Nankins

by
Craig Russell

with permission from
SPPA Bulletin, 2001, 6(1):3

A pair of Rose Comb Nankin Bantams
Image © Dutch Chicken and Bantam Association

Sometimes called Nankeens, the Nankins are Asian and reputedly originate from the Nankin or Nanking region of China. Claims have been made that the fowl actually originated in the East Indies (modern Indonesia and Malaysia) and were named for their similarity in color to a light reddish yellow cloth that was produced in Nanking and widely exported. However the name originated, China has a long history of trade with the East Indies, and Europe could well have encountered the fowl in both areas.

The Nankins reached Britain in the 1700s. Suggestions that the fowl originated in Britain sometime after 1847 are clearly erroneous. Nankins are often considered true bantams without a large counterpart, but both large fowl and bantams were originally imported to Britain. Both were much admired for their black tailed light chestnut red coloring (more brilliant and lustrous in the males, approaching orange red on the head and saddle). Sadly, large fowl with blue or green legs faced serious prejudice in Britain and disappeared before the middle of the 19th century. In Hong Kong in 1975 I talked to an Englishman who had seen a flock of large fowl in the New Territories that reminded him of Nankin bantams. The large fowl may still exist in the Orient. The sprightly bantams were for a time one of the most popular breeds in Britain.

The Nankin occur with both rose and single combs. Although single comb fowl predominated in old strains, Sir John Sebright is believed to have used rose comb Nankins in the development of his famous Sebright bantams. I've noted that green legs were at one time present, but slate blue seems to have predominated and this is how they were standardized. A pink stripe on the outside of the shanks is considered desirable. The Nankin is Sebright in type (but not hen feathered) and New Hampshire in color (except the black on the tail is more prominent and the female hackles have no black ticking). Some stock that I saw in Britain in 1972 appeared to have recent infusions of New Hampshire blood. Reportedly, both the original Buff and Black Tailed Buff Rosecomb bantams were created by crossing Nankins with White Rose Comb bantams.

Nankins in North America are very rare. The few I've seen are of good type. It is difficult to believe that such a distinctive, historic fowl has come so close to extinction. This is a bantam breed that should be an SPPA project. (Editor's note: In The Practical Poultry Keeper, 1909, Lewis Wright describes the Nankin as "one of the old breeds of Bantams, and at one time nearly disappeared, but attempts have been recently made to re-introduce it. The best tail to our fancy, is a pure black, with the coverts slightly bronze. The comb is rose; and the dark legs should be perfectly clean.")


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