Goldfish have been sought after, appreciated, and bred by many different cultures throughout history. Once considered “junk” or “pest” fish, they have today risen to an exalted place in society. Not surprisingly, goldfish enthusiasts pursue their hobbies with a devotion rivaling those of any other aficionados.
If you still think of goldfish primarily as small feeder fish or the unwilling prizes for hapless winners at the local county fair, you’re in for a surprise. The variety of fish available today is astounding. The history and development of these fish is nothing less than remarkable.
The first mentions of goldfish are found in ancient Chinese records during the Tsin Dynasty, circa 300 A.D., although early cultivation of these fish reaches back close to 1,000 years when crucian carp were first domesticated for their docility and durability. The carp were bred for the courtyard ponds of the Sung Dynasty.
The elongated, flat-sided carp were a long way from the exotic varieties of goldfish available today. As breeders worked with ponds throughout the East, the fish began to develop different colors and patterns. From their simple carp ancestors came new and exciting varieties with double tails, long flowing fins, and protruding eyes. By carefully selecting and breeding these fish, new hybrids were created.
Since the fish were originally kept in ponds or tubs, they were bred for colorful or distinctive traits that were most easily observed from above, rather than from the side, as is true with aquarium fish. Goldfish became so popular during the Ming Dynasty that people began keeping the fish in clay pots in their homes.
The Japanese discovered the joys of raising goldfish in 1500. Today’s hobbyists have the work of the Chinese and Japanese to thank for varieties such as the Fantail, Veiltail, Globe-Eye, and the various transparent-scaled varieties currently available.
As trade flourished with the English, Portuguese, French, and Dutch during the 18th century, goldfish became popular pets and fashionable gifts in England and around the continent. In 1870, goldfish made their way to America, where the first goldfish farm was established in Maryland in 1889.
The first goldfish show was held in Osaka, Japan, in 1862; and the British Aquarists Association in London organized the first Western show in 1926. Although most aquarists realize the wide variety of goldfish available, the exact recorded number of recognized varieties varies between 100 and 300. Interestingly enough, if the most exotic goldfish breeds available were left to breed at will in natural ponds, they would revert back to their wild ancestry within a few short generations.
Goldfish today come in all sizes, shapes, colors, and conformations. They differ in types of scales, body structure, eyes, fins, tails, head growth, and colors. Although the term, “goldfish,” was once self-descriptive, today it’s more a general catch-all, since most modern-day goldfish are anything but gold. They may be solid colored or marked in various combinations of red, white, gold, blue, chocolate, black, pale yellow, and olive green. Most goldfish change colors and even markings throughout their lifespan, with the brown fish you have one year developing into a deep-red or a solid white fish developing into a white-red the next.
These colors vary even more depending upon the fish’s scale type. The scales may be metallic, glimmering in the sunlight; matte, with a non-reflective, flat, or skin-like appearance; or nacreous, with a combination of both metallic and matte scales.
Because the more exotic egg-shaped fish swim more slowly and react less aggressively than their more streamlined single-tailed cousins, a pond keeper needs to choose common fish mates carefully, combining only similar body types and levels of aggression in the same pond.
An important factor in determining the compatibility between the different varieties of goldfish is body type. The single-tail, flat-bodied goldfish are among the hardiest and therefore the most commonly used in outdoor ponds. The second type, which has a round or egg-shaped body, is divided into two groups, those with dorsal fins and those without. Both are popular with pond keepers.