The English Cinnamon canary, Part 2

By the turn of the twentieth century, the Cinnamon canary’s prospects were looking rather good.  A widely accepted balance between colour and type had emerged, and a breed society, the Cinnamon Canary Club, had been established.  The Club had 20 members at the end of 1900 but this had climbed to 55 by 1902, the highest since 1896 (1).  

The Cinnamon show standard was agreed at the Crystal Palace show of 1909 (2).  A summary is given here:

  • Colour: 35 points
  • Shape & type:  20 (i.e. Norwich type)
  • Feather quality: 15
  • Wing carriage and compact tail:10
  • Size: 10 (length not specified)
  • Condition: 10

Adopting the Norwich type proved to be a double-edged sword.  The Cinnamon was obliged to follow the Norwich type, but the Norwich was still evolving.  This illustration shows how the shape of winning Norwich had become fuller and more rounded from 1887 to 1905.

Cinnamon canary
The development of the Norwich canary in the late 19th century. From ‘Our Canaries’ by Claude St. John  (1911)

The illustration at the head of this article confirms that there was a similar development in the shape of the Cinnamon too.  Once the Norwich shape had been achieved, breeders sought to increase size by crossing the Cinnamon with the Crest-bred.  You can see what the Crest-bred had to offer in this comparative study; it was a big bird.

Crest and Crest-bred canaries
The difference in size between the Crest and the Norwich canary.  Front cover to ‘Canary and Cage Bird Life’, 5 April 1907.

The practice seems to have accelerated in the first decade of the twentieth century (3).  An advertisement in ‘Cage Birds’ in 1909 was not only offering such birds for sale, but also selling them at a premium (4).

Cinnamon canaries
Advertisements for Cinnamon canaries in ‘Cage Birds (1909)

The Crest-bred cross achieved a significant increase in size.  In the 1870s the Norwich canary was not much larger than a Lizard, and even in 1893 Wallace had recommended that 

“some limit should be placed on the length of this breed, and I think 6 ¼” (15,8 cm), or at the very most 6 ½” (16,5 cm), should under no circumstances be exceeded” (5).  

He urged breeders to improve size by careful selection rather than by crossing with the Lancashire plain-head, “but ‘size, size’ is still the cry . . . and then cayenne is resorted to, to cover all these defects.” (6)

His protests were to no avail.  By 1911, Claude St. John was advocating a much larger bird

“we want a stout, chubby, cobbily-built, and well-proportioned bird of the true Norwich type, rather larger in size, or about 7” (18 cm) overall’ (7).

The ideal that he had in mind was portrayed by renowned bird artist Harry Norman in the frontispiece to ‘Our Canaries’.

Cinnamon canary
Frontispiece to “our Canaries” by Claude St. John (1911)

The infusion of Crest blood may have increased size, but it also had consequences.  In 1923 C.A. House explained that:

“the men of Lancashire and Yorkshire, who at that time held the strongest studs, introduced Crest blood into their strains to increase the size.  They certainly secured size, but at the expense of colour and feather, and after a few years the breed began to loose its popularity on the show bench.” (8)

House paints a gloomy picture, but Cinnamon enthusiasts were still committed to the cause.  One of them was H. G. Golder, Secretary of the Cinnamon Canary Club.  Writing about the 1935 show season, he noted that: 

“It is increasingly apparent that the Cinnamon Norwich Canary is becoming more popular each year, and the reason for this is not hard to seek, for it is gaining points that have for some time been lost.

Whilst size has been maintained, the true cinnamon colour, which is so hard to to obtain and still more difficult to keep, was one of the most outstanding features of the exhibits.  Like all other varieties of Canaries, the most difficult thing to get in the Cinnamon appears to be a good head.  I do not know of any variety of canary in which a beginner should be more careful in his selection than with the Cinnamon.

Definite points to avoid are poorness of colour, bad wing-carriage, and long barrelled bodies, because the Cinnamon at all times has a tendency to grow long.  One of the chief characteristics of the Cinnamon Canary is its fascinating colour of burnished copper.  Quality of feather, too, is essential at all costs; particularly is this so with hens.” (9)

His advice still holds good today.

If we use the number of entries at the National (Crystal Palace) show as a yardstick, we can see that despite House’s claim that the “these days the Cinnamon is not as popular as it was thirty years ago” (10), support for the Cinnamon had been remarkably constant:

  • 1902 – 46 birds in 4 classes
  • 1909 – 55 birds in 4 classes
  • 1914 –  35 birds in 4 classes (last show before the War)
  • 1934 – 53 birds in 4 classes
  • 1936 – 46 birds in 4 classes

I do not have figures for the National in the 1920s, but if there was a downturn in numbers of Cinnamons, it must surely have been as a consequence of the First World War (1914-18).

A rival event sponsored by ‘Bird Fancy’ magazine (11) showed what was possible when Cinnamon breeders pulled together. 

Cinnamon canary
Cover to the ‘Bird Fancy’ show catalogue of 1936

It was held at the New Horticultural Hall in Westminster in December 1936, and attracted an entry of 99 birds in 9 classes.  This outstanding entry was entirely down to the commitment of the CCC and its members who not only offered patronage, but also agreed “to share between themselves any loss sustained”. (12)

Cinnamon canary
The Cinnamon Norwich section at the ‘Bird Fancy’ show of 1936 with patronage from the CCC.

The majority of exhibits were from CCC members, and the exhibitors include some well known Cinnamon breeders including Messrs. Baker, Bounds, Childs (who had taken over as Secretary of the Club), Shearing and Golder himself.  Everything points to this being the CCC’s club show for 1936.  

