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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. B. Tegetmeier   26 May 1868

Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.

May 26 1868

My dear Sir

I did not at all know of the complex changes in the plumage of chickens, & therefore did not, & cd not, put my queries definitely. From your clear & excellent letter, I shd now say that 6 weeks old wd be the best period for me; or perhaps 2 months wd be still better, as I understand there is no change after the 6 weeks until the adult plumage is acquired.1 I think the best plan wd be for you first to give me, or obtain for me, information regarding only a few breeds; & afterwards I cd judge whether to go on. I wd specify any Cuckoo sub-breed;—Pile Game, but in this case I must know how the adult hen is coloured;—Golden Spangled Polish;—Silver Sebright Bantam;—& Golden Pencilled Hamburg.

My questions refer to colour alone; I do not care about sexual differences in size or form of body, in the hackles, or in the comb or wattles; except indeed when both sexes in the adult state resemble each other to an unusual degree in some character in which the sexes of the aboriginal bird or parent wild species differ. Thus I shd have been anxious to have been informed about the period of appearance of the top knot in Polish fowls, had I not known from your account that it appears very early in life; & I am still anxious about the colour of the top knot, because in the adult state it is similarly coloured in most breeds, & dissimilar in Golden Spangled Polish.2 The Spanish hen has a very large comb, & I believe from yr book that the comb in this breed is developed at an earlier age in the male, & I suppose in the female(?), than is usual with other breeds.3

Again, if it were possible to find out any one who possessed a breed in which the hens were regularly spurred, I shd much wish to know whether the spurs were developed earlier or later in life than usual. In short I want to ascertain whether there exists any relation of any kind between the period of development of any new character, & the fact of this character being common to both sexes, or confined to one sex alone. I do not at all care about any necessary expense for a scientific purpose.4


No letter has been found in which Tegetmeier writes that the top-knot of Polish fowl appears early in life. In Tegetmeier 1867, Tegetmeier wrote that the prominence on the skulls of Polish fowl showed from the time they were hatched, but did not discuss when the top-knot of feathers appeared. See also letter to W. B. Tegetmeier, 22 May [1868], and Variation 1: 250.
Tegetmeier did not discuss the age at which the Spanish fowl developed its comb in his Poultry book (Tegetmeier 1867). See also Variation 1: 250.


Tegetmeier, William Bernhard. 1867. The poultry book: comprising the breeding and management of profitable and ornamental poultry, their qualities and characteristics; to which is added ‘The standard of excellence in exhibition birds’, authorized by the Poultry Club. London and New York: George Routledge & Sons.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Did not know of complex change of plumage. From WBT’s letter, CD thinks six weeks to two months old is the best period. Sends details of breeds and other particulars.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Bernhard Tegetmeier
Sent from
Source of text
Archives of the New York Botanical Garden (Charles Finney Cox Collection)
Physical description
L(A) 4pp inc? & ADraft 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6210,” accessed on 12 September 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 16