The Harlequin breed was first known as the Japanese. There were no Magpies or color varieties other than black. The American Rabbit and Cavy Breeders Guidebook and Standard 1928-1929 listed the Japanese as follows: “Irregular markings or an unequal distribution of the color bands. Points: 30. Cuts: 1-10. Under color distinct and shiny, from cream and egg gold to a brick red. Points: 20. Cuts: 1-5. Shape rather short and thick set with strong limbs, weight about 8 pounds. Points: 20. Cuts: 1-5. Ear and Head: Undercolor to match body and spotted over with black patches. Points: 10. Cuts: 1-3. Fur: To be thick and even. Points: 10. Cuts: 1-3. Condition. Points: 10. Cuts: 1-3. The Japanese rabbits’ color is intended to represent the rising sun and has circles running around the body at irregular intervals; the bands forming the circles are not regular in size or width; the circles represent the sun’s rays and the undercolor the sun. Defects are unclear color of band showing a mottled appearance; under color fading out till it shows pure white spots.”
In the same edition was an article called “Breeds of Rabbits-Their Origins and History” by B.K. Turnock, AR &CBA Judge. It is as follows, “The Japanese rabbit is not of Japanese origin. To Europeans, the orient has an atmosphere of weirdness. Because the Himalayan was weirdly marked, it was called Chinese by some, Russian by others. For the same reason, the name Japanese was given to the most weirdly marked breed or rabbit known. This breed is strictly of French origin, and has been raised as a common rabbit throughout France, and especially in Normandy and the North, for a great many years. It appeared accidentally in the Belleville or Montmartre suburbs of Paris, and is obviously descended from Brabancon or Dutch (also of Brabancon ancestry), and colored rabbits of English or checkered classification. It was first exhibited in 1887 at Paris in the Jarin D’Acclimation. A description of the baby zebra appeared in 1891 in L’Aviculteur. In 1902 a Japanese buck was crossed with a doe of the gray checker variety and produced the first Rhinelander rabbit.
From France, the Japanese rabbit quickly spread to England, but 15 to 20 years lapsed before they were introduced to Germany. They found little favor, however, among the Germans, and soon dropped out of sight. They recently appeared again in Germany and have now received favorable recognition.
The first Japanese rabbits to appear in England had uneven patches of black and yellow containing many white hairs, and a large number of them had white on the nose and feet, due to the Dutch ancestry. By selective breeding, these defects were gradually eliminated.
A Japanese club was formed in England in 1919, which stimulated the breeding of this rabbit. The standard adopted called for a weight of 7.5-10lbs. This weight was approved in Germany, but in France and Belgium, a weight of 6-7lbs was preferred due to the smaller animal having a generally finer quality of fur.
Its striking appearance puts it in the fancier exhibition classes. As a meat rabbit, it is said to be ideal, having a fine bone and firm, sweet flesh. It is one of the best mothers known, seeming having inherited the wonderful maternal instinct of the Dutch rabbit. It is docile and gentle as the Havana. This exceptional tameness, and its gay coloring, make it suitable also as a pet for children.”
This standard remained unchanged in subsequent AR & CBA guidebooks until the breed was dropped in the 1939-44 standard, presumably because of the name and World War II. The Japanese breed reappeared in the 1966-70 standard, with a new name, the Harlequin, and a more detailed description taken from the British standard.
The British were also working on improving the Harlequin. This is the standard from the Handbook of the British Rabbit Council, 2nd edition, 1942. Japanese Colour-Part orange yellow, part dense black, the brighter the better – 5 points. Markings-Head equally divided, one side black, the other yellow. One ear yellow, the other black, the black ear on the yellow side of the face and vice versa; body to have equal stripes of yellow and as clearly defined as possible; one front leg yellow, the other black, one hind leg black, the other yellow, the reverse to the front – 40 points. Head-Longish and wide between the eyes, not coarse – 5 points. Eyes-Large, bold hazel to brown, very bright – 10 points. Ears-Four to five inches long, carried fairly upright – 5 points. Legs-Fairly long, not coarse – 5 points. Neck and Body-Neck medium length, muscular body fairly long and square from shoulders to hips, slightly arched, very fleshy – 10 points. Coat and Condition-Coat dense, fairly long, the finer the better, condition hard, muscular, healthy, bright – 10 points. Weight-Not less than 7.5lbs when full grown or over 10lbs – 10 points.