The Magnate Challenge Cup was offered to “the hottest fed bird, moulted and fed on Magnate brand colour food”.  With the emphasis on hot colour, we can be confident that the majority of birds were true Cinnamons.  It must have been an impressive display, possibly the greatest show of Cinnamons ever.

Sadly within three years the Cinnamon would suffer yet another setback with the outbreak of World War Two.  I will look at the attempts to revive the fortunes of the breed in Part 3.


General: My thanks to Andy Early for extracting information about the Cinnamon from his collection of show catalogues from the 1930s, and from ‘Canary and Cage Birds Life’ (1905-1914)

  1. ‘Cinnamon Canary Club’ a report of the meeting held at the Crystal Palace on 1 February 1902, published in ‘Cage Birds’ on 15 February 1902.
  2. ‘Our Canaries’, Claude St. John (1911) p.263
  3. ‘Canaries and Cage Bird Life’, 24 November 1905.
  4. Average weekly wages for a skilled tradesman were around £2, and for a teacher around £3.75 in 1909. ‘The Structure of Pay in Britain’, Williamson (1982).  Web source
  5. ‘The  Canary Book’ by R.L. Wallace, third edition (1893), p.278.
  6. Ibid, p.275.
  7. ‘Our Canaries’, Claude St. John (1911) p.254
  8. ‘Canaries’ by C.A. House, first edition (1923), p.222.
  9. ‘Cage Birds Annual’, 1936, p12. 
  10. ‘Canaries’ by C.A. House, first edition (1923), p.222.
  11. ‘Bird Fancy’ magazine was taken over by ‘Cage Birds’ in 1938.
  12. ‘Cage Birds Annual’, 1936, p12.

7 thoughts on “The English Cinnamon canary, Part 2

  1. On the cover to the ‘Bird Fancy’ show catalog of 1936 I see a hybrid:
    Vink (Fringilla coelebs) and keep (Fringilla montifringilla) cross.
    If correct, remarkable. I have only seen the cross for the first time on the continent end nineteenth eighties.

  2. Thank you for yet another interesting history lesson….. all to more enjoy our birds.

  3. On the subject of Cinnamons, and their history of cross-breeding and even going to the question of whether, even in their ‘heyday’ they were a “breed/Type” or a simple colour variation of the breed they were created from, my mentor in the Fancy as a young ( and not so young ) man was the late and some say ‘great’ Harry Berriman of Cheltenham, who was internationally recognised as the “Cinnamon King”. Now Harry didn’t breed “The” Cinnamon canary, per se, he bred Border canaries, but his Cinnamon Border’s were recognised as the best, year on year, decade upon decade Cinnamon Borders in the Uk at a time when the Border was by far the most popular breed of canary, with 1,000 plus entries at the major specialist shows. ALL the top Uk fanciers beat a path to Harry’s door for cinnamon ‘blood’ – some even got some ! ( some did not, he was no fool ) and his cinnamons ‘shone’ for colour, Type and quality. It was the time when the first Irish and ‘Continental’ fanciers – particularly the Italians, were visiting the Uk and ‘buying days’, had to be carefully managed to ensure there were no customer clashes, or if there were, that they created a competitive atmosphere to his advantage!

    But, to the production of top quality Cinnamons, his “secret” was that – a little like Gold to Gold and Silver to Silver pairings, Cinnamon to Cinnamon, as a principal, beyond a generation or two, was – in his view – a ‘bad’ pairing. This called for the constant use of Green outcrosses ( obviously Border’s in Harry’s case ) to create “carriers” to produce Cinnamons. Similarly, his standpoint was that whilst Green carriers of Cinnamon were vital to maintain ‘Type’ ( more in a moment ) in the Cinnamon’s; in the Greens, it effectively ‘spoilt’ the quality of the Green blood, making subsequent Green’s produced “brassy”. He had enough understanding of that to maintain a separate, if not so famed, line of “Grass Greens” which he was scrupulous to protect, despite the temptation of excellent Cinnamon bred Green hens which would not carry the Cinnamon ‘gene’, but would have cinnamon ‘bred’ blood.
    The reason for using the Green’s to maintain “Type” quality went to the issue in the above article whereby the ‘Cinnamon’ type feather, in contrast to the ‘Green’ type feather, was, as in Yellow/Intensive to Buff/Non-Intensive feather, longer, narrower, finer. That was the physical feature which led Cinnamon to Cinnamon pairings, if used consistently, to produce narrow shoulders, a narrow head and longer body losing shape and quality. Presumably that was why the Norwich type found favour ( and provided useful outcrosses ) and the Crest-bred was doubly effective in ‘curing’ the failings of all Cinnamon pairings by those who did not understand the impact.
    The use of “carrier” Green birds of the required Type to Cinnamon hens and Cinnamon cocks to Green hens to produce Cinnamon hens, to subsequently use with carrier cocks maintained both Type and colour over many, many generations. Occasional Cinnamon to Cinnamon pairings ‘could’ intensify the colour in a generation of birds before pairing back to Green’s to keep the quality high.
    One would imagine they would be useful strategies for ‘modern’ breeders of the “Dun Canary” to follow.

    All that aside, ‘THE’ desired bird was always the (true) “Self” and how breeders of the New Cinnamon’s will establish lines of those will remain to be seen. Huw’s recent article on the underbellies and vents of certain Lizards will be worthy of scrutiny when examining purported ‘Self’ Cinnamons where the melanin feathers should extend through the belly, thighs and vent of any genuine contenders.

  4. Nigel, with regard to your sentence ” Huw’s recent article on the underbellies and vents of certain Lizards will be worthy of scrutiny when examining purported ‘Self’ Cinnamons where the melanin feathers should extend through the belly, thighs and vent of any genuine contenders.” is there a connection between the self cinnamon and the white bellies & vents of the lizard canaries ?


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