A Dog Collar with a Tale

By: Dara Vandor

Truly Something for Everyone in Our Canadian Art, Culture & History Auction

Lot 1 – George III Engraved Copper Dog Collar, c.1800

Dogs and humans go back. Waaaaaay back. Studies indicate that canids were domesticated anywhere between 20,000 and 40,000 years ago, long before any of the other furry companions that have accompanied our evolution, including horses, cattle, pigs, goats and cats.

Images of dogs have been found in art dating as far back as the 7th and perhaps even 8th centuries BCE, as evidenced by rock art discovered on the Arabian Peninsula. This particular carving presents the first evidence of the use of leash and collar in human history, suggesting that humans have been training and controlling dogs for many millennia. Several examples of dogs wearing collars have been found in the art of ancient civilizations including those of Egypt, Greece and Rome. Perhaps the most iconic emerged from the ashes of Pompeii in the “cave canem” (“beware of the dog”) mosaic and the poignant plaster cast of a dog who perished next to his master.

Over the years, collars have served many purposes, from the protective to the decorative. Some of the earliest extant examples from the West were set with spikes around the exterior to protect the dog’s throat from attack by bears, wolves or other predators. Some canines were even outfitted with armour to accompany their masters into battle—the dogs of war indeed!

Detail of the engraving named to John William Grece, Brixton, Surry [sic]
As dogs became increasingly viewed as companions and status symbols rather than working animals, collars became increasingly ornate. Examples from Ancient Egypt were elaborately decorated and were sometimes set with gemstones while some sources claim that Louis XI of France’s beloved dog wore a collar set with pearls and rubies.

The 18th century ushered the era of the “pampered pooch” for a wider swath of the population, perhaps stemming from an increase in prosperity and a growing appreciation for animals as everyday companions. For those who were able to afford them, brass collars came into vogue, along with leather, lace, fabric and painted examples. Collars often featuring the name and residence of the owner, along with interesting engravings or cheeky sayings.

A brass example from the 18th century serves to identify the owner (and his sense of humour), reading “I am a Wandering Dog, I belong to Peter Newman, Overstrand/I wander I Know not Whither, Pray Direct me Thither.” Collars of this type were often fitted with loops to secure a padlock, which would ensure that the valuable metal was not taken off the dog, and to prove ownership in the event that the animal was stolen.

Collars belonging to celebrities and historical figures are highly sought after, and have included pug collars belonging to Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII, a leather-and-brass collar belonging to Charles Dickens (that went for over $11,000 at auction!), and a brass specimen that recently popped up on Antiques Roadshow (click here to view the full episode)—belonging to Lord Byron.

Lot 1 in our Canadian Art, Culture and History auction is a dog collar very similar to Lord Byron’s and dated to the same period, engraved with the name of John William Grece. Grece, born in 1769, was of Hanoverian descent, but had relocated to Britain. In 1801, during the War of the Second Coalition, the French imposed a naval blockade on Britian; Grece was able to avoid French ships and import a large quantity of wheat from Prussia. As a reward, George III and the British government granted him a township of 10,000 acres along the banks of the Ottawa River. The land is situated about halfway between Ottawa and Montreal, and is today known as Greece’s Point.

John William Grece, as painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence, c.1820

It appears that in 1804, Grece proposed to kickstart the cultivation of hemp and flax in Canada, in exchange for a township or 50,000 acres along the Ottawa River. He was offered 150 acres of cleared land and a sum of money—but when he arrived at the area, found the land uncleared. Over the next decade, Grece and his family was entangled in a back-and-forth with authorities over this project, involving claims about bad seed, lack of support, shortage of funds and unpaid rent.

By 1828, Grece was embroiled in a lawsuit with the British and Canadian governments over land of his that had been commandeered to build a canal, for which he had not received remuneration, placing enormous financial strain on the family. Grece returned to Surrey in poor health, and died shortly after, at the age of 61 on February 12, 1830.

What is interesting about Grece’s dog collar is that it was labelled with his “home address” of Brixton, Surrey, but was bought by the current consignor in Canada, perhaps suggesting that Grece’s dog accompanied him from Britain, but did not make the return voyage with his master. It is also of note that this particular accessory was not entirely for fashion’s sake: the spiked edges of the band suggest that Grece was worried about his pet’s safety.

A beautiful collectible for lovers of canine or Canadian history, we invite you to take a closer look at lot 1 as well as the full catalogue for the Canadian Art, Culture and History auction. Many other interesting lots await!


The auction is offered online from November 7-12, 2020.

View the Online Gallery.

Should you require additional information or photos, please contact Sean Quinn at [email protected] or by telephone at 416-847-6187.

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