Pomeranians and Their Popularity in the 19th Century

Pomeranians became popular in the 19th century because of Queen Victoria but the dogs were originally introduced in England in the late 1700s by Queen Charlotte, Queen-consort to King George III. She had two with her when she arrived and the dogs, Phoebe and Mercury, were depicted in paintings by Sir Thomas Gainsborough.* However, it was Queen Charlotte’s granddaughter, Queen Victoria, who made Poms popular after deciding to breed them and because she owned a particularly small Pomeranian the smaller variety became universally popular.

Pomeranians descended from larger Spitz-type dogs, specifically the German Spitz. In fact, the Fédération Cynologique Internationale determined that the Pom was a Spitz breed and so in many countries today these miniature dogs are known as Zwergspitz or “Dwarf Spitz.” The Pomeranian is also thought to have acquired its name by association with the area along the Baltic Sea known as Pomerania. Although not the origin of the breed, this area is credited with breeding the original type of dog that became known as the Pomeranian.

The earliest examples of the Pomeranian were white with an occasional brown or black coated dog. Today, Pomeranians come in the widest variety of colors of any dog breed. They can be found in white, black, brown, red, orange, cream, blue, sable, black and tan, brown and tan, spotted, brindle, and parti, plus combinations of those colors, with the most common colors being orange, black, or cream/white. The most recent coloring of the Pomeranian is merle. It was developed by breeders and is a combination of a solid base color with a lighter blue/grey patch giving Poms a mottled effect. My latest Pomeranian has merle in his background and to see the merle effect here is his baby picture. (He’s such a cutie).

Dante’s baby picture. Author’s collection.

Queen Victoria liked Pomeranians so much she had at one point 35 in her royal kennels. Furthermore, in 1891 she showed six of her best ― Beppo, Fluffy, Gilda, Lulu, Nino, and Mino ― at the an international dog show called Cruft’s.** In addition, she increased the popularity of Pomeranians in 1888 after she adopted a small red sable Pom whom she named Marco Polo after the famous Italian merchant traveler of the same name. Her adoption of Marco made the red Pom fashionable by the end of the 19th century, and he was one of her favorites dogs.

Pomeranians - Marco on the Queen's Breakfast Table

“Marco on the Queen’s Breakfast Table” painted by Charles Burton Barber in 1893. Courtesy of the Royal Collection Trust.

Stories about Marco include tales about his intense jealousy of the Scotsman John Brown, who was a favorite to the Queen and who served as her personal attendant. Brown’s brother, Hugh, likewise served the queen as the keeper of the dogs. He reported that her pets were always with her and that they were “provided with special accommodation in the royal train when the Court [was] travelling.”[1] In addition, it was reported that the Queen was “very severe” with officials if they did not pay “proper attention” to her favorite dogs and special policemen ensured the safety and security of her dogs at all times.

Queen Victoria wasn’t the only person who found miniature Poms endearing. Other Brits also loved them. One Pom that rivaled the popularity of Marco was a Pomeranian named Petz and owned by the old Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone. Petz was black and had been born in Bad Schwalbach, Germany in 1886. Herr Bersior adopted him and two years later two of the English Prime Minister’s relatives met Petz while in Coblentz. They were enamored and as Petz found great favor with them, he ended up going home with them.

Petz was loved by all the whole Gladstone family, but he took a particular liking for the old Prime Minister. In fact, he soon became Gladstone’s devoted companion and constant “bodyguard.” Articles were regularly published in the press about Petz and Gladstone’s relationship. Here is one such article that appeared in 1892:

“Petz’s pet passion is running after sticks … With this object in view he will lie in wait in the early morning outside the right hon. Gentleman’s dressing-room door, in the hope that he may be allowed to accompany him on his daily walk up to the church at 8:30a.m. for the morning service. Mr. Gladstone has often protested that in throwing sticks for him to fetch he is quite unable to resist or tire out his pertinacious little friend. … Mr. Gladstone delights in telling his friends how on one occasion when he was felling a tree, with Petz as his only companion, the little fellow after a time thought some little attention should be paid to him, and that some of the chips should be thrown to him to fetch. So he kept picking up a chip now and again, and dropping it at the woodman’s feet, in the hope of attracting his attention. Mr. Gladstone took it all in, and, appearing not to notice his little friend’s efforts, went on with his tree-felling, determined to try and tire him out. But it was no good; and at last, in dire distress, Petz picked up a large chip and dropped in on Mr. Gladstone’s boot, at the same time looking up into the statesman’s face as if his life depended on his wish being gratified. The hon. gentleman had to give in and Petz was made altogether happy.”[2]

