Hamburg Chicken

(Continental class)

Prepared by Michael Schlumbohm and Keith Bramwell, Department of Poultry Science, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Male Golden Penciled Hamburg Chicken The Hamburg is generally a non-sitting chicken that was originally bred for enhanced egg production. The eggshells are white and the skin is also white with white ear lobes and a somewhat large and pronounced rose comb. The American Poultry Association (APA) recognizes six varieties of Hamburgs, they include the Black, Golden Penciled, Golden Spangled, Silver Penciled, Silver Spangled, and White.

Standard Weights
Cock: 5 lbs.
Hen: 4 lbs.
Cockerel: 4 lbs.
Pullet: 3.5 lbs.

In general the Hamburg is a small, fine boned egg-type breed. They are characterized by fairly long bodies with moderate width and depth. The back is flat and slightly slopes from front to back. There is a moderate break at the junction of the tail and back with the well-spread, moderately long tail held at an angle of 35-40 degrees. The breed has a bright red rose comb, and large white earlobes. All varieties have slate or black shanks, feet, and toes, with the bottoms of the feet being white.

The Hamburg breed has an obscure past with several theories as to where it originated. This obscure history is complicated further because there are theories that the different varieties originated in different countries as well. Unfortunately, there is no definitive evidence in any case to 100% support exactly where the Hamburg breed originated. What is known is that the breed takes its name from the German city and port of Hamburg. Through this port, both Hamburgs and Polish were shipped to London for a century or two before 1850. Harrison Weir, stated that in the 1850's he had bought Hamburgs and Polish in the London markets, which had just arrived to the country. He also wrote that then, and from ancient times, birds of Hamburg and Polish types were collected in Holland, Belgium, Germany, and Russia for shipment to England; and that frequently four or five coops containing 25 birds each arrived together and were all sold in a single morning.

Over the course of poultry history, there have been claims that the Hamburg is an English creation. In a sense that is correct but, the English breeders can only be credited, with total certainty, with improving and refining the stock that was imported from Continental Europe. No doubt the English greatly improved and perfected the breed and though there are several theories of an English origin none of them have sufficient evidence to support such a theory, at least with the Golden and Silver Penciled varieties. However, there is some compelling evidence to suggest that the Silver Spangled, Golden Spangled, and Black varieties were developed, at least in part, in England. Ultimately, the only clear evidence of its origin lies in the fact that we call it Hamburg. The first birds of this type known in England carried this name and therefore we should assume that the breed originated in Continental Europe and is therefore placed in the Continental class of the APA. Either way, if the Spangled and Black varieties were developed in England it is likely they derived, in part from imported Penciled Hamburgs which were subsequently crossed on local English breeds.

On the authority of "John Oldbird", the arrival of Hamburgs in America was nearly contemporary with that of the Polish and Black Spanish (about 1825), possibly a little earlier. At that period and occasionally much later, the Laced and Spangled Polish were called Hamburgs, and Crested Hamburgs; so we cannot always determine whether the reference to Hamburg chickens is a reference to the modern Hamburg or modern Polish. There is, however, no reason to doubt that both were in America by 1825, or soon thereafter. With the name Hamburg often given to the Polish breeds, birds that did not have a crest were often called Pheasant Fowls, Pheasants, and Golden and Silver Pheasants. The application of the name Pheasant came about because of the absurd belief that the breed was produced as a hybrid between a chicken and a pheasant. Other names given to the parti-colored Hamburgs were Bolton Gray and Bolton Bay. These names were sometimes limited to the penciled varieties, but again we find them applying to both penciled and spangled birds. Still other names were Moonies, Chittiprats, Creoles (or Creels), and 'Dutch Everyday Layers'. It was not until after 1850 that the varieties were well established and the modern nomenclature came into general use.

From an early period after their arrival in America until about 1880, Hamburgs were decidedly popular with all classes of poultry keepers. They were one of the first improved egg breeds to be used in America and there are reports of Hamburgs laying 200 to 250 eggs per year. But the Hamburg was not without its faults. As a rule, early Hamburgs were small, rather delicate, and laid small eggs, but they were so generally remarkable for persistent laying and efficiency that their faults were excused. They were also so much more attractive in body shape and color than the early Leghorns that people who valued them for their beauty were willing to overlook their faults.

But as the Leghorn eventually grew in favor, the Hamburg rapidly declined. By 1890 it had practically ceased to be used by utility poultry keepers, and had lost a lot of it's following among fanciers. To this day there are not a huge number of Hamburgs, especially of good quality, and they are typically only seen at the larger exhibitions.

Silver Spangled - recognized in 1874

This color pattern is one of the most striking and attractive of all colors and patterns of chickens. It can also be among the most difficult to breed to perfection. In this variety, the ground color is white and each feather ends with a teardrop shaped black spangle. The spangle should be proportionate to the size of the feather, in other words a larger feather, i.e. a tail feather, will have a larger spangle than a smaller feather such as a hackle feather.

