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pigeon The North American Roller Pigeon
Fascinating Historic Information & Details
Kelley D. Spurling, 1 Jan 1993

Chapter 1

Just when Birmingham Roller Pigeons where sent to North America is unknown, the breed is thought to have first arrived into Canada; then introduced to the United States from Canada. Whatever the case, Chas Lienhard of Cincinnati, Ohio was breeding them in the late 1870's. An advertisement from a James Grist and Sons appeared in the May 1881 issue of 'The Homing Pigeon'. It read:

"IMPORTED BIRMINGHAM ROLLER PIGEONS"

"The most interesting little Flying Pigeons living. Can be flown twice a day and remain up hours during which they pass through the most wonderful and marvelous aerial gymnastics at an immense altitude."

In the same issue, it is reported that at the Lancaster, PA show Birmingham Rollers were exhibited under that name by.J.E. Schum, H.G. Hirsch, and C. Lippold. This early introduction to Birmingham Rollers began to happen to others, and by 1890 Rollers began to become popular. Ohio and Pennsylvania were the leaders in their importation, and it's major early breeding centers.

Ohio was definitely more superior over the Pennsylvania center. F.S. Schlicter in Portsmouth, Fred "Grandma" Liebchen and Arthur C. Karp in Cleveland, Richard R. Krupke in Canton, Thompson and Hengle in Akron, Tom Barnum in Berea, and Lienhard and G.E. Wilthew in Cincinnati. They were all well- known fanciers, and all of them played a role in the development of the North American Roller.

I use the term North American Roller, because the goals and standards of North American Roller fanciers were clearly separate than those of the English Roller fancier. In the U.S. and Canada, the longer roll became the measure of utmost value in Rollers. Selection is the key- and selection meant deep rollers, mated to even deeper rollers. Liebchen in Cleveland finally began following the Canadian practice of crossing Birmingham Rollers onto Asiatic (Oriental) Rollers.

This eventually established the long roll of 50 and 75 and past 100 feet in one unbroken sequence, and the obvious differences in type between North American and English Roller Pigeons. Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania; the cross of Birmingham Roller upon various Ground performers was a favorite.

In the great metropolis of New York City, the Birmingham Roller was crossed upon the German Flight or Beard the result was a type of North American Roller that would later become known as "The Flyers". They rolled but little, yet were capable of matching good English Tipplers for Flying endurance. Select rollers had this habit of ending up in Ohio, is it any wonder that Ohio is the genuine birthplace of the North American Roller?

By all rights, the selection for the long roll was actually conducted in England by Ohio men. No long roller, anywhere, was safe from the wandering Ohio group. Schlicter in Portsmouth was a traveling salesman for a shoe factory, through his travels he established a lifetime friend by the name of Mr. Crangle.

Crangle happened to be the superintendent of the New York City Zoo, and Schlicter's interest in Rollers soon became Crangle's as well. During his trave1s to buy zoo animals, Crangle visited every Roller loft possible. He considered no price too high for a Roller, so long as it matched his Ohio friend's description.

No English loft was safe from Crangle, and never again could the English compete for the depth of the roll. Nor did they really choose to. At this time, there was a massive Tippler infusion into the Rollers of England. It served a purpose, and the English succeeded in achieving their goals. The result was a highflying pigeon that kitted very tightly, and executed kit 'turns' in a graceful manner.

The turns of a kit of North American Rollers is anything but graceful, it resembles more an absolute explosion of rolling powers. The English Roller was now a Grizzled or brander Bronze bird with an orange or 'corn' (yellow) eye. They resembled a Tippler that was capable of rolling. On the contrary was the newly developed North American Roller, almost always a Piebald marked bird with pearl or gravel grey eyes. Tippler Prints and Brander Bronze never existed in the rollers imported to North America prior to 1920.

There was never a North American Roller of either coloration, just as there were never any Almond Birmingham Rollers. The Almond or "ermine" coloration exists in North American Rollers due only to its Asiatic parent. If you possess an Almond Roller you can be sure that there is North American ancestry behind the bird at some point. Besides definite differences in color, markings, and eye color; the North American Roller also differs from the Birmingham Roller in type. The North American Roller is always somewhat “Tumbler-headed” compared to Birminghams, in other words; their head is more rounded and the beak is shorter.

The North American is also a longer cast bird, and has tendencies to be more loose-feathered in the secondary flights than a Birmingham. In Performance the North American Roller was totally distinct from the Birmingham Roller. There were actually three types of North American Rollers, separated by means of their performance. Firstly, were the 'Long Rollers'. This particular group were capable of flying for two to four hours on end, they rose up in groups of 50 to 150 birds; when upon they rolled, they would spin like a ball descending 50 and 75 or 100 feet and beyond!

This was the most common group sought after. Secondly, were the ‘Spinners’, which were capable of flying two to four hours, their performance was very short in depth. These were found nearly exclusively in New England and later in the Toronto area. Lastly, were the 'Flyers' as they were called. They rolled little, if at all.

Their specialty was Tippler-like duration, staying aloft for eight to ten hours; sometimes longer. This type was mostly found in large industrial cities, no doubt because rolling would be a dangerous act among tall buildings in such a city. They were also used in 'Roof Flying' contests, or 'leguerra' as it was called (the war), this is also called 'pigeon napping'. Quite an old sport. Whatever the type of performer, all of these birds were pearl eyed, marked birds, that flew high and long.