In 1946 the British Rabbit Council again revised the standard, now referring to the breed as the Harlequin and making a change in the weight. This name change came about because the name “Japanese” fell into disfavor during WWII. This was the standard that was used as a basis for future American standards. This was the first mention of three coat types – the normal, rex, and astrex, and the color varieties other than black, and the first description of the 2nd Harlequin group, the Magpie.
Harlequin Head-To be equally divided, one side black the other side golden orange. Five points allocated to each side – 10 points. Ears-One ear to be black, the other golden orange. The black ear to be on the golden orange side of the face, and vice versa. Five points allocated to each ear – 10 points. Legs-One front leg golden orange, the other black. One hind leg black, the other golden orange the reverse side to the front. Five points allocated to each leg – 20 points. Body-To be banded in black and orange, and as clearly considered and defined as possible. It shall not be considered a fault if the bands are broken at the ventral and dorsal lines. Belly colour may be lightish – 20 points. Normal Coat-Very dense and silky and about one inch long. Rex Coat-Fine silky texture, intensely dense, smooth and level over the entire body form and plush like character, devoid of projecting guard hairs, and about ½ inch long. Astrex Coat-Short firm texture, free from projecting guard hairs; the fur to be curled over the whole entire surface of the body, giving a “broadtail” effect. Ears, feet, and tail only to be covered with plain fur – 15 points. Colour-Part dense black, part golden orange. The darker the better – 15 points. Normal Type-The head to be longish, wide between the eyes, and not coarse. The ears to be four to five inches long, carried upright. Legs to be of medium length and not coarse. The body to be muscular, well-proportioned slightly arched and of firm flesh. The eye colour to be brown, blue or hazel. Adult weight to be not less than six pounds and not more than eight. Rex and Astrex Type-Well-proportioned and graceful carriage, the body sloping gently up to well-rounded quarters, set on strong hind legs, medium bone. Head bold and broad, ears erect, dewlaps should not be excessive. Weight 6-8 points – 10 points. Colours of Harlequins and Magpies Black HarlequinDense black and golden orange Blue HarlequinLavender blue and golden fawn Brown HarlequinRich dark brown and golden orange Lilac HarlequinDove gray and golden fawn Black MagpieDense black and white Blue MagpieLavender blue and white Brown MagpieRich dark brown and white Lilac MagpieDove grey and white General-No one color to take preference over any other. Normal coat, Rex coat or Astrex coat, each to be considered of equal merit. The markings to be of paramount importance to other considerations. Faults-Harsh fly-back coat, white hair or excessive brindling. Penalties - White marks or patches. Five points each mark or patch.
By this time, there was a Harlequin specialty club in the United States. Ben J. Mickewitz was the secretary and Judge Thomas Coatoam was an officer. Majorie Madison of Excelsior, MN, imported Japanese in the 40’s which Thomas later obtained. In 1949 he imported Blue Japanese from Alf H. Green of Hull, England, and he had reams of correspondence from the ARBA Standards committee from a time when he was the only one interested in showing them. Bill Gass and a few others from California began importing and working with the Harlequin in the 60’s and the breed reappeared in the ARBA’s 1966-1970 Standard of Perfection. It was the 1928 standard with the addition of Show room classes. Seniors-Bucks and Does 6 months of age: 7 to 9 pounds. Juniors-Bucks and Does under 6 months of age. There were no colors other than the black harlequin (Japanese).
In the 60’s a number of articles appeared in the British publication Fur and Feather concerning Harlequin genetics and standards interpretation. Elizabeth Coles in her “Don’t Do It Boys-It’s All Been Tried Before” wrote about the problems caused by crossing the Harlequin which is genetically an agouti to self, tan pattern and Dutch rabbits in an impossible attempt to darken belly color and eliminate the white spotting factor.
Keith Bee in an article titled “Harlequin Standard” compared the standard to the Harlequins seen at the shows. “A big improvement has taken place in body markings, noticeable even over the last 12 months or so. The bands are now much clearer than they were previously and this enhances the beauty of the Harlequin a great deal. There are no regulations as to the number of bands required but a broadly banded rabbit is far more attractive than one with a lot of narrow bands. According to many of the older breeders approximately three bands of each colour is ideal . . . Many of the best marked Harlequins carry a white foot (usually one of the front ones) and they are even creeping well up the leg in some cases. This fault must be eliminated as quickly as possible and it is in the hands of the breeders to do this . . . Another point not covered by the standard is the chest. This has been quite a talking point at the shows recently. The fact is, that the exhibits with really good front feet usually have a split chest. It is most difficult to say which is right and which is wrong for the Standard states that the body of the Harlequin is to be banded and as the chest is part of the body, then surely it should be one continuous band of colour. However, if we take the chest to be a continuation of the front legs, then it should be of the two colours. In fact the Harlequin depicted on the cover of the Harlequin Handbook each year has a divided chest. Should some ruling be given either one way or the other on this point? Incidentally, the breeders in Holland specify that the chest should be divided.”
