Above: this cased specimen of the original London fancy canary going back to circa 1850 was discovered in a private collection, its owner apparently unaware of how special this specimen was. The specimen will remain in the private collection. Photo: Hein van Grouw

THE OLDEST KNOWN specimen of the original, now-extinct London fancy canary has been discovered in a private collection.

The cased specimen was found by Hein van Grouw, senior curator of the bird group at the Natural History Museum Tring, and is reported to be in “remarkable” condition.

According to Mr van Grouw, the case label and other clues in the way the bird was displayed, indicate that the specimen had been prepared and mounted about 1850. “We were visiting a friend and he showed us his taxidermy collection,” he said. “I recognised it straight away and was rather excited about it. My friend was a bit ‘disappointed’ as, in his opinion, he had rarer specimens of fish by John Cooper than the canary.”

Mr Cooper was a London taxidermist – best known for his cased fish – who started business in 1825. The Cooper name was still in use up to about 1960.

Huw Evans, vice-president of the London Fancy Canary Club (LFCC) became aware of this specimen after seeing a photo taken by Hein van Grouw in August’s De Witte Spreeuwen (The White Starlings), the monthly magazine of the Belgian birdkeepers’ federation.

“As soon as I opened the page, the bird caught my attention,” Mr Evans commented. “It is undoubtedly an over-year London fancy and is by far the oldest specimen known to the LFCC. To find an example of the original London fancy, from an era when it was still regarded as the most prestigious of all canary breeds, is an important and exciting discovery.”

The only other examples Mr Evans is aware of are held at the Natural History Museum Tring, “but these birds were from the 1930s when the London fancy was close to extinction, and there were various attempts to save the breed by crossing with the Lizard and even-marked Norwich,” he said. 

Mr van Grouw first discovered the specimen in 2011 and says he recognised it straight away as a London fancy, although he had never seen a “real bird” before. “All that was published in the past were drawings, even no photos, so I was never ‘sure’ whether the London fancy as it was described in the past ever existed for real,” Mr van Grouw told C&AB.

“This specimen proved to me that the London fancy, with its typical markings, did indeed exist.”

For more information on this discovery, see Huw Evans’s blog: https://finespangledsort.com

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