Dick Swiveler, Part One

The Irish setter Dick Swiveler has possibly the most captivating and tragic life story of any show dog in America. Although his name is given a mention in passing in a number of books, there is to my knowledge no biography of the dog anywhere. I was so engaged by Dick’s story, I felt compelled to piece together the agony and the ecstasy in order to share it with fellow dog lovers.

Dick’s entry in the AKC Stud Book Vol. V

For those wondering where the name came from, we have Charles Dickens to thank. (The spelling on the dog is off by one L and the newspapers sometimes added it in, sometimes not.) It was a popular registered name of the era and there were other dogs, including a pointer, with the name as well as race horses and competition cows.

Dick Swiveler the Irish setter was born on August 5, 1886, bred by William H. Child. He was owned and shown as a youngster by a gentleman named Pierre Camblos of Philadelphia. At the prestigious New York show in February 1889, Dick Swiveler was first in a large open class of 35 dogs. The awards for the breed at Westminster:

Forest and Stream, February 21, 1889.
Comments on the awards at New York snipped from Forest and Stream, February 28, 1889

It wasn’t until Dick was purchased by George H. Covert of Chicago later that year that his career really took off:

The Fanciers’ Journal, October 19, 1889

Mr. Covert, who started out calling his kennel Paradise but soon changed the name to Killarney, campaigned Dick heavily. He had a flair for advertising and embellishment:

An ad in The Chicago Tribune, January 19, 1890
Mr. Covert got Dick Swiveler in the paper just for passing through the city of Louisville.
The Courier General, January 20, 1890

At the fourteenth annual Westminster Kennel Club show in February 1890, Dick Swiveler was awarded the top prize in Irish setters.

The Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago), February 12, 1890
The list of awards for Irish setters at the New York show as printed in Forest and Stream, February 13, 1890

Forest and Stream was not terribly impressed with Dick:

Forest and Stream, February 20, 1890

The Fanciers’ Journal however was quite generous in praising the dog:

The Fanciers’ Journal, February 15, 1890

The President of The Fanciers’ Journal outfit was William H. Child, Dick’s breeder, which would seem notable here.

George Covert took out an ad in The Fanciers’ Journal the following week, using a phrase from the paper’s comments above:

Of course, nobody likes a winner and one with a braggadocious owner has even less friends. A plot was hatched against him. Dick was next shown in Mr. Covert’s hometown but did not win, which gave everybody something to talk about for weeks on end:

From Forest and Stream, March 13, 1890.
The Fanciers’ Journal, March 15, 1890
An opinion from “Oakview”, a pseudonym for William H. Child, Dick’s breeder, printed in The Fanciers’ Journal, March 22, 1890

At the inaugural show of the Buffalo Kennel Club in April 1890, Dick Swiveller was again defeated by Elcho Jr though still complimented in Forest and Stream:

April 24, 1890
Snipped from The Los Angeles Evening Express, April 30, 1890
A lovely silhouette on the cover of The Fanciers’ Journal, September 27, 1890
The Fanciers’ Journal, September 27, 1890
The Meriden Daily Journal (Connecticut), October 20, 1890. This piece ran in numerous papers nationwide.
Snipped from an article in The Pittsburg Dispatch, February 1, 1891, about the upcoming dog show
A full page ad in The Fanciers’ Journal the week prior to the New York show

In February 1891, Dick Swiveler won again in New York. This was a pretty big deal.

The Chicago Tribune, February 25, 1891
The Kansas City Star, February 26, 1891
Snipped from Forest and Stream, March 5, 1891
Snipped from The Fanciers’ Journal, February 28, 1891
The complete list of awards for Irish setters at the New York show as printed in the February 28, 1891 issue of The Fanciers’ Journal

The Fanciers’ Journal misspelled the name of Mr. Covert’s kennel next to Dick’s name (above), presumably unintentionally, but still came out ahead of Forest and Stream which left Dick out of the awards entirely:

Forest and Stream, February 26, 1891

At the Pittsburgh show in March, more controversy:

The Fanciers’ Journal, March 14, 1891

Mr. Covert’s response, printed in The Fanciers’ Journal, March 28, 1891:

The Fanciers’ Journal announced in April 1891 that Mr. Covert had purchased Elcho Jr from Dr. William Jarvis. The price paid was reportedly $1000, rather steep for a nine year old dog, although it was not uncommon at this time for big winning dogs to be shown until they died.

An illustration of Elcho, Jr, born June 1, 1881, bred and owned for most of his life by Dr. William Jarvis of New Hampshire

Elcho Jr was shown for the first time under Mr. Covert’s ownership at the Mascoutah Kennel Club show in Chicago where he took top honors. The dog was then sent to Denver where he also won.

This was the height of Mr. Covert’s short career in dogs. He had by this time acquired a large number of Irish Setters and was furiously breeding, importing and selling. Another of his acquisitions was Tillie Boru:

Also acquired: the exclusive services of her trainer:

And the largest acquisition of all:

The Fanciers’ Journal, August 8, 1891

All this activity relates to Dick Swiveler in that it swiftly led to the financial ruin of Mr. Covert, who was heavily in debt and forced to sell all his real and personal property, including his entire kennel. Dick’s fate was thrown to the wind.

Forest and Stream, September 10, 1891

Dick Swiveler was sold at auction by order of the court on November 21, 1891 for $105. The buyer, Mr. W. L. Washington of Kildare Kennels, said Dick was suffering from both mange and eczema at the time. Elcho Jr. died just prior to the auction at the kennels in Auburn Park, IL where the dogs were being held. Mr. Covert, according to the sole mention I was able to find of what became of him, died sometime within the next several months.

Pittsburgh Dispatch, November 24, 1891
The Fanciers’ Journal, November 28, 1891
The Fanciers’ Journal, May 14, 1892
The Fanciers’ Journal, May 21, 1892

Whatever Mr. Covert was or was not, he certainly was passionate about his breed of choice and Dick Swiveler was obviously a favorite. Though his aspirations for Dick exceeded the stubborn limitations of reality, it is hard to fault his enthusiastic optimism:

Chicago Tribune, March 15, 1891

At a time when the national Irish setter club had fizzled, Mr. Covert was one of the men who breathed new life into the organization. His Tearaway X Tillie Boru produced Saga’s Tearaway and Tillie Boru II, both with field trial wins and placements in 1892.

Mr. Covert was reportedly a younger man and he learned as he went along, as we all do. He paid a hefty price for his mistakes and was treated rather cruelly by the kennel papers. I was unable to find an obituary for him despite an extensive search. Mr. Covert made a significant contribution to the breed at a critical time in its history and deserves recognition for that.

(Post concludes with Dick Swiveler, Part Two.)

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