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Antique Dog Collars from Spikes to Precious Stones

Babylonian hunting dogs

DO YOU REGARD your dog’s collar as simply a utilitarian item in the pet’s probably spartan wardrobe? Or is your dog’s collar encrusted with semi-precious stones, or jangling with highly polished, brass, vintage dog-license tags?

Today’s dog collar usually functions as just something on which to affix registration/license tags and dog ownership details as well as being a means of restraining and controlling a dog.

But for thousands of years dogs have worn both functional and decorative collars.

Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs show hunting dogs wearing collars, both broad and narrow. These probably fell within the same categories as the dog collar of today … as a functional piece for restraint, a decorative accessory, but also as a protective band.

The dog of Pompeii ... preserved in ash. Note its collar!

The Romans used broad collars studded with spikes to protect the throats of valued and loved animals from attacks by other dogs and wild beasts. Records from the Greek Battle of Corinth during the 5th century BC report that 50 dogs guarded the city and alerted the town of the attack. Just one dog survived and he was awarded a pension for life and a silver collar in recognition of his valour.

An example of a collar was preserved in the ruins of Pompeii where, in 69AD, Mt Vesuvius erupted, covering the town in layers of ash. One of the victims was a family dog and its body form, well preserved in the ash, reveals not only the shape of the animal but the collar it was wearing at the time of death.

Heraldic broad dog collar from the collection at the Dog Collar Museum, Leeds Castle.

Without doubt, up to the 19th century one of the main functions of a dog’s collar was to protect a vulnerable neck. But it is just as certain that a handsome collar was a symbol of status — not for the dog, but for its owner. It is noted that Egyptian dogs belonging to nobility wore collars made of gold, silver and other precious materials.

The flock-guardian dogs of the mountain regions of Europe, however, often wore a quite simple iron collar linked by spiked rings, once again for protection from attacks by wolves and bears. These collars were seen from the Middle Ages but can still be found in regions of Turkey and other areas of Europe today. They were produced by village blacksmiths, each of whom produced their unique particular design.

The 17th to 19th centuries saw the lined metal collar become popular and many fine examples can be found in museums and collections today. Typically, these collars were a simple brass design with rolled edges which prevented chaffing of the dog’s neck. A row of slits (usually between three and six) made the collar adjustable and these were fastened by a brass padlock.

Military Mascot Dog with an enormous and well-decorated collar.

Different materials were used for lining these dog collars including leather, fleece, velvet, chamois and wool felt. Often the collars bore inscriptions which could be as simple as an owner’s name or as ornate as a name supported by a coat of arms. Regimental badges appeared on the collars of canine military mascots.

Dog registration/license tags came into more widespread use in the later parts of the 19th century and this probably necessitated the availability of a cheaper collar for the masses.

Leather collars began to appear in Victorian times and were an obvious sideline for saddlers and harness-makers. These collars, in particular, were often embellished with small bells or flat studs.

Inscriptions on today’s dog collars generally bear the dog’s name and sometimes a telephone number but in the past collars were more likely to be decorated with the owner’s (rather than dog’s) name and address. Metal collars, particularly silver ones, were often considered to be worth more than the dog and collars were sometimes stolen and melted down.

Silver dog collar said to have been worn by Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson's dog, Nileus. Copperplate inscription says: Right Honble Lord Nelson - Nileus. Note the holes punched around the border of the collar to enables the stitching in of a cloth or leather lining.

One of the more famous inscriptions to appear on a dog collar is the epigram on the collar of a puppy presented in the early 18th century by poet Alexander Pope to the Prince of Wales. It stated: “I am his Highness’ dog at Kew, Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?”

At a similar time in history we have the report from author Jonathan Swift on Mrs Dingley’s lap-dog, Tiger, whose collar bore the inscription: “Pray steal me not; I’m Mrs Dingley’s, whose heart in this four-footed thing lies.”

Pope’s epigram was often bastardized and appeared in various forms such as on an 18th century English brass collar in the Leeds Castle Dog Collar Museum which simply states: “I am Mr Pratt’s Dog, King St, Nr Wokingham, Berks. Whose Dog are You?”

Dog collar with bells

The bells, the bells ... The latter part of the 19th century saw a fascination with putting bells on collars.

Another collar, which survives in the collection of Historic Deerfield museum in New England, USA, bears the inscription: “Jere Stebbin Esq’s Dog W. Springfield, Who Dog Be You?”

Today collars are designed by leading fashion houses such as Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Gucci and Coach. And the dog with wanderlust can wear a collar with a GPS tracking system. You will also find collars embellished with crystal rhinestones, brass studs and silver charms. But if you have a hankering for something old, you can buy a replica of the Earl of Talbot’s dog collar which is on display in the Leeds Castle Dog Collar Museum. It comes in sterling silver, is made to order and will set you back something like $2400.

Many antique, Victorian and vintage dog collars, similar to those mentioned in this article come up for sale here.

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Posted by Edman on Sep 2 2010. Filed under Collars & Tags, Featured Dogs. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

1 Comment for “Antique Dog Collars from Spikes to Precious Stones”

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