ARGENTé RABBIT - Nikki White (Reguli & Cavy Stud)
Another breed which has all but vanished form the show table. It was quite popular in Canberra in the late 1990s/early 2000s when Jean & Ron Hill (Rojeana Stud) bred them. This is another 'teddy bear' of a rabbit, being cuddly, placid and friendly. It is a fur rabbit whose chief feature is the silvering in the coat caused by loss of pigment in the tips of the undercoat while the long guard hairs remain black, blue, brown or orange, depending on the variety.
There are five varieties recognised by the BRC: Argenté de Champagne, Argenté Brun, Argenté Bleu. Argenté Crême and most recently Argenté Noir.. The main difference, as the names imply, is in the colour, and also in the size.
The Argenté de Champagne is the largest and the oldest of the four varieties. 'Argenté' is French for 'silvered' while 'Champagne', unlike the other varieties, is not a colour but a region of France. (So basically the name means the silvered rabbit of Champagne.) The BRC standard calls for a moderate length of body, slightly arched back and well-developed hindquarters, body to be neither cobby nor racy. The head should be broad with a round skull, ears are carried close together and are medium-length and slightly rounded at the tips. The rabbit should weigh around 4.54 kg (recently raised from 3.62 kg). The coat should be dense, silky, glossy and lying loosely and be no less than 2.54 cm in length. The undercolour is dark slate blue, the body colour is bluish white evenly interspersed with long black guard hairs to give an 'old silver' effect. The muzzle and nose may be slightly darker. Faults include dark ears, creamy/yellow tint, bony or angular frame, harsh thin fur. Disqualifications include white patches, putty nose, drooping ears and crooked legs.
The Argenté Brun is a small rabbit, weighing approximately 2.72 kgs (slightly more than a Dwarf Lop). Unlike the Champagne, it should be cobby with a short neck, rounded short ears and broad in the beam, that is broad rounded loins and wide, well-defined hindquarters. The coat should be very dense, glossy and silky, lying close to the body (the Champagne's should be more open). The undercolour is deep brown, as the name implies, the body colour brownish-white evenly interspersed with long dark brown guard hairs. The coat colour should be one shade over the whole body. The eyes should be bold and brown. Faults include too dark a muzzle, too long or dark ears, plus the same faults as for the Champagne.
The Argenté Bleu is similar in type to the Brun (weight, broad-beamed cobby body, short ears). The coat is also similar but the undercolour is lavender blue with body colour bluish white, evenly and moderately interspersed with longer dark blue hairs. The eyes should be bold and blue. The coat colour should be one shade all over. Faults are as for the Brun plus washy undercolour.
The Argenté Noir is similar to the Brun as it should weigh the same and should have a short neck, markedly broad and round loins with wide, well-defined hindquarters. The front legs should be straight and fine in bone. Coat should be as for the Brun with the desired length 1.9cm to 2.5 cm. Undercolour should be a deep slate blue, body colour should be greyish white and the whole evenly interspersed with longer black hairs to give a silver effect. Eyes should be bold and brown and the toenails coloured. In adults the coat should be one shade throughout.
The Argenté Crême is the smallest of the Argentés, weighing 2.26 kgs (about the weight of a Dutch). It is to be small and neat with a slightly arched back and well-developed hindquarters. Like the Champagne it should avoid either cobbiness or raciness. The coat is dense, glossy, silky and lies close to the body. The undercolour is orange and the body colour is creamy white evenly and moderately interspersed with longer orange hairs to give a cream effect when viewed from a distance. White underbelly is accepted but cream is preferred. The eyes are bold and brown. The coat colour should be one shade throughout. Faults are as for the other Argenté varieties.
The Argenté de Champagne is the oldest fur breed in the world being kept in the Champagne region of France since the 17th century. The story goes that it was brought there by Portuguese sailors from Indo-China but, as Sandford notes, such stories are common (not only with rabbits but cats) and impossible to verify. However, Gervase Markham described it in 1631 and it is mentioned in an encyclopaedia of 1715.
The Champagne was imported into England in either 1919 or 1920, though the French credit its country of origin as England! The original Argenté de Champagne was believed to have been a black rabbit. Breeders were mainly interested in the unusual pelts of these rabbits. By the 19th century they were found in other countries of Europe besides France such as Germany where extensive cross-breeding led to the divergence between the Argenté de Champagne and the large Silvers of German origin.
In Britain, the Argenté de Champagne and later the Bleu became very popular but the pelts were not so sought after as they were on the continent. The Argenté Brun was introduced in the early 1920s from the continent where it had been bred for many years. It didn't really take on and almost became extinct but was recreated by H.D.H. Dowe during 1939-1941 by crossing Crême to Bleu and the offspring mated to Havana. The offspring of this was mated among themselves to produce Bruns. Apart from their fur, they have also been bred for the table.
SO, AN ARGENTÉ, THEN?
These are fairly placid, even tempered rabbits. Certainly, the ones I have handled were docile, soft and cuddly. When she used to breed them, Jean Hill said the kittens would rush up to the front of the cage just asking to be loved.
The babies are born with no silvering, plain black (Champagne, Noir), blue (Bleu), brown (Brun) or orange (Crême) coats. They start to silver at about 5-6 weeks when they moult out the plain hair and replace it with hair with 'silver' tips. It isn't known why the hair loses the pigmentation in the tips to produce this effect. The process is usually complete by the end of six months. Some coats go predominantly silver while others retain most of the colour of the base coat. Judges prefer even silvering across the coat rather than patches of silvering.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
A sturdy moderately long rabbit, neither racy nor cobby, if a Champagne or a Crême, cobby if a Bleu or Brun. All of them have wide hindquarters and a slightly arching body and dense, silky, glossy coats. There's just some variation in whether they are more open or less.
CARE AND HANDLING
This is a medium rabbit, except for the Champagne which is large. So the other three require a hutch either 110-120 x 50 x 50 or 80 x 80 x 60. Feed is as for other breeds - pellets, mix, fresh fruit and veg, as treats. Don't over feed. Their coats can be brought to a fine sheen by brushing with your hands and/or a piece of silk or satin cloth or mitt. Like all rabbits, they should be brushed with a slicker brush or comb in moult and given plenty of roughage (meadow hay or lucerne) during these times. They are basically an easy care rabbit provided you observe commonsense as outlined above. The Champagne should have a hutch about 180 x 75 x 75 cm and for indoors 153 cm2
National Argenté Rabbit Club see British Rabbit Council website for contact details. They don't seem to have a website (December 2014)
British Rabbit Council, Standards of Rabbit Breeds 3rd ed. 2011-2016.
Brown, Meg & Richardson, Virginia, Rabbit Lopaedia. Lydney, Gloucestershire, Ringpress Books, 2000
Russell, Geoff, Mini Encyclopeda of Rabbit Breeds & Care. Dorking, Interpet Publishing, 2008
Sandford, J. C., The Domestic Rabbit. 5th ed. Oxford, Blackwell Science, 1996
Verhoef-Verhallen, Esther, Encyclopaedia of Rabbits and Rodents. Lisse, Rebo Productions, 1998
Whitman, Bob D., Domestic Rabbits & Their Histories: Breeds of the World. Leawood, KS : Leathers Publishing, 2004
Williams, A.E. Ted, Rabbit Breeding for Perfection. Melbourne, AE Williams, 1992