goebel large walking St Bernard

This is one of the most impressive and attractive figurines you can find, about 18 x 11 inches. It is one of a series of very large dog models Goebel produced including a Cocker Spaniel and a wholly misconceived playing Pekingese with its tail between its legs. The St Bernard is far and away the best of the dogs in this series that I have seen. It is magnificent, and I have only ever heard it criticised for being a bit heavy in skull.

Richly coloured, expressive and with terrific breed character, this model is not easy to find and is always expensive due to its size and relative rarity. Made between 1979 and 1986. We used to have one in our tiny London flat and it had to stand on the floor, eventually we parted with it to a collector as it was only a matter of time before one of the cats knocked it over – they used to jump over him! But if I could find another that did not involve shipping I would love to have it again, I have always missed him. Expect to pay between £150 and £200 for it.

Goebel also made at least three St Bernard puppy models in the 1970s, and a lovely small figure of a Smooth dog with a barrel around its neck. That one is well worth having, even if you do not like the Goebel puppies.

Nymphenburg St. Bernard puppy

This is a beautiful model was designed in 1913 and is one of the very best although the distinctive style of the famous modeller, Theodore Karner, is not to everyone’s taste. Nymphenburg still make it and it is not all that hard to find. Some prices asked for it, both new and secondary, are extremely high but usually it can be bought for between £350.00 – £400.00.

To my mind this very smooth, tactile, heavy boned and slightly doleful puppy exactly suits Karner’s style. It has fantastic feet. Quite a big figure, nearly 7 inches all, and heavy.

Hutschenreuther St. Bernard

Readers will have seen this dog before, likewise the Nymphenburg puppy, from my previous articles. This one is my very favourite St Bernard figurine – a true working dog and not very heavily built, but with all the kindness, strength and character I associate with this beautiful breed. I do not know when it was designed but it would appear to date from the first part of the 20th century. Hutschenreuther continued to make it until they stopped production of their old figurines a few years ago, but it was never common. I paid £125 for mine 10 years ago, and it usually fetches around that sum now.

Heinrich Sperling print

There are many superb older paintings of St Bernards that can be obtained as ‘fine art’ prints from galleries and dealers, and one of the best is this study by Heinrich Sperling (1844 – 1924) a German artist who painted many beautiful, detailed studies of dogs very much in the Victorian manner. The original included a Miniature Pinscher standing by the huge St. Bernard by way of contrast, but reproductions often mask out the smaller dog leaving the St Bernard in proud splendour.

Miniature by Fannie (Fanny) Moody

The Hamshere gallery, which specializes in dog art, has for sale, at the time of writing, a wonderful miniature on ivorine of a standing St. Bernard painted in 1910 by Fannie Moody. The detail, in such a tiny picture (they do not give its dimensions) is extraordinary and the dog is magnificent. Goodness only knows what it costs to buy as you have to email them for a quotation. Fannie Moody is one of my favourite dog artists of the period, her dates are 1861 – 1947. She was the daughter of a painter, she specialized in dogs and also in ivory miniatures. For some reason her work is not reproduced as often as with many of her contemporaries, but it certainly should be.

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Coming Up! Articles by Deirdre on Scotties, Chihuahuas, and Chin collectibles!

 

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