Keith Bee in another article called “Harlequin Breeding and the Effects of ‘Crossing’” comments on the crossings of new Zealand reds, magpies with harlequins and the black fox (black silver martin). Of the latter he says “the black fox cross obviously serves to improve coat and possibly reduce brindling in the black bands and other markings. But once again, white bellies are going to appear, also putty noses and white extremities to the feet.”
Noted geneticist Roy Robinson wrote a series of articles titled “Harlequin Breeding-The Pattern, Parts I & II and “White Spotting”. Robinson made the following observation: “A small proportion of white marked rabbits appear to occur in most varieties and weak penetrance may be a fundamental cause why they persist in the face of unremitting selection. We say unremitting selection since it is not beneficial for breeders to use white spotted animals in the breeding pen, and we imagine that the majority do in fact cull them. Unfortunately, it is likely that the more effective the selection, the greater the proportion of non-manifestation of the gene in question.”
The infamous 1971-1975 ARBA Standard of Perfection was basically the 1946 British standard with a few additions. Eye color was to be brown or hazel, even in the blues. Under feet and legs, it said, “Disqualification-white toe nails in any color.” This in effect meant the Magpies were to have colored nails on the white feet! The rex and Astrex fur types were not recognized as the ARBA had long felt that rex furred Harlequins could only be accepted under a Rex club sponsorship. The weights were dropped from 7-9 pounds to 6-8 pounds. This was the first ARBA standard to list both Harlequin (Japanese) and Magpie varieties in all the colors recognized today.
It was during this period that Neal Maddy and Carroll Terhune began their pursuit of a new Harlequin specialty club, as the earlier one had folded. In 1973 Billy Terhune, Carroll’s brother wrote a constitution for the proposed American Harlequin Rabbit Club and they presented it to the ARBA board of directors. It was approved with the provision that they sign up a few more members. The first issue of Harlequin Happenings was dated 3/6/1974 with Neal and Larry Maddy as the editors. The officers were Neal Maddy, President: Ruth Everett, Vice-President: Laray Maddy, Sec-Treas; Carroll Terhune, Robert Catalamessa, J.L. Bidwell, Robert Hudson, Judy Calhoun, and Everett Henderson as directors; and members Jay Everett, Bobby Rhodus, Michael Honoshofsky, Carroll Clements, Diane Honoshofsky, Gloria Henderson, Billy Terhune, Earle Hamilton, Barbara Blankenship, Ethel Terhune, Sidney Haas, Virginia Smith, Al Roerdanz, and Clyde Marsh. The only varieties listed were the blacks in Harlequin (Japanese) and Magpie. The news of the day concerned membership cards designed by Carroll Terhune’s son Jimmy and a proposed arm patch drawing submitted by Bob Cantalamessa. The club slogan, “The Royal Jester” originated with Neal who wanted to link the word “harlequin” with the coloration of the court jester suits worn in the courts of the middle ages where they wore a suit reversed in color, normally black and white. Neal wrote, “We don’t know if anyone else has experienced problems with their Harleys, but this is what we have run into; white legs, feet, and nose tips; poor definition of face and body markings; fur not dense and silky enough and having a harsh fly-back; orange in black harlequins too light, ranging from faded orange to cream color and black not deep enough. I cannot speak for other colors of Harleys and Magpies as we have none. Poor type is a problem although there seems to be some confusion on what good type is and judges who have never judged or seen Harlequins before. We are of the opinion that the chances of breeding a real good Harley are slim at best, but the challenge of it all is what makes it worthwhile.”
When Neal and Carroll envisioned the ideal Harlequin, it was a cleanly marked rabbit, split lengthwise, checkerboard pattern over the back, split down the center of the chest with the chest and its leg the same color. They also saw a rabbit which stood up, more of an arched type rabbit and painted several ceramic rabbits to show to judges. However the standard as written was very “open” not mentioning the chest, and the bar pattern was only not to be faulted. The type was arched and clean was stressed but the toenail color was the big problem and they argued unsuccessfully to have the nail disqualification dropped.
