Primary Collars; The World of Tim and Jocelyn Greenan

Jocelyn & Tim Greenan
Philip Bermingham
Jocelyn & Tim Greenan

Walking into the living room of Tim and Jocelyn Greenan, nothing screams out in particular extravagance. Its colors are earthy and neutral, its décor tasteful and understated, it invites guests to relax and enjoy a moment of quiet elegance. But then Tim walks into the room and informs you that the rug you are standing on is a Turkish Oushak from the 1880s, and the mirror over the fireplace is a late Karl Springer framed in lacquered goatskin that only appears to be marble. The horse armor you may have overlooked? “It’s called a chaffron—from the 1500s,” Tim explains. “Austro-Hungarian in origin. It’s the armor for the horse’s head. I’d been looking for one for years. Most people mount them on their walls, but I had it mounted on a stand to sit on the coffee table.”

The coffee table has a story, too—as does everything else in the room.

Slowly you realize that you are standing in a lived-in, soft spoken museum of sorts, researched, acquired and curated by Georgetown’s most fascinating and engaged collector-couple. Since being together, the Greenans (pronounced “Gréh-nun”) have honed their skills and tastes as collectors of historic, artistic and cultural treasures from around the world. But far from the domain of many collectors, their home doesn’t bludgeon guests with their objects of affection. “Our house is eclectic and somewhat minimalistic,” says Jocelyn. “We want our house to be functional and not outrageous. But it incorporates elements from 700 B.C. to the present.”

Now, this isn’t to say that the collection — or the couple — is without its quirks. Through their varying range of interests, one theme to which Tim and Jocelyn return time and again is the history of dogs, field sports and the romance of the English countryside.

“For about 12 years I foxhunted with Piedmont Fox Hounds in Upperville,” says Tim. “And I’ve always had dogs and been interested in field sports — shooting, foxhunting, waterfowl hunting. And I think that interest manifested itself in the collection.”

Jocelyn, for her part, was raised on a farm in Loudoun County, Va., and this mutual affinity for countrified culture and animals has evolved into an unusual but fascinating focus for their collection: historic dog collars.

“I think the way people treat their pets says a lot about society,” says Tim. “Addresses and names are written on the tags of the collars, and you can piece together some fantastic stories.”

Over the last ten years, Tim and Jocelyn have amassed the largest private collection of historic dog collars in the world. Like other antiques, the value and historical context of a dog collar is determined by its provenance — where it came from — and condition. But there are other, more idiosyncratic factors in appraising and assessing dog collars. For instance, take the material of the collar.

“Is it made of copper, brass, silver, leather?” Tim says. “If it’s silver, it was likely worn by a dog in a stately home. If it’s made of leather, it was probably worn by a dog of more modest means. If it’s made of iron and studded with spikes, it was worn by a hunting dog to protect it from wolf attacks — most people don’t know that’s how studded collars originated.”

The functionality of these artifacts is much of the fascination for Tim and Jocelyn. “People take as a given that so many things in culture are a product of 20th century taste,” says Tim, “When, in fact, they are very utilitarian in origin.”

As an example, Jocelyn points to the traditional poodle cut: shaved close to the body with a bobbled tail. “That was just the most functional way people found to have the dogs’ hair clipped,” she says. “They were used to hunt waterfowl. You would send a poodle into water and weeds. With the big ball on the tail, you could see your dog in the brush.”

“All dogs have a job,” says Tim. “And a collar can tell you what the dog’s job was.”

The details people put into their articles of everyday life are epitomized in dog collars, says Tim. And so he was surprised to find that there is no scholarly or historic literature on the dynamic and global history of these utilitarian relics. One of Tim’s ultimate goals is to document and publish his research and findings on dog collars.

Given these interests and ambitions, it is not surprising that Tim has a strong connection with the National Sporting Library and Museum in Middleburg, Va. He is a current board member, as well as chair of the Fellowship and Publication committee, which offers a remarkable fellowship for researchers focused on equestrian and field sports. Since 2007, the fellowship has supported 23 researchers-in-residence from across the United States and five different countries. And Tim has chaired the fellowship since its founding in 2007.

The Sporting Library has been an unparalleled research center for Tim and his work. “Not many dog collars survived throughout the ages,” explains Tim, “because most people didn’t keep them — you’d bury them with the dog. So, they tend to be hard to find.” Given this situation, the many paintings, illustrations and visual resources of sporting life available at the Sporting Library have as such been a tremendous resource, as dogs and animals are almost always depicted throughout history with their collars and other traditional dress.

But Tim and Jocelyn have also taken matters of sporting art into their own hands. Among their private collection are a wealth of historic hunting, equestrian and dog portraits, including a few gems from Alfred Munnings (1878 – 1959), perhaps England’s most renowned painter of horses, sport and countryside life during its peak of social and cultural renown in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

So extensive and thorough is their collection that upon first meeting Ghillie, Tim and Jocelyn’s Scottish Deerhound, you might wonder whether she was a recent acquisition. A truly stunning creature, Ghillie, age two, is as friendly and refined as her owners. Her breeder was Ceil Dove, in Rappahanock County, whose own Scottish Deerhound, Hickory, was the grand champion at Westminster this year.

“We take Ghillie down to the waterfront all the time,” says Jocelyn. “One of her favorite walks is from the Key Bridge down to Washington Harbor. She’s such an unusual looking dog — people ask us for pictures all the time. We also love taking her running on the Capital Crescent Trail. And she’s a great runner — she can go up to 10 miles!”

The collar that Ghillie is wearing in the photograph is Tim’s personal favorite of the collection. “It’s an 18th century collar that was made specifically for a sight hound like Ghillie,” says Tim. “Sight hounds hunt predominantly by sight, as opposed to, say, a foxhound, which hunts via smell. The collar is of Belgian origin, with these beautiful floral and canine motifs, red velvet lining and the initials of the original owner.”

Among other notable collars, the collection also boasts a black, leather number from World War I with quite a story. “It’s a German message collar,” Tim says. “It was used by a German Shepherd with a message holder. You know, the German Shepherd as a breed was only identified in 1908, and less than 10 years later they were being used in the battlefields.”

This sense of story and history is the raison d’être for the collection. “I collect them because they tell a story about society and about a dog’s life,” says Tim. “A dog is the master of its world, and it knows it’s got a job. And if that collar can tell you what that job was, that’s what makes it really interesting to me. I’d rather have an ugly, torn-up collar that tells a great story than a beautiful collar that tells me nothing.”

Right now Tim is searching for older collars from 17th century. But the older the collar, the harder it is to find. “So many dogs were just buried with their collars,” he reiterates.

But there is more to the Greenans than the historic effects of canine culture. They have two sons, Piers, 10, and Graham, 7, as well as a second life in fundraising and community development.

Jocelyn is on the Board of the Starlight MidAtlantic Children’s Foundation, which works with critically ill children and their families to cope with pain, fear and isolation through entertainment, education and family activities. Their upcoming benefit, Taste of the Stars, on Nov. 19 at the Four Seasons in Georgetown, promises to be one of this season’s highlights.

Tim is on the board of the National Children’s Museum, and in December 2010, he and Jocelyn co-chaired the foundation’s Gala together with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and his wife Karen.

But at the end of the day, it is a safe bet that Tim and Jocelyn return to the comfort of their cool and eclectic home with dogs on their minds. Ghillie needs to be walked, and collars need to be tracked down. “But don’t worry,” Tim says. “We’re not going digging in any doggy cemeteries.”

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Mon, 22 Sep 2014 14:16:29 -0400

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