Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Emanuel F. Ness' 1924 guide to perfect poultry

(Note: This is a version of a post that was originally written for Capper's Farmer in 2013, when I was a blogger for them for a very short period. Check out all of their current bloggers here.)

When Sarah was a little younger, one of her wishes was to own a farm some day. She wanted it to be filled with goats, cows, chickens, pigs, certainly some alpacas, and other farm animals. She wanted for the farmhouse itself to be a great big castle, as she has a wonderful imagination.

And she wanted for me to live on the property and take care of all the animals and farm/castle chores for her. She's good at delegating like that.

But to be clear, I am NOT a farmer. Or even much of a gardener, really.

I’m not the fella with the pitchfork from American Gothic. I’m just a guy who works at a newspaper and has a strong side interest in books, ephemera and history. Tied in with that, I’m a Pennsylvania boy who has a great interest in and appreciation for farming history and culture.

I would like to think that all of the farming-themed books and ephemeral items that I come across are preparing me — perhaps through a type of osmosis — for that day when Sarah wins Powerball and expects me to run our new family farm.

One thing that might help, in that regard, is a neat old book about poultry that I came across a few years ago. It's called The American Standard of Perfection, and it was published in 1924 by the American Poultry Association. Here’s the cover.

Actually, I only gave you the partial title. According to this book’s first page, the complete title is (deep breath) The American Standard of Perfection, Illustrated, A Complete Description of All Recognized Varieties of Fowls, As Revised by The American Poultry Association at Its Forty-Seventh Annual Meeting at Knoxville, Tenn., Nineteen Hundred Twenty-Two.


Meanwhile, this particular volume is stamped on the inside front cover with the former (original?) owner’s name:

Dallastown is a borough here in York County. I believe, thanks to a little amateur genealogy work, that I have tracked down a solid candidate for who Emanuel F. Ness was — and it’s a bit of a sad story. Emanuel was born in 1878. In 1910, he married Minnie Floyd. In 1911, their infant son, Marvin, died. And in 1912, Minnie herself died at about age 23.

Assuming that he acquired The American Standard of Perfection the same year it was published, Emanuel was about 46 years old when he put his stamp inside the book.

And what was the 427-page book used for? Just what it says. It provides the official breed standards for all North American poultry. The classifications and descriptions of physical appearance, coloring and other attributes are used as a measuring stick for, among other things, the competitive judging of chickens, ducks, turkeys and other poultry.

The first edition of the book was published in 1874, and the most recent edition, still published by the American Poultry Association, was the 44th and was published in 2015.

The introduction to the 1924 volume states: “For more than seventy years prior to the appearance of the first American Standard, poultrymen had been trying to make such blends of European and Asiatic races of fowls as have produced the Plymouth Rock, Wyandotte and Rhode Island Red; yet had failed to produce a breed that could gain wide or lasting popularity. Nor, in all that time had any old, established breed been so improved that it could win and hold the favor of those who kept poultry for eggs and meat.”

It’s filled with finely detailed illustrations of poultry, ranging from the Silver-Penciled Wyandotte Female to the Bourbon Red Turkey Male to the slightly silly looking Black-Breasted Red Game Bantam Male.

Other illustrations, such as this one, hone in on elements of poultry anatomy:

A typical entry describes the following characteristics of a given bird: standard weights, comb, ear lobes, beak, head, eyes, neck, wings, back, tail, “body and fluff,” breast, legs, toes and “under-color of all sections.” In 1924, a beak might be described as being “of good length, stout, well-curved.”

And ear lobes, of all things, get this level of descriptive detail in the entry for the female Minorca: “Large, almost-shaped, smooth, thin, free from folds and wrinkles, fitting closely to head.” And that’s the most I’ve ever written or thought about ear lobes.

I think my favorite thing about this book, though — and the reason I held onto it for many years even though I’ve never had a Poultry Farming Moment in my life — is the wonderfully detailed illustrations. I’ll leave you with two more of them:

Above: Illustration of the regal-looking Silver-Penciled Wyandotte Male.

Above: Illustration of the Silver-Spangled Hamburg Male.

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