Categories: cat shows

America’s First Cat Show May 8th 1895

“Maine Cat” – winner of America’s first cat show in 1895. Picture in public domain.

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.

White Persian, 1903 America. Nice looking cat. Picture: F Schnabel, Chicago.

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.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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  • The white cat in the photo looks very beautiful and just like any normal long haired cat that is not purebred except maybe the Norwegian Forest cat, Maine Coon or Angora. Certainly not like a Persian. The irony is almost laughable except that it is a serious matter involving the health and well being of contemporary Persians.

    The English cats dying is very odd - maybe they got sick but whatever it was I am going to assume they were all together and that's why they all died - if that's true, be it of sickness or high temperatures whilst being kept badly and vulnerale to the heat.

    If only they'd leave cats alone and stick to showing mixed breed cats whilst describing their beautiful fur and features as a natural course of events - un-meddled by human breeding agendas.

  • Yes, could be a nice story. The use of the term Angora jumbled with Persian for cats found or seen in many different geographic areas is quite confusing. However the term itself clearly refer to Ankara or Angora, and as such no surprise when the old Persians looked like modern Ankara Zoo cats. There is a lot of muddle. The cat fancy meddling with Persian and Angora(s)further muddies the waters. Both the cat fancy Persian and Angora are totally unrelated to cats in the claimed areas of origin so using morphology or genetics to learn something is useless except for learning what they are not.

  • The 1903 "Persian" hardly differs from my present-day Turkish Angoras especially Fatima, I mean the real Angoras. Perhaps mine have a slightly wider head, but in that photo maybe the "Persian" is pricking up it's ears.

    • Now there is a story. Old fashioned Persians are very similar to the real Turkish Angora. What does that tell us? Are they the same cat? Certainly the "Angora" was very similar to the Persian at the beginning of the cat fancy. I still really don't know what people mean when they refer to the "Angora cat" over the period late 1890s to early 1900s.

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