The Ancient

The Ancient is, as the name suggests, a very old breed, first recorded in Berlin in 1743 by the biologist J.L.Frisch. Though known as The Ancient, in Great Britain and the USA, in mainland Europe it is known as the Altstämmer Tumbler taking it's name from the German for 'Old Tribe' or 'Old Breed'. The fact that it was known by these names  even in the early eighteenth century is an indication of the great age of the breed.

The origin of the breed is lost in the mists of time,however in 1935 C A M Spruijt in his book "De Tuimelaarrasen" (Tumbler Breeds) stated that he believed the Ancient was over a thousand years old.
It is believed that the early exemplars of the breed originated in India, Persia, and Kazakhstan from where they were taken by Dutch traders to Europe. The breed was well known in Prussia and Eastern Europe and by the 1730's was popular in the Berlin area. 



Red Ancient Hen
Owner John S Harrison

Photo by Richard Bailey

The Ancient was introduced into Great Britain in the 1870's by Mr O Neef from the German Consulate in London; a description penned by Mr Neef was included in the third edition of 'Fancy Pigeons' by J C Lyell though in the first edition published in 1881 there is a far more informative text! (scroll to bottom of page).

Today the Ancient is a very rare breed in Great Britain and is only in two or three breeders hands, and indeed is also uncommon on mainland Europe and in the United States of America. At the massive European Show held in Leipzig  in 2006 there were 76 examples of the breed on exhibition, sadly at the 2012 show there were only
26 Ancients in the show.

In Great Britain the breed comes under the umbrella of the Rare Varieties Pigeon Club.


         White Crested Reinaugen Tumbler                                  Yellow Plain Headed Ancient
                                             White Plain Headed Reinaugen Tumbler                        Red Magpie Plain Headed Ancient
                 White Koenigsberg Reinaugen Tumbler                                           Black Plain Headed Ancient                      

Lithograph 1910


The Ancient is a 'short-faced' breed, it has a very short stout beak and due to the shortness of it's beak is unable to satisfactorily feed and rear it's own young, youngsters therefore either have to be reared under feeders or 'foster parents',  or alternatively hand reared.

I can honestly say that I have never been a devotee of the short-faced breeds, and would probably have said  that I would never own any! However back in the early 1970's the Ancient really caught my eye when I judged a class of them in Reading; I found their cheeky manner, cute expression, and 'stockings' so very appealing and I thought then I really wouldn't mind having a few!  Soon after this I left the Fancy and never had the opportunity of owning this wonderful little breed.
Now, many years later, having almost forgotten the breed, I saw a couple of Ancients at a show and my enthusiasm for them was re-kindled; I thought that they were no longer bred in Britain, and hadn't seen one at any of the shows I've attended. Several weeks later I had two  pairs of this delightful little breed.

All the birds I have are crested, and I have them in  Red, Yellow, Dun and Black selfs, plus Red Magpie. I have to admit that my preference will always be the Self in red and yellow, but having said that it would be a great pity if the unique Magpie markings were lost.

The Breed Standard

The Ancient or  Altstämmer Tumbler

From the NPA Book of Standards


Origin : As the name implies, it is one of the oldest (and smallest) of the Tumbler Group. Was bred as the Altstämmer Tumbler before 1730 in Berlin, from several older breeds originating from Middle Asia (Eastern Europe). The Germans took on the breed and developed it. It was introduced into Britain by a member of the German Consulate in London circa 1880


Overall Impression : Short and cobby. Small and rounded, with a round head, short beak, alert 'cute' posture and neck 'tremor'. Very tame.

Head : Round and broad, the rear curving gracefully to the neck. The forehead broad and high. Plain-headed or round crest (neat shell crest).

Eyes : In coloured birds, the eye is pearl in colour with a small pupil. White selfs have dark or bull eyes. Eye cere fairly broad but flat and fine in structure. Pale flesh to red in colour.

Beak : Short, thick and stumpy, both upper and lower of equal size, set squarely. Light flesh colour for Black and Blues with a darker tip allowed. Wattle small, white, neat and not protruding.

Neck : Strong and curving, swan-like to the rear. Has a distinct 'tremor' when the bird is curious or excited.

Breast : Broad, well rounded, carried forward and proud. Sometimes with slight vertical 'curling' to the breast feathers.

Back : Short, broad, high. Has a slightly 'hollow' back with 'proud' upper tail coverts (cushion). Steeply sloping back-line.

