Desert Island Poultry Books

It gives me great pleasure to have Veronica Mayhew providing a guest post for my blog this month. This was first written for the Poultry Club of Great Britain Yearbook in 1983 and it has been adapted for this blog post. I am grateful to the Poultry Club for their support.

Veronica has been selling antiquarian poultry books and memorabilia all over the World for over 30 years and answers the following question:

If you were to be cast away on a desert island, which poultry books would you take with you?

You might think I would find this a difficult choice, but I have decided in two minutes which they would be, if I were allowed eight books.

veronica mayhew
Veronica Mayhew photographed on her antique poultry book stall at the National Poultry Show 2010

Some books just stand out and my favourite, without doubt, is Harrison Weir’s Our Poultry. These two hefty volumes were written at the end of Weir’s life and are packed with his illustrations – not handsome colour plates, but lots of smaller, beautifully detailed drawings of breeds and of poultry going about their daily tasks.

There are hens depicted dust bathing, a duck dozing, a cock finding an insect, a hen drinking. Here really was an artist at work, and it is his artistry which makes it my favourite book. He illustrated literature on many subjects including dogs, cats, cattle, sheep, pigs and pigeons, but the only large book he wrote was the tome on poultry.

Other books to take

My second book would be a copy of an early edition of Lewis Wright’s Illustrated Book of Poultry. This is the ‘Bible’ of the fanciers and I appreciate it because it contains such fine chromolithographs, accompanied by a really lengthy text on all the breeds. I recall being shown it as a child by my father and feeling full of awe when I turned over the pages.

My third book would be another ‘classic’ Tegetmeier’s The Poultry Book. Tegetmeier collaborated with Darwin and his work with and for that great scientist alone, entitles him to a position of honour in the natural history world. His major book on poultry is most definitely authoritative and it is for this reason that I would wish to have it on my desert island. It is also illustrated by that artist again, Harrison Weir!

My forth book would be Poultry Breeding and Production by Sir Edward Brown, published in 1929. The author lived at Theale near Reading and is the only man who has been knighted for his services to the poultry industry. I appreciate three-volume work (sometimes two volumes) because of the accurate details of breeds of poultry not seen in this country, or seen but rarely – Owl-bearded Dutch, Malines, Marsh Daisy, Siberian Feather-footed, Bearded Thuringien to name but a few.

My fifth book would be an early edition of The Henwife by the Hon. Mrs. Arbuthrott. I would like to take this for the pleasure given by the Victorian perfection in books – fine hand-coloured plates, a fascinating text and a beautiful cloth binding embellished with gilt.

My sixth book would be a book on genetics and I would choose Hutt’s Genetics of the Fowl. If that didn’t occupy my brain for the years to come, nothing would.

This would be my only non-English book, Hutt being American.

My seventh book would be H. Eason Smith’s Bantams for Everyone because, over the years, I have used that book more than any other excepting the Standards. I recall Mr. Eason Smith teaching me about the various ornamental breeds at the old International Show and I learnt a great deal from him for which I will always be grateful.

Very few ‘all-round’ judges understand my own breeds, but Mr. Eason Smith gave Belgian Bantam breeders the confidence to exhibit under him regularly when he used to judge and I have frequently quoted his description, in the book, of a Quail d’Anvers cock, which really does sum up a good bird “the effect should be of a little dandy with a nankeen waistcoat wearing a dark cloak”.

The final book

My final book would be Edmond Rostand’s The Story of Chanticleer. This is really a children’s book but the characters are all definite breeds as can be seen from the illustrations. I have read it countless times and it never fails to delight me. It would be a book to read at the end of a hard days fight for survival on that desert island!

You can read more about Veronica in the article I wrote on Poultry Antiques by Veronica Mayhew on the poultrykeeper website which includes contact details if you are a collector of old poultry books and memorabilia.

Do you have any of these books or other old favourites?

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Tim Daniels

Tim is the founder of the poultrykeeper website and lives in Herefordshire, UK. He keeps Cream Legbar chickens, Silver Sebright bantams and hybrid layers for eggs, Abacot Ranger ducks, Brecon Buff geese and some quail.

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