The first blue merle stud dog which became famous was a stallion with china-like eyes, born in 1873. His name was Scot, he was grey and white with rich tan markings. At n. 6495 of the KENNEL CLUB STUD BOOK of the year 1876 you can read about him and that he belonged to Mr. F. B. Brackenbury, coming from Downham, Norfolk, but we do not know the breeder’s name. Then the colour is described as follows: "Grey, tan and white, china eyes". This dog is called "Scott" in many subsequent texts about the collie, but here we prefer to use the official name of the Kennel Club.
At those times you could find this variety of colour (merle or "mirled", or more precisely "marbled", as it was also subsequently called) more often in the smooth than in the rough collies, among which the sable ones had already become hugely popular. However the work of a few enthusiastic breeders began bearing fruit little by little and in 1880, at an exhibition in Dundee, judge Hugh Dalziel gave the victory to a blue merle collie. Later judge Vero Shaw did the same during an exhibition in Fakenham, Kent, where the palm of victory went to the above-mentioned Scot.
We cannot talk about the collie’s merle colour without mentioning Sir William Arkwright (Scarsdale), who was given the merit of having thoroughly studied and dictated the rules for the breeding of this fascinating variety of collie. With this study and through a scrupulous selection, he managed to get a perfect merle colour, perhaps never again achieved in the history of the breed.
The description that Arkwright furnishes of Scot is concise and fascinating: "A light silvery blue, beautifully clouded with black, white collar, frill, blaze, paws and tags; face and forelegs bordered by bright red, with one china eye".
Enchanted by this collie and after having tried in vain to buy him, William Arkwright made him cover one of his females called Russet, probably black-and-tan, and white.
This mating is the base of all today’s blue merle collies and from it a female was born, Blue Stocking, which in her turn mated to a male called Redbreast, produced a blue female called Blue Rose.
Of course at that time the blue stud dogs were rare, so it was absolutely necessary to resort to inbreeding, so Blue Rose was mated to her grandfather Scot and in April of 1882 two puppies were born, Blue Sky and Blue Thistle, respectively male and female. The male was the best blue of his time, whilst his sister, mated to Donald, a tricolour which was born on the 9th of December, 1878 by Carlyle ex Flirt (a daughter of Old Cockie) was the mother of the famous Blue Ruin, the first female blue merle to win an exhibition beating even collies of other colours. In 1888, in fact, she won the Collie Club's Challenge Trophy, the most important trophy at that time. Another important daughter of Blue Stocking was Blue Belle, mother of Blue Bear, another winner of 1888.
William Arkwright was the pioneer of the blue breeding. According to his theories the best blues are obtained by mating the blue merle with a special tricolour called "black and tan", which is completely lacking in white, now unfortunately disappeared. Arkwright was absolutely against mating the sable and the merle because it would have given, as he said, a merle colour contaminated by a rust colour and would have produced sable and blue-eyed puppies. He was also against mating two merles, but he admitted that the white ones (double merle), born from this coupling, mated to a tricolour, could give merle puppies of exceptional beauty. According to Arkwright, the union of two merle dogs, however, had to be absolutely avoided if there were already three or more merles among the grandparents of the future puppies.
Unfortunately, in the spring of 1890 William Arkwright sold all his collies. He had suffered a serious hunting accident in 1876, moreover he did not have any children and preferred to devote himself to his hunting dogs of which he was a recognized expert. His most important individual, Blue Ruin, was bought for 99 guineas from Panmure Gordon, the first president of the Scottish Kennel Club, who actually acted on behalf of the financier and American breeder John Pierpont Morgan (Cragston). So, in that same year, Blue Ruin left England. It was she who took this colour to the New World. All the American blue collies derive from her. However, she was a loss for English breeding, also because her mother, Blue Thistle, had died after giving birth to her second litter.
After the Arkwright’s withdrawal, another breeder made an effort to continue the work that had been done up to that time. His name was John Andrew Doyle, one of the oldest members of the Kennel Club. Although he was not really a collie expert, he was an esteemed and respected judge, particularly keen on the smooth. He did not often frequent the exposition ring, but he fought until the blue merle could be judged as a separate class.