Wings : Broad and quite short, neatly folded and carried on the tail, which extends only slightly beyond the wing tips.

Tail :    Short and well closed.

Legs : Short, grouse legged, not to be in the form of muffs (normally the nails should be seen.

Feathers : Feathering short and broad but not loose.

Colours :
Magpie in Black, Dun, Red, Yellow, Blue.
Marked (Pied) and White Wing in the above colours and Selfs.
Tiger in Black, Red and Yellow.
White Self.

Colour and Markings :

All colours to be intensive.

Magpie Marked are coloured on the head, neck, breast, shoulders, back and tail. The belly, foot-feathers, wings, primaries and a large or small (but even) isolated white 'heart' on the front of the neck are white. In order to produce a good Magpie marking it is the practice to mate a Self coloured to a White.

White primary marked birds have one or more white primary feathers, the number or same on both wings is not important but the first primary should be white. The underparts of the foot feather can be white and some white flecking behind the thighs is allowed.

Tiger has coloured primaries and tail with head and neck flecked with white. Some white in the wing shields also.

Faults :
Large or long body. Too high on legs. Weak forehead. Skull or flat top to head. Pointed, long or thin beak. Long feathering. Leg feathering weak or too long. Wings carried below tail.

Order of Importance:
Breed type. Head shape and breadth. Beak. Body form and stance. Foot feathering. Eye colour. Markings and Colour.

Ring size B

Extract : "Fancy Pigeons"

 Extract from:


 First Edition.



The German Altstammer, or Ancient, is a very beautiful variety, which bears something of the same relation to certain German breeds of common tumblers that our short-faced almonds, mottles, and baldheads do to our common flying tumblers. And as our short-faces were certainly produced in London, so the high class ancient was produced in Berlin, the metropolis of Germany. It is to Mr O. Neef, of Forest Hill, a member of the National Peristeronic Society, that we are indebted for introducing the Ancient — rare in its native place — into this country. He informed me that his father was formerly one of the fanciers and breeders of this pigeon, the origin of which is unknown; but which, from its name, is considered a very old variety, and which was for long confined to Berlin, though now bred also in Stettin. It is only incidentally mentioned in the latest edition of Neumeiater's " Das Ganze der Taubenzucht," edited by Priitz (1870); but more fully described in ''Die Arten der Haustaube," by Priitz {1875). It is there said to be found in all whole colours, except blue. He says: ' There are self-coloured black, red, yellow, and white; black, red, and yellow with white wings; also mottled, and as a very much admired kind, the magpie coloured." The magpie marked

Ancients, in black, red, and yellow, as I saw them lately in the possession of Mr Neef, are medium sized pigeons, larger than our short-faces, smooth headed, and stocking legged. The head is broad and rather flat; the fore-head very broad and well ribbed up, the beak very short and thick, and nearly as broad at the base as it is long. The beak wattle is moderate but not rough, the eye wattle bright red, and as large as a silver fourpenny piece, round and flat, not standing out like a barb's. The eye is prominent and of a clear pearl colour. The carriage is very upright, the head thrown back, the breast prominent and broad, the flights well up over the tail, the flights and tail rather short, the legs moderately long, and the thighs visible in profile. The size and general outline is very similar to that of the Turkish satinettes and turbiteens. The marking is exactly the same as that of the common magpie pigeon, except that on the breast there is a white crescent or half-moon mark, which measures from an inch to an inch and a-half between the horns. To breed this little beauty mark good is a difficulty. The colours of those I saw were fine; but the red and yellow were not of the best possible tints, such as is occasionally seen in certain varieties of pigeons. In addition to all the aforesaid properties which go to make up a good short-faced Ancient, it ought to have the trembling neck described before, as possessed by the common Ancient; but I believe it is rare to see this in the high class breed.

 The origin of the short-faced ancient is said to be unknown, but I think it is easy to make a good guess at it. Our short-faced tumblers were doubtless founded chiefly on our common tumblers, as the various colours and markings in them show; but what gave them their principal fancy points of shape, carriage, and form of head, is not so easy to determine, unless It was the Indian Goolee. In Germany, there are common tumblers similar in all respects to what we have, but with trembling necks; and others magpie marked with the white crescent on the breast. These varieties were evidently the foundation of the ancient, and its round head, full broad forehead, and large red eye wattle, were as evidently derived from the barb. A well-known author on pigeons, with whom I have talked the matter over, agrees with me in this idea.

