With his erect ear carriage and butterfly appearance, the beautiful, lively little dog became highly fashionable in the U.S. at the close of the 19th century. The novelist Edith Wharton and Mrs. Peter Cooper Hewitt are known to have owned the breed.
The name Papillon, the French word for "butterfly," quickly became the name for the entire breed. (This would last until as late as 1955, when the term Phalene, French for "moth," was officially given to the drop-eared variety. Prior to this, the two ear types were registered separately as having erect or drop ears, although the two were interbred.)
In 1907 Mrs. William Storr Wells of Newport, Rhode Island, returned from Paris with a pair of Papillons. It took until 1915 for the breed's first entry into the AKC studbook, and several years and much work were to pass before the formation of an American club for Papillon fanciers.
The first World War interrupted progress in breeding and importation. In 1922, a Papillon male named Poutje, of unknown birth date and breeding, was exhibited in Belgium at the Society Royale St. Hubert by Monsieur Pishout, along with a bitch, Boutje, and a Phalene bitch, Poupeke—all of whom created a sensation. The two bitches became Belgian champions, but none of these three had descendants. However, their lines were carried on through Gamin, a Papillon dog, and Lily, a Phalene bitch, and became the foundation of the breed. They were outstanding contemporaries, with 31 Challenge Certificates (CCs) awarded to their immediate descendants.
In 1928, Mrs. W.H. Reagle, of New Jersey, began showing puppies from an imported female from England whom she had purchased. No one knew what breed the dogs were, and there were no classes for them at the shows. In 1930, there were a number of other fanciers breeding and exhibiting Papillons in the U.S., and they decided to form a club. These pioneers did untold work to promote the breed and have it recognized by the AKC.
In 1935, the AKC recognized the breed, and the first Papillon Club of America national specialty was held in 1936 at the prestigious Morris and Essex Kennel Club show in Princeton, New Jersey, with a total entry of 22 Papillons.
Papillon history was made in September 1936 by Eng./Am. Ch. Offley Black Diamond, who went from a specialty Best of Breed all the way to the breed's first Best in Show win, at the Bridgewater Kennel Club under Judge Frank T. Eskrigge.
Further breed work and importation of more lovely specimens continued. With this foundation, the Papillon might have rapidly achieved his well-earned place among the toy breeds. However, World War II interrupted these plans, and by the end of the war the original club was no longer active.
Fortunately these old bloodlines were kept alive in careful breeding programs. Of the prewar exhibitors, only Mrs. E.W. Kemmerer was still actively breeding and showing. The club was moribund, but it was reactivated in 1948 at the Westminster Kennel Club show, where there was a reorganization meeting electing Mrs. Kemmerer as president and a new and enthusiastic fancier, Miss Sally M. Pinkney, as secretary.
In 1950, the PCA had only 25 members, and in 1954 the club held its second national specialty, in conjunction with another very prestigious show—the Westchester Kennel Club show, in New York.
Two of the members from 1950 remained pillars of the breed throughout their lives, contributing much to promote the breed. Mrs. Virginia Newton contributed with her writing of The Papillon Primer and numerous educational articles appearing in PapTalk, the AKC Gazette, and Front and Finish, and in translating the early history of the breed.
Mrs. Catherine Davis Gauss wrote a handbook titled The Papillon and also paid to have the studbook transcribed into pedigrees which she generously lent to our club. She always contributed with her generosity and financial support as well as her leadership as an officer and AKC delegate of the club. Both ladies were accomplished breeders, winning many Bests of Breed and other top awards at specialties. (As a personal aside, I was fortunate to have had both of these ladies as mentors as well as sponsors when I ran for PCA office as a young newbie. And I was equally honored to use one of Catherine’s beautiful stud dogs with my foundation bitch.)
It was 34 years until a second Papillon, Ch. Gowdy of Mariposa, would take the honor of winning a Best in Show, in 1970. Gowdy was bred by Mrs. Virginia Newton and would achieve his title “Father of the Papillon breed” in America. He still holds the unbreakable breed record of top stud dog, with 67 champion offspring out of 22 different dams. He established the most impressive start of a male-tail line in Papillon history, with seven consecutive BIS-winning dogs.
The Papillon Club of America
The purpose of the Papillon Club of America (PCA), Inc., is to bring together all sincere fanciers of the breed so that they may work together to promote quality breeding, exchange ideas, learn about health issues, and see other exhibits from all over the country. At this time, the PCA maintains a membership in excess of 550 fanciers, with representation of virtually every state in the U.S. and six foreign countries.
The club is always eager to welcome and assist sincere newcomers into the breed, as well as encourage our members to mentor them. One can benefit by the friendship and advice of experienced breeders, and it is equally rewarding for the pet owner as it is for the breeder-mentor. Joining the cub supports the breed and its welfare through nominal dues, activities, and AKC Canine Health Foundation fundraisers.
The PCA for many years had a policy to rotate the specialty in the various regions of the U.S. However, the club is now open to all local Papillon clubs who would like to host our specialty in their area.
There is indeed no desire to “over-promote,” overpopulate, or make Papillons common, for fear of losing the charming character, delicate quality, and beautiful unique appearance of this wonderful breed. As a rule, PCA breeders have been cautious when selling their dogs to make sure they will have good, forever homes.
Roseann Fucillo is a longtime Papillon breeder and exhibitor and writes the AKC Gazette column for the Papillon Club of America. Her column appears in the March, June, September, and December issues.
Historical photos and information courtesy the Papillon Club of America
From the December 2015 AKC Gazette