The Indian Runner Duck: A Historical Guide
by C. & M. Ashton
Hardback book, stitched, printed on good quality coated paper; 202 pages. Over 100 black&white illustrations and photographs. Eight page colour section. A collection of documents and information going back to the 1830s, some not previously available in print.
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Few ducks have ever had such an impact on the domestic waterfowl
scene in Great Britain as the Indian Runners, or Penguin Ducks, as
they were sometimes called in the early days. Groups of enthusiasts
almost came to blows on where they came from and what they should
look like. For nearly a century bitter rivalries existed between
groups of fanciers, each positive that it knew all the answers, and
each positive it was right exclusively. Between 1900 and 1930 the
poultry press contained letters of growing bitterness and often
quite inane stubbornness. The pages were littered with letters and
articles from experts like Matthew Smith, Joseph Walton, J. Donald,
E. A. Taylor, Reginald Appleyard. It is hard a century later to
wonder what all the fuss was about, and why this breed of duck
caused all the controversy.
When they appeared on the scene, Indian Runners had three sets of characteristics that marked them as unique, and each of these contributed to the subsequent conflicts within the Fancy:
1. Runners had what was seen as a “peculiar” shape and carriage;
2. they had plumage colours and markings that included very unusual mutations;
3. they had very highly developed egg-laying capabilities.
At some time or other between 1840 and 1940, different groups of fanciers would seek to capitalize on one of the sets of characteristics, largely at the expense of the others. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the most popular version of the Indian Runner in England was the one from the Cumberland importations. It was fawn (or grey) and white, laid plenty of eggs but had on numerous occasions been crossed with native British domestic ducks. This was the version that found its way into the 1901 Standards and was believed by many to be from India itself. At this time another version was promoted by those who believed the pure, upright Runner from Malaya was the genuine article. The focus was on head shape, carriage and slim bodies, irrespective of colour. Then before the end of the First World War, a third version of the Runner was promoted. It was defined almost purely by its egg-laying. The shape and colour were very much minor considerations.