The short-faced Ancient has as many fancy properties of form and feather in its composition as the short-faced tumbler, though it has been founded on quite different lines of ideal beauty. Its beak should be short, straight, and thick ; but any stop or indentation behind the wattle — which causes all the mischief in our short-faces, because it tempts people to make, Instead of to breed it — is no point of beauty in the Ancient.

 Herr Priitz says: “The principal breeder of the Ancient, who possesses some in all its varieties, is Herr E. Bredow, of Westend, Stettin, the only place where they are bred in large numbers. It is not to be wondered at that a high price is paid for them — a pair very often fetching 100 marks — when it is considered how difficult it is to breed them, and what care and pains have to be taken to bring the young ones through the moult."




Extract : "Fancy Pigeons"

Extract from:

by James C Lyell

Third Edition

The German Ancient.

The Altstammer, or Ancient, bears some-what the same relation to the Shaking Tumbler as our Short- faced do to our Common Tumblers. Its appearance betokens  Barb descent, it having a rather pronounced red eye wattle, a thick, short beak, and a broad skull; otherwise, in colour, markings, and grouse-feathered legs, it resembles the Shaker; but I believe the trembling neck is seldom found in them. Mr. O. Neef, of the German Consulate in London, who introduced this beautiful variety into England, being desirous of making known its merits, has requested me to publish the following:

"The Ancient Pigeon (Altstammer], though German, is not a Toy Pigeon like the Feldtaube, such as the Swallow, Ice, and others, which have long, thin beaks, and heavily-built bodies, as characteristics of their type, but is one of the few German varieties with the distinguishing features of a short beak, round head, and elegantly- shaped body. "

"It is, moreover, a special Berlin variety, reared almost exclusively there, but also largely represented in Stettin; in other parts of Germany it is seldom met with. "

"Really good specimens are very rare, and command a high price. Thus, for instance, at a late exhibition at Konigsberg, an offer of 1000 marks (about £50) was declined for a single pair of them. The sum of £25 was also offered at the Berlin Exhibition, in 1882, by a Birmingham dealer, for a pair, and likewise refused."

"The Ancient Pigeon, as the name implies, is a very old variety, the origin of which is unknown, and all explanations hitherto advanced concerning it are mere suppositions, devoid of any positive proof. This much, however, is fact : If the Ancient be crossed with another variety, its characteristics are at once lost."

"Friends at Berlin have lately elected a body of breeders of this variety for the express purpose of ascertaining its origin and age; but as yet their efforts have been fruitless. From investigation of special and other literature on pigeons, it appears that the Ancient was known as early as 1779, but nothing has been discovered regarding its origin, or where it came from."

"The Ancient is found in black, red, and yellow colours, with white i.e., marked like the Magpie with the additional white mark on the breast, like the English Pouter. In blue they are very scarce, and never particularly good. It is a remarkable fact that these pigeons produce self-coloured specimens in all these colours, as well as pure whites. If a pure white Ancient be paired to a whole black, red, or yellow, the coloured one ought always to have six or eight white flight feathers in each wing ; they then often produce the best specimens of Magpie colour. This is a singular characteristic of the breed, and is probably peculiar to it alone."


alt© John S Harrison



The Basic Facts

Name :
The Altstämmer Tumbler in Europe
The Ancient in UK & USA

Origin :
From India & Central Asia
Developed in Eastern Europe.
Bred & Developed in Germany pre 1730
Introduced into Great Britain circa 1880

Ring Size:
8mm - NPA size B

Colours :
Black, Blue, Dun, Yellow, Red, White

Magpie Marked


The Club

The Ancient is looked after by
The Rare Variety Pigeon Club
Secretary - David Richardson

Governing Body

Around the World


Owned by Tom Rimmer
2009 Lancaster, PA
National Pigeon Association, USA

Black Magpie Marked

Black Plain Headed

Leipzig 2012

At the massive European Show held in Leipzig in December 2012 there were 25 Ancients on show in the following colours:

Ancient - Plain Headed
Black                                 1
Red                                   5

Ancient - Crested
White                                 2
Black                                  1
Red                                  11
Yellow                                1
Black Magpie                     1
Red Magpie Marked          2
Black White Flighted         1
Red White Flighted           1