Even John Powers (Barwell) dealt with the blue merle, despite being already famous for collies of other colours. One of the winners of those years was his Barwell Lass, a dog with a beautiful grey colour, well marked with black.
Thus, the blue merle collie, which had experienced a period of scarce interest from the public after William Arkwright’s retirement, saw a revival of approval from enthusiasts, thanks to other capable breeders.
One of these was Fred Barlow (Yardley). His most important dogs were Yardley Blue Jumbo, born on the 2nd of July, 1906 by Master Merledale ex Yardley Crystal; Yardley Blue Spider born on the 21st of May, 1906 by Master Merledale ex Stoneleigh Lady; Yardley Freda, born on the 15th of October, 1906 by Annandale Knockout ex Annandale Blossom.
C. White also bred the blue variety successfully. In addition to being a big lover of the collie and a pioneer of the blue colour, he was a true gentleman, held in the highest regard by his friends on both sides of the ocean. He had purchased from A. C. Thompson the bitch Blue Fancy with whom he had laid the foundation of his kennel. His most famous blue collies were Blue Princess Alice, born on the 21st of June, 1903 by Royal Amethyst ex Bonny Girl, and Blue Princess Alexandra, born on the 26th of April, 1907 by Blue John ex Bonny Girl, both grandchildren of Ormskirk Emerald.
Even Henry E. Packwood (Billesley) who had been president of the English Collie Club wanted to undertake the breeding of blue merle. His flagship bitch was Billesley Bluey.
In 1907 The English Rough Blue Merle Collie Club was born, which in 1924 converged into the British Collie Club, and whose purpose was the promotion of the breeding and the improvement of the blue merle collie’s variety. F. Barlow was elected president, T. Leckie treasurer and H. G. Hill secretary. The most well-known men of that time constituted the Council: T. Horry, H. J. Jacques, W. E. Mason, S. E. Packwood, A. C. Thompson, C. H. Wheeler, C. White and R. J. Warner. The Club held its first exhibition in January of 1910, at the time as the one in Birmingham. Their winners were, among the females, Billesley Blue Blossom belonging to H.E. Packwood and, among the males, Typewriter, belonging to WL Tippett, who also had the satisfaction of winning another prestigious trophy, the Billesley Bowl, with his Blue Plasmon (Edgbaston Plasmon x Hartshill Stella). It was a big undertaking, because even collies of other colours competed.
William E. Mason, who had had so much success with the sable collies, also became interested in the blue merle in the early twentieth century. One of his most famous blue was Southport Blue Sky, born on the 21st of May, 1906 by Master Merledale ex Stoneleigh Lady. Sold in the US in 1908, he went to enrich William Ellery (Valverde)’s kennels in San Francisco.
In the early years of that century another great member of the old guard, Hugo Ainscough (Parbold) began to dedicate himself to the blue merle. He bought a beautiful female, Parbold Blue Luna, Southport Blue Star and Porchester Grania’s daughter, by Ms Hume-Robertson (Porchester). This female was part of an extraordinary litter born on the 8th of June, 1910 which included Porchester Blue Comet, Porchester Blue Vesta and the champion Porchester Blue Sol as well. The latter had a great influence on the breed.
The winds of war were beginning to sweep Europe, and the roar of cannons thundered closer and closer. Certainly it was not a good time for breeding. We have only to mention a couple of dogs before the clamour of the exhibitions is covered by the rhythmic cadence of the boots of the marching armies.
It was a pity, because at the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, the merle variety had reached the peak of its popularity. HG Hill had produced some of the best blue females ever seen: Azure Belle (Master Merldale x Rona) sold at a price never paid before for a female and Southport Grey Charmer (Master Merldale x Edgbaston Ena, in her turn Squire of Tytton’s daughter).
The number of blue merle collie that in early 1909 crossed the ocean bound for America was higher than any other colours, which gives an idea of the spread in popularity of this variety. However this exodus turned out to be positive, because soon thereafter the World War would have canceled or drastically reduced many of the most important European livestocks. Some of them succeeded in getting through the damages of war unharmed, others were swept away, but at the end of the conflict new breeders took the place of those who had disappeared, and slowly the collie and its wonderful colours came back to life.