History and Success of the Rose Comb Rhode Island Reds
By Robert Blosl
Many articles have been written over the last 100 years on the History of the Rhode Island Reds, but to
my knowledge, no one has told the story of how the Rose Comb variety got started in the early years of the breed. To explain
how the Rose Comb varity got started, you must first go back in time to the beginning of how the Single Comb Rhode Island
Reds came into the existence.
The Originators of the R I Reds were old settlers who lived and farmed in the Little Compton area of Rhode
Island. The farmers and residents in this community as far back as the 1850’s were looking for a type of fowl that could
produce lots of eggs to sell to the markets in Boston and other major cities, but to have a young bird that would dress out
well as a roaster at four months of age.
In or around 1854 William Tripp from New Bedford and a friend named John Macomber of Westport, Mass
developed the first stock or strain of the early Reds. There strain consisted of every day barnyard fowl females mated to
males that were Red in color. These males where a mixture of Chittagong or Cochin China Blood that where clean legged and
had some bottle green color in their tails. Macomber died and Tripp took over the process of improving there new strain and
it was around the 1880 that Tripp crossed a Rose Comb Brown Leghorn male over with a type of yellowish Old fashion Buff Malay
hens. E.L.Picket said it in the early writings of the history of R I Reds in the Reliable Poultry Journal 1924 issue that
this was the beginning of the modern day type R I Red and Mr. Tripp was given the title as the Originator of the breed. At
that time, they were not called R I Reds, but most of the locals just called them Tripp Fowls.
Mr. Picket later went on to say in his article, that White Wyandotte’s with old Red-buff hens where
used by other farmers in the area as a source for laying hens so it is possible that the Rose Comb varity got its start in
the 1880s. However, another old chicken man by the name of H.G. Denny insists that the Rose Comb Reds owe their comb, color
and type to the Red Java fowl that was found in the yards of sailor boarding houses and those who where from Portugal. This
was in the New Bedford area boarding the shores that was called Fayal. This same theory is backed up by one of the top historians
of that time George Tracy. In the 1925 edition of Blue Ribbon Reds Tracy wrote that sailors brought Red Java’s in to
the New Bedford around 1840s-50s. However in a short time, all traces of the Red Java’s somehow disappeared in the strains
that were being raised in this region. Never the less, these Red Java’s did have Rose Combs and it could be a source
for the Rose Combs in these early years of development. I personally will have to go along with Dr. Aldrich, and Mr. Pickett
in their theory as they were involved in the breeding of these early day R I Reds and Mr. Pickett was one of the early founders
of the Red Club and wrote prolifically on the subject of Rhode Island Reds.
John Tompkins was one of the first farmers in the Little Compton area to obtain Malay type game males from
whaling and trading vessels from the New Bedford area. Red and buff type Malay fowl were used on these vessels to entertain
the sailors during their voyage. The survivors of these fowls that were used in cock fighting were shared among the locals
in the little Compton Area. It was felt by many farmers in this area that the Reddish males passed on the vigor and egg laying
ability to their offspring or their flocks. However, the females that were crossed onto these reddish males were just dunghill
barnyard scrubs. This is where John Tompkins started putting breeding pressure on the female as well as the males. For over
30 years the male was the only interest among the farmers. Tompkins, felt that the best females from the best males crossed
among his strain would produce a more superior strain of laying hens and broilers for meat production. So he made a effort
not only to get sailors to find him the best reddish males from overseas but the best reddish females as well.
In a cut I have a picture of a pair of Malay males, that were stuffed and on display at the Peabody Academy
of Science at Salem, Mass. The picture was taken by the late Dr. Prince Woods a poultry lover, and writer back in 1910. It
is this picture that captures the look of the early Rhode Island Red Males of the 1880’s that Tompkins spoke about.
Dr. N B Aldrich one of the first exhibitions of Reds in the late 1890’s once stated in a article in the Farm Poultry
Semi-Monthly Magazine, Nov 1906 that from the visits that he had with some of his old patients, he was told that going back
to the Poultry Shows held in or around 1849 at the Public(Boston) Garden the Red Shanghais and the Cochin Chinas where generally
red and were and some times these breeders had birds that sported Rose Combs. So it was Dr. Aldrich’s believe, that
there were Rose Combs type fowl around before Tripp introduced the Rose Comb Brown Leghorns in 1880.
