Gold Cup & Black

National English Rabbit Club

~ The 24 Carat Club ~

National English Rabbit Club


Mr Phil Shaw

(01325) 260409

english1 bis boys with rabbit and cup Roger Prior Gold Cup Winner 2008 Gold Cup Winner, best black, bis - stevie dixon

What Colour is Tortoiseshell?

Several Spotlight editions ago our editor Keith issued a challenge, albeit tongue in cheek, about colour in Tortoiseshells hoping I’m sure to generate a response. Having had Torts on and off since the 1960’s and continuously for the last 30 years I thought I would give you my views.


My dictionary gives me the following definition:-

Tortoiseshell – (1) the horny yellow and brown mottled shell of the hawksbill turtle used for making ornaments, jewellery etc (2) a similar synthetic substance (3) a breed of domestic cat having black, cream and brownish markings (4) any of several butterflies having orange-brown wings with black markings (5) a yellowish-brown mottle colour.  


The Victorians had a great love for tortoiseshell objects and it is easy to see why, when the English rabbit (and other breeds) was being developed an orange rabbit with shadings of a different colour on ears nose flanks and tail was called a tortoiseshell.  What is impossible to define is what the precise colour tortoiseshell is.Looking back over the years to see what has been written on the subject by the scribes of the English fancy we find the following:-


Luke Shaw, National Secretary from 1899 to 1935 writing in 1919 in his book “The English Rabbit. It’s breeding and management” states: - “what is needed is a nice bright colour, with neat dark shadings – no smudgy, dirty appearance. The nose should be shaded, and so far as loins are concerned, they should get gradually darker as they reach the haunches. Ears, too, should have a touch of the shadings”.  No mention of what the “nice bright” colour should be.  


This definition is repeated verbatim by Ernest Hodgson in “The book of the English Rabbit” written at the start of the 1960’s.


Arnold Sanderson, National Secretary from 1940 – 1971 writing in the early 1970’s states: - “the colour of a good tortoiseshell should shade from orange to a dark-sepia-brown-cum-bluish shade carried well down to the skin. It should not be one colour throughout but each marking should shade and the tone generally should be as near as possible to its namesake tortoiseshell”.


Peter Prior, National Secretary from 1971 – 1976 writing in 1992 in his book “The English Rabbit” states, "Tortoiseshell – A rich, fiery orange top colour with blue tinged sepia shadings.”


What is clear from the above is that, unlike the four recognised colours, the tortoiseshell English is a shaded rabbit and not a single colour.I think that over the years as tortoiseshell breeders we have recognised that shadings are an integral part of the makeup of the adult rabbit whilst accepting that in order to successfully compete a tortoiseshell has got to have a bright, rich, orange top colour. These two elements can be conflicting and too much emphasis on shading will lead to a dark, dull adult rabbit, whereas an adult rabbit with no shadings is not tortoiseshell but orange, fawn or yellow.


With regard to trying to define the precise orange top colour, Fred Haslam says that the tort should be the colour of a Red and white (Dutch?) Cavy which is referred to by Gilbert Martin and Phil Shaw writing in the 1993 yearbook. The latter stating that his preferred colour is that of a blood orange.  Peter Prior above calls for a rich fiery orange.  And others have said that you should be able to “warm your hands” on a good coloured tort.


So where does this get the poor bewildered breeder of tortoiseshell English? Here are my thoughts:-


First and foremost, the tortoiseshell is a shaded rabbit and the adult rabbit must exhibit some degree of shading. Secondly, the top colour i.e.: Saddle and most of the spotting should be a rich, bright orange and importantly this colour should extend as far as possible down the hair shaft. Thirdly, any shading should be proportionate and tone in to the rest of the body – too dark butterfly or ears or both should be avoided. Fourthly, rabbits should maintain their colouring well into adulthood and to achieve maximum impact a good colour must be on a short coat of brilliant white. Finally 2014 has been a great year for torts with several B.I.S’s at area club shows and my good friend Ian winning the Gold Shield at Lanark and B.I.S. at the National Adult Stock Show.


I hope that 2015 proves to be equally successful and best of luck to all English breeders.










Where did he find that one from, what is he looking for, cannot understand that decision, which end is his top end, never in a million years should that have won, these and many other comments heard round the judging tables at shows.  40 judges all with different interpretation of a very complex standard.  Some might say the most difficult to understand in the fancy.


I think there are 3 types of judges.

1. The judge that looks for the good points on a, exhibit.

2. The judge that hones in on the bad points straight away.

3. The judge that has not got a clue what he is looking for.


I try to go through the exhibit the same way each time.   Starting at the butterfly smut, should it be round or to a point.  The standard shows it rounded but I think a sharp point looks more attractive.


Then the eye circles very rarely so you see a full eye which I think looks lovely, so a clip is acceptable and then the cheek spots the smaller the better, the trend today is for large spots which are too close to the eye circle.  Ears are next I get my hand behind the ear and pull them forward until they are straight any white up the ears or colour breaking into the white head from the line across spoils the neatness, then check that coloured fur covers both ears with no nicks or blemish.  Now behind the ears and follow the saddle down to the tip of the tail.  Not many exhibits have a good herringbone in the addle and most breaks appear behind the ears or on the tail, check for white hairs in the self colour is also made at this point.


Now whip the exhibit over to check for cleanliness under, there is nothing more frustrating or annoying than having a good specimen of an English rabbit to find that it is dirty under at the last minute, so before I get excited about any quality of work down both sides I check the under.


Now to look at what most people round the table can see, the sides starting with the chain work, two small as possible spots sweeping down in twos in a straight line in to the belly area moving up with spots getting bigger into a circle on the haunch, the shape of a lamb chop.  To be balanced the same both sides.  Finally another look under, looking for 6 teat spots, 2 front leg spots and 2 rear leg spots.  Missing leg spots do not cause me much concern, multiple leg spots i.e. four or five on one leg I find a distraction, teat spots can be a decision maker later on.


All through my deliberations, coat, colour and condition are in my mind and I do try to judge every exhibit in the same way with less chance of missing anything.  The eye catchers go to the top of the table for a closer look later on, the no hopers are returned to their pens, although the first handful that come out in a class maybe no hopers but things could get worse.  So that’s how I do it.


I cannot speak for the other 39 judges on the pane, perhaps their own way of picking the right one.










Who Judges the Judges?