It is generally believed that this variety was evolved and perfected in England. One theory of its creation was that it was a cross between a Spotted-Breasted Game and the 'Dutch Everyday Layer'. Another theory is that both of the spangled varieties of Hamburg were developed from the old Yorkshire Pheasant and Lancashire Mooney. Yet, there is another older theory that the Silver Spangled Hamburg came from Italy as evidenced in Aldrovandi's work of poultry published in 1599. Interestingly, Aldrovandi then places the breed as having a Turkish origin. But there is very little evidence to otherwise support this theory.

The Silver Spangled Hamburg has been by far the most popular variety of the breed in America. The preference for it may have been at first because of its color, which after spangling was eliminated from the Polish was not found in any other breed. However, in later years at least a part of the greater popularity of this variety was due to the fact that it was bred to a higher level of perfection in terms of size, body shape, and color when compared to the other Hamburg varieties.

Golden Spangled - recognized in 1874

This is another variety that was most likely developed and perfected in England. It is essentially the golden counterpart of Silver Spangled variety, although there are significant differences between the Silver Spangled and Golden Spangled Hamburgs. In the Golden Spangled male, the hackle and saddle feathers have a black stripe rather than a spangle. Additionally, the tail is solid black in both the male and the female Golden Spangled variety.

This variety doesn't quite have the striking color contrast of the Silver Spangled, which has been a limiting factor of the popularity of the Golden Spangled variety. The beauty of the pattern is not as greatly appreciated except on close inspection. This variety is another rarity and is in need of more breeders.

Silver Penciled - recognized in 1874

It is fairly certain that both the Golden and Silver Penciled varieties came from Holland and were exported to England via Hamburg, Germany. There are several accounts of English breeders purchasing and breeding birds called Hamburgs that came directly from the Netherlands.

The use of the term "penciled" to describe the markings in these two varieties of Hamburg is a misleading relic from the days before the technical use of such terms was fixed. Technically, these Hamburg varieties are not penciled, but "barred." The female of this variety is barred all over, except in the hackle, which is pure white; the male is mostly white with very little barring visible, except on the flank area. The tail of the male is solid black with the sickles being laced with silver.

The birds of this variety seen in this country are generally small and the color pattern needs a lot of improvement. This variety is rarely seen and when they are seen the quality is generally lacking. This variety as well as the Golden Penciled is in need of more supporters to both increase numbers and improve quality.

Golden Penciled - recognized in 1874

This pattern is exactly the same as the Silver Penciled, only the ground color is bay rather than white. The relative attractiveness of silver and golden is revered, as compared with the spangled varieties, primarily because the contrast in bay and black shows much better in barring than in spangling, but also because the Golden Penciled male was thought of as a much more showy bird than the Silver Penciled male. As a result of this, more attention has been given to the breeding and showing of Golden Penciled Hamburg and not the Silver Penciled variety.

Black - recognized in 1874

The Black Hamburg was most likely developed and perfected in England. There is one account from a writer from Lancaster county England who described a bird similar to the modern Black Hamburg which he called a "Black Pheasant". It is also thought that perhaps the Black Hamburg was created by crossing with the Spanish. It is known that in the U.S. that the Black Hamburg was crossed with Black Minorcas in order to improve body shape, increase size, and add new blood to the gene pool.

After the Silver Spangled this has been the most popular variety of the breed. Usually they are about the size and quality of the average Silver Spangled Hamburg.

White - recognized in 1874

This variety is so rare in this country that it is all but impossible to find good individuals. Historical lack of interest in it can be explained by its lack of quality as a show bird when compared with White Leghorns. Many people thought that the yellow beak and legs of the White Leghorn made for a more striking bird while the white beak and slate legs of the White Hamburg were not as attractive. This variety is rarely seen and is in serious need of more breeders.

Bantam Hamburg
(Rose Comb Clean Legged class)

Both the APA and American Bantam Association (ABA) recognize bantam Hamburgs. The bantam version was most likely first developed in England and they are recognized in the same varieties as the Large Fowl being Silver Spangled, Golden Spangled, Silver Penciled, Golden Penciled, Black, and White. Shape and color requirements are the same as for large fowl.

Standard Weights
Cock: 26 oz.
Hen: 22 oz.
Cockerel: 22 oz.
Pullet: 20 oz.

Works Cited
Robinson, John H. Popular Breeds of Domestic Poultry. Dayton: Reliable Poultry Journal, 1924.
Brown, Edward. Races of Domestic Poultry. Liss: Nimrod Book Services, 1985.
The American Standard of Perfection Illustrated: A Complete Description of All Recognized Breeds and Varieties of Domestic Poultry. Burgettstown, PA: American Poultry Association, 2010.
Bantam Standard for the Breeder, Exhibitor, and Judge. 2011 ed. Kansas City: Covington Group, 2011.