While on the subject of Dr. Aldrich, he was one of the early exhibitors of R I Reds and his friend
and founder of the Buff Plymouth Rocks a Mr.R.G. Buffington showed at the February 1892 Madison Square Garden Show three classes.
They were Single Comb Rhode Island Reds, Single Comb Buff Plymouth Rocks, and Buff Wyandotte's. The funny part of this whole
exhibit of three different varieties of fowl was they all came from the same yard. They could have been shown as Reds or Buff
Rocks and there was not much difference of the appearance of the bird exhibited. It was said by Dr. Aldrich, the Buff Rocks
and Wyandotte's got all the attention and the Reds where simply ignored by those in attendance of the show.
Now I want to get down to the nuts and bolts of where the biggest improvement came from Rose Comb R I Reds
and that was from the early strain of John Tompkins Reds that I earlier talked about. John had a son who’s name was
Lester. Lester told a story in the one of the early Blue Ribbon Red editions around 1912 that he and his father got their
best source of imported birds that helped to build their famous strain from Lester’s Uncle who was owner and agent of
some Whaling ships sailing out of Westport and the New Bedford area. The ships just returned from the Indian Ocean and Lester
and his father got pair of Red Malays that was on board. Lester stated that this was the first pair of fowls that
I ever owned and they where the dissidence of his famous line of R I Reds. This time must have been around the 1885.
In the second cut I revel a picture of a Rose Comb male that was photographed by Arthur Schilling
that was part of a series of articles in the Rhode Island Red Folder and then later published in the Red Clubs 1944 Red Book
of Knowledge. Schilling was impressed with the picture of the old strain of Tompkins males that he kept separate from his
own strain that he breed for the shows and the current Standard of Perfection requirements. The point that Lester was trying
to get across to Schilling was the current Standard of Perfection that was being used was not illustrating the true type of
the original Reds that were brought over on whaling ships. The tails on the males exhibited by the early standard picture
was to short and small. It reduced the egg laying ability of the females and just made the males look like they had a bunch
of broom straw for tails. It was this visit by Schilling and the photograph of the early Tompkins Rose Combs that convinced
the Standard Revision Committee to change the tail carriage of the Rhode Island Reds.
This article could not be finished without the introduction of the Rose Comb variety into the APA standard
of perfection. It is an interesting story and it goes back to 1904 when the Single Combs where admitted to the Standard of
Perfection at APA meeting held Feb.1904 in Rochester New York . The standard committee would not recognize both variety’s
so the breeders had to come back the following year at the next APA National Meeting held in Cincinnati Jan. 1906 and had
to fight tooth and nail with the standard committee, as they wanted to admit the Rose Combs as American Reds. A fellow
by the name of F.D. Baerman had also filed an application for the same fowls under the name of Rose Comb American Reds. Lester
Tompkins led the fight and the breeders from New England won out and Mr.Baerman withdrew his motion. It was a great experience
for Lester as this was the first time many of the Midwesterners got to see his fine strain of Rose Comb and Single Comb Reds.
This excellent display of R I Reds was so ahead of their time that it was said by many Poultry writers in the early 1900’s
that Lester Tompkins probably sold more R I Reds at higher prices than any other ten breeders in the United States combined.
He provided many of the new breeders of the Rhode Island Red club their foundation starts and today I am sure some of the
Rose Comb Blood from the Old Lester Tompkins strain lives on.
In my final cut I have a picture of one of the most handsome Rose comb Large Fowl Red males you could
ever ask for photographed by Schilling at the Madison Square Garden show in 1907. It was a Rose Comb Cock and maybe this was
the picture that set the success for Lester Tompkins back in the infancy of our breed and club. Time is to short at this time
to go into the breeders and success of the 1930 and 40s in Rose Comb Reds or for the matter the origin of the Rose Comb Bantams.
Perhaps another day and another time we can reveal to you more on this subject.
I hope you will consider the Rose Comb Large Fowl variety, as it is an endangered species of fowl. In my
judgment during our breeding season, there are less than 100 birds alive in fanciers breeding pens for Rose Comb Red
Large Fowl. I hope; you will consider the Rose Comb variety, as it is a variety of fowl that needs lots of help by us Red
Club Members to lift it to the ranks that it once enjoyed. Long live the Rose Comb Rhode Island Red Large Fowl.