History of the modern Angora
Domestic rabbits have been documented since Roman times. The long hair gene is one that shows itself regularly in many types of animal as can be seen in cats, dogs, guinea pigs etc. Usually this longhair mutation would not fare well in the wild , the coat would become saturated and matted leading to illness and death. As a captive bred animal however the long haired animal is highly prized and developed into the extremes of coat that we see today ie: the Persian cat, Afghan Hound, Peruvian Guinea-Pig etc.
The original long hair rabbit would probably have a coat like that of the Swiss Fox or Cashmere lop that we see today. The coat is still predominantly guard hair, the long, silky, harder, waterproof hair that makes a normal rabbits top coat. The wool is the undercoat , shorter on a normal rabbit to act as insulation. The Angora is unusual in that the gene affects the undercoat growth, producing a rabbit that has more undercoat (wool) than top coat. This rabbit would be useless in the wild , (have you ever seen a wet Angora?) but immediately was taken up as a fibre animal .
Why Angora? This is slightly controversial but there is documentation from around 1500, Henry VIII’s reign that long haired/wooled rabbits were highly regarded at that time in England. There was even a law in place banning the sale and export of such to foreign lands. The animal was described as the English Silk Hare and its product was used in clothing manufacture, we can ascertain that this then was a wool producing animal. England at that time was the World domination in western trade with ships trading all over the known World. There is documented proof that the long haired rabbit was traded in France in 1723 by English Sailors. Due to the law preventing the export of the English Silk Hare it is believed that animals were smuggled out of England and sold in far away ports secretly , probably long before this.
It is unsure if these animals originated in England or had been brought to England by European explorers/traders. The long haired rabbit travelled throughout Europe reaching Turkey and their trade centre Ankara, formally known as Angora. Ankara was the home of the Angora goat and so the long haired rabbit which had a coat not dissimilar to the Mohair producing goat took on the name Angora Rabbit. The true history is hard to determine but I believe long haired rabbits probably occurred all over Europe from established colonies of meat rabbits regularly. Keeping a segregated group tends to lead to inbreeding and line breeding so any recessives will show themselves. Recently a study of wild rabbits in the UK in a segregated group led to many colours being produced from the original Wild Agouti coloured animals. Long haired rabbits showing up in these colonies would be removed as novelties and so a breed begins.
In reality there were probably different forms of the long haired gene as there are today.
The English Angora shows the undercoat growth in all its glory. The coat is predominantly undercoat with only a scattering of Guard hair, called the tips, through the coat causing a veil . These tips are quite fragile and easily lost with harsh grooming. The English Angora has profuse furnishing on the head cheek and ear.
The UK and American “English” Angoras are quite different however, having evolved along different paths. The American Angora has a denser coat with slightly heavier texture wool. The UK Angora is much silkier, finer in texture. The coat can be still very dense but because of the silkier nature it tends to part more than the coat of the American Angora. In the UK Tasselled ears are preferred rather than the fully coated ears of the American Angora. In the UK only one type of Angora is currently recognised and exhibited, simply called the Angora.
(UK) English Angora
The French Angora has more guard hair that has been bred to be very long and silky, its coat is very fine and silky and naturally falls in a parting on the animal. They have no head furnishings or ear tassels. The coat is easier to maintain, being fairly mat free.
German and Giant Angoras are basically English Angoras who have been selectively bred to produce more wool per animal. They are larger and their wool has a slightly heavy feel and is less prone to matting.
The SatinAngora is a French/Satin mix with a satinised look to the wool giving it an incredible shine.
Above Satin Angora “Dukat” belonging to Ursula Glauser
The Dwarf Angora a new development from Holland. It has been imported into the UK and will hopefully have a bright future here.
So we see that the Angora was being bred all over Europe in its many forms. Its modern history and development really started to gain pace around the 18th. Century when clothing manufacturers took up the Fibre as it was cheap to produce but offered supreme luxury. There is documentation and even drawings showing an animal not dissimilar to the rabbit we have today being used to supply wool . This is a copper plate produced in 1754 showing the beginnings of the modern day Angora.
It wasn’t until the 20th. century when the commercial Angora took flight with Germany leading the field. There are reports of around 40-45 thousand animals being kept for wool production at the turn of the century. The Germans were fastidious with their records and over time produced an animal that once produced 150g of wool a year to one that now produces around 1-2kg of wool from 4 shearings a year, rightly termed the German Angora. The war brought these big Angora Wool producers to a halt and post war many smaller enterprises sprouted.
China became interested in the Angora and there are reports of 30,000 animals being exported to China from Frankfurt. Today they are the biggest producer of Angora fibre in the World, supplying 95% of the world’s raw Angora Fibre, from an estimated (and staggering) 3 million animals. No one can compete with the Chinese Angora production but there are producers in Chile, Argentina, India. Germany still has a few producers on a smaller scale.
Chinese Angora Production
The UK Angora has always been a pet and exhibition animal highly prized for its fine silky wool, lovely nature and fairy tale appearance. It has its hardened supporters here in the UK that maintain its quality and it is a regular best Fancy and Best in Show winner.
The first UK club was the Universal Angora Club founded in 1907, The Southern Angora Club formed as a second club in 1920, they amalgamated into the National Angora Club in 1963 it presently caters for the breed in the UK.
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