Along about 1900, word of the Whittingham Strain reached North America. The Whittinghams had an international reputation for being outstanding high and long fliers. Toronto, Canada became. the leading importer of Whittinghams; starting in 1905 with J.V. McAree. The Whittinghams were slightly different in type than the North Americans, yet both were a pearl-eyed, badge-marked roller. Tipplers were never infused into the Whittinghams they therefore were free of the Brander Bronze and Light Print markings. Because of their flying abilities, the Whittinghams became very prized birds and virtually every strain of North American Rollers received at least small infusions of Whittingham blood.

Of course, some fanciers kept nothing but the Whittinghams and the standards of North American fanciers were encroached the Whittinghams, they too, became a long roller, a spinner or a flyer depending on the locality. Therefore, the North American Roller and the Whittinghams became one. Rollers became even more popular in North America. Flying contests and Roller Shows became not only popular, but also commonplace. There was one unfortunate aspect of Roller shows; there was no distinction made between the different breeds of Rollers.

It was common to find North American Rollers and all sorts of foreign rollers grouped together in one class. In fact, about this same time; there was a huge controversy over which was a better performer- North American Rollers or Asiatic (Oriental) Rollers. Each is a distinct breed, but they just called both 'Rollers'. This unfortunate mistake would later play an important role in. the near extinction of the North American Roller years later. In July of 1935, the United Roller Club of America was founded to promote Rollers in North America. It's officers were as follows:

President, Wm. Tierney, Camden, NJ; Vice-Presidents, Chas Clark, Fullerton, CA; and Ray E. Gilbert, Salt Lake City, UT; Sec./Treas., G.E. Wilthew, OH; Directors, James E. Graham, Ontario; E.R.B. Chapman, Stoneham,MA; Dr. E.K. Carmichael, Center, CO.

The October 1935 issue of The American Pigeon Keeper was a special issue about the formation of the U.R.C.A. Wm. Tierney's Red Badge cock is seen on the cover. This particular issue is now a very rare collectors item. There are not many copies left in existence. The first Standard and Yearbook of the U.R.C.A. was published in 1937, by Homer Robinson of Muncie, IN. Reprints of this book were available through the American Pigeon Journal only a few years ago, therefore, copies can be found.

Information pertaining to the 1st annual U.R.C.A. meet cannot be found, however; the second was held in Peoria, IL. Here are listed the five top birds shown:

CHAMPION: #995-Wm. Harvey

Old Cock: #8898-Wm. Harvey

Old Hen: #8896-Wm. Harvey

Young Cock: #995-Wm. Harvey

Young Hen: #920-Wm. Harvey

Mr. Harvey and his winning streak did not stop there; he was a very successful fancier and judge for many years. The 1930's also saw a number of books written upon North American Rollers by North American fanciers. The first of these was "Acrobats of the Air" by James E. Graham in 1931. It was later reprinted in 1944, 1956 and later in 1980. The second book, was written in 1934 by E.R..B. Chapman; it was called "Rollers And All About Them". Dr, A.D. Blackburn, wrote the third-book. The latter, is an extremely rare book. I cannot even find anyone with a copy, nor do I know it's name or publishing date. A well-known Pigeon book collector in CA told me has heard of it, but has never came across a copy.

The North American Roller ruled the skies of North America with little effort, until about 1935; word of a Wm. Pensom in England reached the U.S. and Canada. Nearly 70 years after it's creation, the North American Roller would again meet the Birmingham Roller- this time head on in conflict. With the words of Bill Pensom also came his birds first he sent birds to Schlattmann in St. Louis, MO, then to Perkins and Smith, then even more it was obvious that they were here to stay. Roller shows became even more common, the winners of these shows tended to gradually lean more and more to the recent English imports.

Standards had been drawn up, and they to began to resemble the Tippler I printed English birds. Soon fanciers of North American Rollers began to cross in Pensom birds into their North American birds so as to rate better in the shows. Markings such as Baldheads, Saddles, Beards, Spangles, Rose-Wings, Whitesides, and Bell-necks became rare, having given way to the Tippler print of English birds. Gradually the North American Roller was re-absorbed back into the Birmingham Roller, and its popularity had begun to wane.

With the new English imports had arrived new feeding methods, as well 'as a new system of aerial competition and standard. Long rollers require a bit more feed than a typical Birmingham Roller; only the old timers realized this. Novice fanciers of North American Rollers began applying the English techniques to their birds. The results were disastrous. Normally stable, long rollers began rolling down and becoming ragged in their performances.

The reputations of the masters and their Rollers had been destroyed due to sheer ignorance. The same novices, of course then failed to realize that the English birds, were a totally separate breed from the American birds; and since Rollers come from England, the English must know best and have the best.

The long rolling North American Roller was a totally distinct performer from the English birds it would be nearly impossible for it to live up to the English standard of aerial excellence. It did not, and soon the very existence of the North American Roller would be questionable. No one, except the old timers and their students realized that the Birmingham and North American Roller were entirely different breeds from one another. Gradually the old time fanciers began to die off or leave the hobby for various reasons. To say the breed became scarce is a large understatement, only a few die-hards kept the breed alive. They were nearly unheard of during the late 1970's and early 1980's.

Along about 1990, I noticed a gradual renewal in the breed. In the Sept. 1992 APJ I gave mention to several old strains of North American Rollers- I received a flood of letters and calls. In the late 1994 issues of the Roller Journal we saw quite a few articles pertaining to the Fireballs. The 1990's will no doubt be the new century in North American Rollers.

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