By 1975 the club had a new secretary, Don Capps of California. He put out the first guidebook and wrote letters to Al Meier of the ARBA standards committee requesting clarification. His response, “Your questions on the markings of the Harlequin/Magpie are interesting, but I’d guess there’s no positive answer to the questions since the standard makes no positive preference as to the relation of all markings. Ideally, I would say, all things being equal, the animals whose markings alternate color with the adjoining markings most frequently should be considered to be most closely approaching the ideal. In other words; your concept of the 4 part system would be ideal. However, I doubt the Harlequin/Magpie has reached that point of perfection - brindling seems to be the hardest point to overcome.
It was at this point that we started referring to 3 part and 4 part patterns and frequency of alternation became more important than clean distinct separation of color in the minds of many breeders.
Few changes were made in the 1976-1980 standard. The words “groups” correctly replaced “varieties” under the picture, blue eyes became allowable in blue magpies and white toenails were a disqualification in the Harlequin (Japanese) varieties only. Mismatched toenails were not a general disqualification at this time.
It was in late 1977 that I became the club secretary. Al Roerdanz began work on completely rewriting the standard to eliminate the 16 different frontal patterns that were all correct under past standards. This was done by rewriting the body description, “Body-Points 20: To be banded in black and orange. Clean unbrindled body or ground color should be broken up by an equal amount of marking color, forming the prescribed mosaic pattern. It is desirable that the chest be evenly divided with the black half chest under the orange half face and the orange half chest under the black half face. The leg may be the same color as its side of the chest (3 part pattern) or alternate with the chest marking (4 part pattern). Color balance is dependent on the width of bars or bands. Preference should be given to specimens that display the most frequently alternating of colors. In like manner, a four part frontal pattern should get preference over a three part pattern. (Frontal: Ears, head, chest, forelegs. If the legs’ color runs up from the foot and up the chest to the neck you can only credit the specimen with a three part pattern). Definition: A band is considered an unbroken circle of marking color. A bar is a semicircle of marking color running vertically on a side from the dorsal to the ventral body mid lines. Faults: White flecks or patches in Japanese group. Severe when appearing on head and feet, minor if confined to belly or tail. Patches of marking color resembling parti or broken color instead of bars or banding required for Harlequin body pattern, such patches are restricted to chest and tail. Excessive brindling in marking or body color. Poor balance of sides due to plain unmarked side.”
Toenails were to be uniform in color on corresponding feet, and white toenails were to be a disqualification in the Japanese only. We also asked the ARBA to let us change the group name Harlequin to Japanese to end some confusion caused by the group name being the same as the breed name. This was granted. The weights were also raised to the present levels. Eye colors for the Japanese varieties were named but in Magpies it merely said both eyes to match to complement marking color – this came back to haunt us! Midway through the standard, a clarification was printed in Domestic Rabbits that said the eye colors should be the same as in a self rabbit of the same marking color ie blacks – brown eyes, and so forth. However, most of the black magpies had blue-grey eyes – something that has never been explained, other than to assume the chinchilla gene has in some way affected eye color. The markings are somewhat like the merle color pattern in dogs and those merles can have unusual eye coloring. Mass disqualifications followed and breeders either quit the magpies or stopped showing them for two years. The term “corresponding feet” also caused problems. Did this mean the two black feet or the front feet and the hind feet? The description under “Type” now reflected a commercial rather than an arched type rabbit.
Determined to correct the eye problems caused by the standard, the club did a complete eye color survey in preparation for the 1986-1990 standard. We asked all the members to go out and look at the eye colors in each of the varieties that they raised, and the response was excellent. Dr. Terry Reed was instrumental in getting the ARBA to put drawings in our standard to show desirable and undesirable characteristics. Blaze, bald and dark faces were listed as faults for the first time. However, against the wishes of our club, the standard committee still refused to do away with their unholy fixation with Japanese toenails. Under the previous standard, some judges disqualified all the blue, chocolate, and lilac Japanese for uniformly light nails, as seldom would these varieties have dark nails. A white nail was now defined in the general disqualifications as an unmatched nail even if it was colored. Now, the black japs had a problem – they could have all colored nails, but if they weren’t the same shade (and remember this included the dewclaw), off the table they went, if the judge followed the standard. Many didn’t, and we proceeded to have five years of BOB at one show and disqualified at the next.
