Ephemera: things that exist or are used or enjoyed for only a short time. Attitudes towards cats have changed throughout history. Knowledge about domestic cats has improved tremendously which has helped to foster a change in attitudes and towards greater welfare. In the past, in many civilisations, the big cats, particularly the lion, used to symbolise power and they were often used as royal crests and today the lion is used by many sports teams as is the tiger. There are many examples of cat ephemera, beautiful objects dating as long ago as the era of the ancient Egyptians.
1. For example, below is a photograph of an ancient Egyptian gold ring with a carnelian bezel in the form of a cat. It dates from the Third Intermediate Period (1070-712 BC) and it is in the British Museum.
2. Early civilisations such as the ancient Egyptians and including the Aztecs and Babylonians produced many cat-inspired artefacts some of which survive today. The Aztecs, like other peoples, worshipped the jaguar which still survives in South America in dwindling numbers. Way back in 2002, in London, people flocked to priceless Aztec treasures including that of a jaguar artefact which you can see below. Many of the early objects are quite primitive and often represent members of the big cat family: lions, tigers, leopards and the jaguar. The cheetah was also a favourite because it can be tamed and there was hunting with cheetahs.
3. In more modern times, the domestic cat has featured on ephemera. However, perhaps the best-known example of feline symbolism is the sphinx, a mythical creature with the head of a human, the body of a lion in the wings of a falcon. There are many miniature decorative statues of sphinx available online today.
4. Many statues have been removed from their original settings including a couple of sphinx (Great Sphinx of Tanis at the Louvre in Paris).
5. The big cats dominate cat ephemera, particularly the tiger. Below is a photo of the then Duchess of Windsor, Wallis Simpson wearing a tiger bracelet by Cartier.
6. There are hints of the Ancient Egyptians in Cartier’s work. The stately throne of King Tutankhamun taken from his tomb is decorated with gold lions (circa 1327 BC). Was it right to take these artefacts from his tomb?
7. Statues of the goddess Bastet were common in Ancient Egypt. She wore a tight dress in this version. This is a montage with the goddess added to a photo of a temple.
8. The Heal’s department store just north of Tottenham Court Road, London, contains a bronze statue of a cat and it is considered the company mascot. It has been a permanent fixture at Heal’s since the mid 1920s and it is by the French art deco sculpture Chassagne.
9. From the 17th century onwards, cat figurines became fashionable ornaments in both the West and the East. These ornaments represented home domestication and family values. The figurines were made for the mantelpiece. There are many collectors’ items by well-known manufacturers including German Meissen cats and Dutch Delftware cats. Cats produced by Fabergé and Gallé are now rare and expensive collectors’ items and there are many cheap imitations. Below is a Fabergé cat in the British Royal collection.
10. The entrepreneur and artist Émile Gallé (1846-1904) was well known for producing decorative art of a high quality. For example, will see below a brightly coloured green-eyed cat typical of his figurines which are eagerly sought by collectors of feline artefacts and ephemera.
11. Cats feature big time in heraldry and emblems. This is hardly surprising seeing as the lion and tiger are so iconic as animals of great courage and power. People want to adopt these qualities. They want to be imbued with them. The lion is known as the king of the beasts and holds a prominent position in heraldry. They were used during the Roman Empire as heraldic emblems.
12. Felix The Cat appeared on badges of US Marine Corps pilots in World War II. Felix was replaced by Tomcat in the 1970s. He celebrated the night flying abilities of the Grumman F-14 Tomcat carrier-born interceptor aircraft. As you know the domestic cat is well known for night-time vision.
13. British public houses are frequently named after the lion. Another popular public house name is The Cat and Fiddle or the Cat and Custard Pot has been used as well. And in France shop signs incorporating the cat are commonplace. And of course, the English footballers’ badge is of three lions.
14. Scotland is the home of the famous Scottish wildcat although they might no longer exist in their beautiful country. However, various branches of the great clan Chattan display the cat on their family crest. The Scottish wildcat is known for its ferocity and independence. Therefore, to be associated with this creature is seen as advantageous to warriors.
There are many other examples of cat ephemera. You see it everywhere. The list above is a small example. A taster. The cat is celebrated in many ways. Shame then that it is also abused. This sentiment particularly applies to the tiger. So persecuted. Its numbers so diminished as a result and yet admired. A strange dichotomy.
Below are some more pages on cat products.