Another story about Petz appeared in 1894 after he got lost. The Dundee Evening Telegraph gave a brief report citing all the particulars of the Pom’s adventures while missing:

“We are glad to learn that Petz, Mr. Gladstone’s black Pomeranian, is found. It seems that the wanderer walked into a house at Stroud Green, whence, after hospitable treatment, he was taken home on Wednesday, after an absence from his sorrowing owners of three days’ duration. There was great rejoicing at Dollis Hill at the homecoming of the wayward favourite.”[3]

One final newspaper notice regarding Petz was published after the dog died in March 1898:

“Mr. Gladstone’s favourite Petz died at Hawarden Castle yesterday. Petz was a handsome black Pomeranian and last summer the Prince and Princess of Wales, on the occasion of their visit to Mr. and Mrs. Gladstone, greatly admired the family and his progeny. The Princess was pleased to accept two of the little dogs. Petz has had the honour of figuring in many photographic groups, including the celebrated picture of Mr. Gladstone and Li Hung Chang.”[4]

Pomeranians were initially much larger dogs than today’s versions. However, during Queen Victoria’s lifetime the size of Poms decreased by half. Below is a portrait painted by Thomas Gainsborough in 1785 that features the larger and more common Pomeranian known before Queen Victoria’s time.

Pomeranians

Portrait of Mr. and Mrs. William Hallett with a large Pomeranian in 1785, the same year that Marie Antoinette was dealing with scandalous Affair of the Diamond Necklace, where she was falsely accused of participating in a crime to defraud the Crown’s jewelers by refusing to pay for a very expensive diamond necklace that she supposedly ordered. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

As mentioned, the Pomeranian gained great popularity because of Queen Victorian and in 1861 the Pom’s physical attributes were described in the following manner:

“This dog has a sharp nose; prick ears, a thick straight, long and silky coat, either white, cream-colour, or black: rather full eyes; the tail busy, and curled over the back, his height averages 14 inches. The Pomeranian is esteemed in proportion to his small size, the shortness of his legs, and the length, thickness, and slickness of his coat.”[5]

Mrs. M.E. Prosser’s Pomeranian dog named “Joe” that was said to be “only average in perfection,” but still took first place at an Islington Dog Show in 1882 because of his outstanding coat. Author’s collection.

As to the Pomeranian’s uses and character, the book Ladies’ Dogs as Companions reported the following in 1879:

“A pet to begin with. He is a most perfect lady’s dog. These dogs run well behind a carriage, even if they do seem to calculate that pedal progression is often better carried out upon three legs than four. They are never quarrelsome; in fact they are, as a rule, somewhat timid in their nature, unless, mind you, they are badly bred. Oh! your half-mongrel Pomeranian is a perfect little brute ― a heel-biter, and a coward. Well, a pure Pomeranian will both fetch and carry, keep to heel, and take to the water like the little duck that he is. … Pomeranians are tricky, but not nearly so much as the Poodle. Only anything in reason you may easily teach them.”[6]

Despite some people lauding the Pomeranian’s good qualities, descriptions of its personality were not always favorable in the nineteenth century. For instance, a book titled House Dogs and Sporting Dogs described the Pom in the following unflattering terms:

“The Pomeranian … has the disadvantage of being neither clever, nor affectionate, and is, in addition, possessed of a yapping restlessness that make him quite insupportable to most people.”[7]  

One owner of a Pomeranian named Vee-vee described his pom in opposite terms. He claimed that that he never “found [Pomeranians] treacherous … [or] senseless … [despite them] frequently called both.”[8] He stated that Poms were “exceedingly proud,” and he described Vee-vee as “cheeky.” He also mentioned that “at nine months old [Vee-vee] was the pride of the village, particularly on Sunday when clean washed, and with a blue ribbon about its neck.”[9] Vee-vee’s owner also heaped more praise on him when he mentioned the dog’s character and loving tendencies:

