Help and Collecting Dogs

Both the British and Americans divide breeds of dogs into seven groups. For the Brits, their terminology of gundogs, pastoral and utility dogs correspond to the American sporting, herding and non-sporting groups. Both countries use hounds, terriers, toys and working dogs for the other four groups – simple enough until one discovers, for instance, that a Boston terrier is not a terrier, but a toy and among other consternations there is the poodle. Thought of as French, it was originally bred in Germany as a water dog for retrieving game, but today both the standard and miniature are classified as non-sporting (utility in the UK). And the toy poodle? In the US it
is a toy, but in the UK, it’s still utility.

So, some years ago, when I first heard the term “collecting dogs” I therefore

Helper dog

    Neno, a collecting dog from a miniature painting by
    Gertrude Massey.

stumbled a bit in trying to place this group within the traditional universe of classification. As it turned out they were not an official group or a specific breed, but a group more like circus dogs who could be almost any breed and mongrels, too.

Collecting dogs were probably an exclusively British phenomenon that existed for about a hundred years, beginning in 1860. The dogs usually wore slotted boxes to collect money on trains, at train stations, markets or on the street and at special events. Some meandered alone; others were accompanied by humans. Some collecting dogs used another technique: that of taking the donated coin in their mouth and then dropping it in a box. This carried the occupational hazard of swallowing the coin and after the natural death in 1898 of one collection dog, 17 coins and a few pebbles were found in its stomach. It was also not unknown for the dog, with coin in mouth, to wag its way to the butcher or baker to make a favorable exchange.

The collecting dogs (and they had to be licensed as such) were trained for their purpose and for many this included only approaching well-dressed gentlemen in the course of soliciting. In his book Amazing Dogs (Cornell University Press, 2001) Jan Bonderson described the

helper dog collar

Helpʼs silver collar and plaque. Courtesy of a private collector.

two types of collecting dogs. One group was owned by railway or hospital charities and collected solely for those particular charities. Other collecting dogs were privately owned and could be rented by those whose situations were such that they could appeal to the public for charity. It was usual for the dog to wear a small sign stating the purpose of the appeal.

The railway dogs are of particular interest. The dynasty of London Jack, working from Waterloo Station, began in the 1890s and ended with London Jack V in 1931. Some of the dogs would ride the lines. One would hop from the platform onto a train, walk the aisle collecting coins and hop back to the platform just as the train was leaving the station

The dogs became celebrities, and their activities were frequently recorded in the press. The first to gain fame was Help, a collie trained in 1880 by a railway guard John Climpson. He took Help with him on the London – Brighton Line. Climpson also loaned Help to guards on other lines and it is believed that Help had collected on every line in England, Scotland and Wales. On January 1, 1884, Help was presented an engraved silver collar hung with a large medallion engraved in part, “I am Help, railway dog of England, and travelling agent for the orphans of railway men who are killed on duty.” Help was also awarded a special silver medal at the Bristol Dog show of 1884.

dog help medal

    Helpʼs silver medal. Courtesy of
    a private collector.

In 1891, when Help’s soul ascended to doggie heaven, his earthly remains were stuffed and placed on display under a glass case at Brighton Station. Perhaps shocking to us today, this was the eventual outcome of many of the collecting dogs, whose taxidermy remains were put on display at hospitals and train stations. As was said of Tim, an Irish terrier, who worked at Paddington Station and was a favorite of Queen Victoria:

Our pet we may still gaze upon
Tho’ dead, like life in form and limb
For what he did at Paddington,
Now Roland Ward is padding Tim.

The last of the collecting dogs was Laddie, an Airedale terrier, who was active at Waterloo Station until 1956.

A fuller account of collecting dogs can be found in Amazing Dogs by Jan Bonderson, Cornell University Press, 2011, a major source of information for this article.

One of the early London Jacks was also preserved by the taxidermistʼs art. A very proud looking dog, he was sold at a Bonhams auction in 2003, and can be viewed by clicking here.

This article, in a slightly different version, first appeared in Middleburg Life, in the monthly column “Then & There. © Richard Hooper
Photographs by Richard Hooper