The winner of America’s first cat show was a “brown tabby” cat. That sounds strange today but in those days, cats were described by their coat and almost never by breed. There were almost no cat breeds in 1895. The winning cat was also described as “a native” (of America), which, at the time, some people referred to as “Maine cats”. So the winner of the New York, Madison Square Garden cat show of 8th May 1895 was a cat from Maine with a brown tabby coat. Great.
Note: The 1895 show was the first in which the cats were marked against a breed standard (of the then American Cat Club). There were earlier shows (just) in New York in the 1870s but these were not of the type with which we are accustomed today.
This tells us what the cat fancy was like at its beginnings in America. The famous cat breed that, today, we refer to as the “Maine Coon” did not exist. Well, it almost existed but not quite. They were semi-long haired cats from Maine and most references to show cats of the time were to coat types. These cats had been shown (exhibited) at farm shows since the mid-1800s amongst farm livestock.
The first American cat show was held under tough environmental conditions! The temperature at the show was 96°F. No doubt, the cats felt it and the humans. Was there air conditioning at the time? I doubt it.
The brown tabby Maine cat that won was a “gelding” (castrated, neutered). He is described as being “much ahead of the breeding cats as to plumage”. It implies that his coat was better than the coats of the breeding (unaltered) cats. However, people seem to have agreed he was the best cat at the show despite what appears to have been an advantage. Do neutered cats have better coats, and if so, why?
There were eight English cats at the show and “several died soon after”. What, in heavens name was going on! Has anyone got an idea as to why the English cats died after the show? However, the English cats were used in breeding programmes while they were in the United States. Many America show cats born from the English stock did well in subsequent shows.
White cats are (were?) popular in America. The white show cats were very attractive, which leads me nicely to a picture (see above) of an American lady carrying her white Persian show cat. Persians were one of the few cat breeds of the time. You can see the stark difference in anatomy between this cat and today’s contemporary Persians. The Persians of 110 years ago where how we expect them to be.
Source and quotes: The Book of the Cat by Frances Simpson. I have made the decision that the contents of this book are in the public domain. Wrong? Please leave a comment and I’ll act upon it promptly
Note: First published in late May 2013, the page has been updated and republished.