In the 1991-1995 Harlequin standard, several more changes were made. The membership voted to make the fur conform to the normal commercial fur standard and to add disqualifications for dark and bald faces and Dutch marked bodies. The body marking description was shortened and clean was once again stressed over frequency of alternation. Bands, bars or a combination were all correct as long as they were clean. And finally most of our toenail problems were behind us. Light, dark or mismatched nails in the Japanese and white, dark or mismatched nails in the Magpies were now allowed. However, they wouldn’t approve a white nail in the Japanese even though a white foot was only a fault. There were errors in the printing of the pictures in the new standard. The first editions carried the pictures from the 1986-1990 standard and therefore listed the disqualifications as faults. The ARBA corrected the pictures in later printings, and they allowed us to print the correct ones in our then current guidebook. The body of that standard was correct.
In the 1996-2000 standard, maximum weights were added to all breeds, and the clubs were asked to decide if we wanted to allow overweight juniors to be shown as seniors. The maximum on junior bucks was set as 7 ½ pounds and junior does 8 pounds, and juniors exceeding these weights could now be shown as seniors. There was a bitter dispute with the ARBA standards committee in the years leading up to this standard over the white spotting factor in the Japanese. Their position was that there were plenty of Japanese in the show room, mostly from the west coast, that didn’t exhibit any white. On closer examination, all were carrying white on the belly, tails and anywhere white is normal on an orange or fawn rabbit. We were even told in a meeting that they “didn’t care if it was genetically impossible to eliminate the white, it was a standard of perfection.” Our members didn’t have a problem with the true white spotting factor which was expressed on the feet, and nose becoming a disqualification, and voted to make it so and finally the ARBA relented and allowed white in the eye circles, underside of jowls, tail and belly. There were arguments within the club concerning the 3 part versus 4 part frontal patterns. The 3 part “won” but we lost members in the fighting. The standard was changed to read “Body and Markings – Points 20: The pattern over the back may be banded, barred, or a combination of both, without preference. Clean lines are to be stressed, with alternating black and orange color. The ideal body marking will have 5-7 alternations of bands and/or bars on each side, beginning with the chest. The chest should be evenly divided with the black half chest and leg under the orange half face and the orange half chest and leg under the black half face, thereby framing the face with its alternating color.” It was in this time frame that I decided to not run for reelection as secretary and Peg Hailey took over.
The ARBA Standards Committee with the approval of the ARBA board decided in the 90s that for the improvement of the Harlequin breed, our varieties should be grouped as Japanese and Magpies and no longer shown by color unless the club agreed to disqualify for all white in the Japanese. We as a club refused. They voted to delay this grouping until the 2001-2005 Standard. It was about this time that Dr. Terry Reed, who had been one of the most popular ARBA presidents and was a true friend of the Harlequin, died unexpectedly in the midst of running for ARBA president. This ended our hopes of retaining our varieties and they were grouped in the new Standard. The only other change was to add minimum weights to the juniors of 3 ¾ pounds, which was an addition to all breed standards. Before his death, Dr. Reed attended the National European Rabbit Show and wrote several articles about the Harlequins and other breeds with the Harlequin colors. This gave several of our members the idea that they might try to import some of the Japanese with the fantastic color. Monica Spooner imported a buck from Germany and was generous in standing him at stud at the Fort Worth, TX, Convention. Eric White and John Jermain imported several Japanese from England and the last import was by Kim Pueschel from Holland. We are seeing these rabbits in the pedigrees of Harlequins from all over the country and the golden-orange color of the Japanese has made great strides forward. Some breeders attained a deeper color without help from the imports by selective breeding, but the end result was striking in the Japanese – better color and less brindling. Judy Bustle became our secretary at the turn of the century.
The 2006-2010 Standard saw the division of color into two areas, quality of color 5 points and clarity of color 10 points, to show that the stress should be put on clear separation of color. A disqualification was added to the head marking for “failure to show a clearly discernable parting line down the center of the face, mostly black on one side and mostly orange on the other.” This replaced the disqualification for bald or dark head. In 2008 Judy decided not to run for reelection and I became your secretary once again. Although we requested several minor changes to the 2011-2015 Standard that involved makingit more understandable but not changing the rabbit, they were refused by the ARBA committee so the Standard printed in this guidebook is unchanged from the 2006-2010. The next chapter is waiting to be written.