Photo: Donald Skinner-Reid. Scots fancy colour plates from Donald’s book, sold to him by Norwich breeder Gerry Parker


More than 100 years after it was first published, John Robson’s Canaries, Hybrids and British Birds in Cage and Aviary is still relevant to breeders today. Donald Skinner-Reid looks at how the Scots fancy is portrayed


MY GOOD friend Gerry Parker of Durham, a well-known Norwich canary man, very kindly sold me the most fascinating book Canaries, Hybrids and British Birds in Cage and Aviary by John Robson and edited by S.H. Lewer. It dates from 1910. The book is extremely heavy, so doesn’t qualify for bedtime reading!

I only received it recently and haven’t scratched the surface of its content yet, but, of course, I have read the chapters on the Scotch (Scots) fancy and Belgian. It doesn’t mention the Giboso or the Gloster since it predates those mutations by years.

This book is full of plunder for canary fanciers who also love history. It has chapters on breeding, exhibiting, show-cage making and on each variety. The one variety that jumped out at me was the cinnamon canary. I confess my knowledge here is weak, but I saw an advertiser in this paper recently selling English cinnamon canaries. The variety has a long-standing lineage; the illustration of it resembles a Norwich.

You have to indulge me a while here. The chapter on the Belgian states: “The position is an inborn quality… but if it be not there, all the training that can be brought to bear will not develop that which does not exist. A high-bred young bird, when sitting on the nest-edge, can be made to show to a surprising degree what promise it has of future greatness, and there can be no ‘training’ here.

“From the hour the young leave the nest the rule must be laid down that except in cases of emergency they must never be handled, owing to the nervous nature of the breed.”

I have said the same myself, 118 years after these sentences were crafted. I use the word “crafted” correctly. The use of the English language in this book is exemplary. I’ve always known I was born too late!

The book is peppered with plates of Scots fancy canaries. That must, I think, reflect the prevalence of that breed in Scotland at the time. It was clearly a well-known variety. I have read that in Scotland at that time, shows consisted almost entirely of Scots fancies with other breeds hardly getting a look in. How times change!

Of course, 1910 saw something of a schism in the Scots breeders. And the book doesn’t shy away from tackling it head on: “A word of warning here will not be out of place, and that is that the Scotch Fancy must not be carried further in the direction of the Belgian.” Too much Belgian blood straightened the tail of the Scots, raised and hollowed out its shoulders. And competing standards existed. But what amazes me about the Scots shown on the plates is that each one has its descendants in my birdroom. These genes go back a long way.

Entering the modern world of Scots fancy conflict, I read, with a knowing smile, this line: “Nothing can compensate for slovenly wing carriage, it simply ruins the whole contour.” I have looked at many so-called perfect Scots on the internet and in too many cases, the wing carriage “breaks the curve”.

A friend recently asked me if it was possible to breed the wings to match the curve and my answer was that I shall almost certainly die trying, but the objective remains. I understand that many breeders think it impossible, yet I don’t. The book also contains comments on the frilling of the chest feathers; another live issue.

I suspect I shall be plundering this book for a long time. There is so much more to tell!

Donald Skinner-Reid is the treasurer of the Scots Fancy Specialist Club.


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