“If ever V.V. did a fault, I had merely to shake one finger at him; then back went his ears, and he looked so pitiful that I was fain to forgive him on the spot. … Vee-vee could retrieve well, and I could trust him to carry anything ― up to his weight ― on the street. … I never had a more affectionate little thing. He used to watch my bedside from early dawn, and my slightest awakening sigh was the signal for him to spring up on my chest, and kiss me good morning.”[10]

Such descriptions surely helped Pomeranians became the “it dog” by the late nineteenth century. This is demonstrated by dog exhibition shows of sporting and other types of dogs that often included the Pomeranian as a participant. For instance, an exhibition of dogs by the Kennel Club held at Alexandra Palace in 1877 included Pomeranians along with a large variety of other breeds. The event was reported to be “one of the best ever held, both in numbers and quality, and in keenness of competition. It included 1200 animals, arranged into 11 classes.”[11]

Among the first-place winners at this exhibition was a Pomeranian named “Frisk.” He belonged to M.H. Fisher and is pictured below with some other first-place winning dogs.

First prize Pomeranian “Frisk” (top left). Author’s collection.

On her death bed Queen Victoria requested that Turi, her favorite Pomeranian whom she had been purchased in 1893, be brought to her bedside. A loving reunion ensued and after the Queen died rampant speculation circulated as to what would happen to the creature, just like questions circulated about the fate of the late Queen Elizabeth’s corgis when she died. In the case of the Queen Elizabeth’s corgis, they ended up going to her son Prince Andrew and his ex-wife Sarah Ferguson, who had given her the dogs in 2021. Fortunately, for Turi a good fate also awaited the little dog and was reported by the Pateley Bridge & Nidderdale Herald when they revealed:

“Many have been made as to the fate of the little pet Pomeranian dog which Queen Victoria sent for the morning before she died … A Gentlewoman writer learns that Queen Alexandra has taken the dog for her own, and a more loving mistress he could not know, for she is simply devoted to animals.”[12]


* Gainsborough painted several images with Pomeranians but perhaps the most interesting is the portrait he did in in 1777 of a female Pomeranian named Abel. She was owned by Carl Friedrich Abel, one of three German men who formed a musical trio that included Johann Fischer and Johann Christian Bach. Purportedly, after its delivery the real “Abel” thought the portrait so realistic she “flew at her own resemblance with such fury that it was found necessary to place the picture in a situation where it was free from her jealous anger.”[13]
**Cruft’s is now the world’s largest international dog show.

References:

      • [1] Glasgow Evening Post, “Social and Personal,” February 10, 1893, p. 8.
      • [2] Dundee Evening Telegraph, “Mr. Gladstone and his Dog “Petz”,” February 10, 1892, p. 2.
      • [3] Dundee Evening Telegraph, “Petz at Home Once More,” May 11, 1894, p. 2.
      • [4] Dundee Evening Telegraph, “Death of Mr. Gladstone’s Pet Pomeranian,” March 28, 1898, p. 2.
      • [5] House Dogs and Sporting Dogs: Their Varieties, Points, Management, Training, Breeding, Rearing and Diseases (Taylor and Francis, 1861), p. 74.
      • [6] G. Stables, Ladies’ Dogs as Companions: Also a Guide to Their Management in Health and Disease (London: Dean & Son, 1879), p. 22.
      • [7] House Dogs and Sporting Dogs: Their Varieties, Points, Management, Training, Breeding, Rearing and Diseases (Taylor and Francis, 1861), p. 74–75.
      • [8] G. Stables. 1879, p. 23.
      • [9] Ibid., p. 24.
      • [10] Ibid., p. 24–25.
      • [11] Illustrated London News, “Metropolitan News,” December 15, 1877, p. 571.
      • [12] Pateley Bridge & Nidderdale Herald, “Contemporary Chat,” March 16, 1901, p. 8.
      • [13] Whitley, William Thomas, Thomas Gainsborough, (Smith, Elder, & Company,1915), p. 363

Oh hi there 👋
It’s nice to meet you.

Sign up to receive awesome content in your inbox, every month.

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

Leave a Comment