The Aztec cat breed were Mexican Hairless Cats and they are extinct. Today, we are able to see the exact origin of the phrase “Aztec Cat breed” and how they became known as Mexican hairless cats. This is because I’m able to reproduce verbatim the letter from Mr FJ Shinick to Mr H C Brooke which is published in The Book of the Cat by Frances Simpson which was originally published in 1903. Frances Simpson is a celebrated woman in the cat world being one of the top cat experts of that era, the start of the cat fancy.
She writes about “Some Foreign Cats” and in doing so refers to the hairless cat and decides that she can do no better than quote in full the description given by the owner of the last pair of these “peculiar animals”.
The letter dated February 3, 1902 and posted from Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA.
Dear Sir, yours of January 20 is at hand. In answer would say my hairless cats are brother and sister. I got them from the Indians a few miles from this place. The old Jesuit Fathers tell me they are the last of the Aztec breed known only in New Mexico. I have found them the most intelligent and affectionate family pets I have ever met in the cat line; they are the quickest in action and smartest cats I have ever seen.
They are fond of a warm bath, and love to sleep under the clothes at night with our little girl. They seem to understand nearly everything that is said to them; but I have never had time to train them.
They are marked exactly alike, mouse-coloured backs; with neck, stomach, and legs a delicate flesh tint. Their bodies are always warm and soft as a child’s. They love to be fondled and caressed, and are very playful; they run up and down your body and around your waist like a flash.
“Nellie” weighs about 8 pounds, and “Dick” weighed 10 pounds; but I am sorry to say we have lost “Dick”. We have never allowed them to go out of the house, as the dogs would be after them. They were very fond of our water spaniel, and would sleep with her. “Dick” was a sly rascal, and would steal out. One night last year he stole out, and the dogs finished him. His loss was very great, as I may never replace him. The Chicago Cat Club valued them at 1000 dollars each ($31,165.23 as of today). They were very anxious for me to come on with them for their cat shows, but I could not go.
They were never on exhibition; as this is a small city, I feared they would be stolen. I have made every endeavour to get another mate for “Nellie” but have not been successful. I never allowed them to mate, as they were brother and sister, and I thought it might alter “Nellie’s” beautiful form, which is round and handsome, with body rather long.
In winter they have a light fur on back and ridge of tail, which falls off in warm weather. They stand the cold weather same as other cats. They are not like the hairless dogs, whose hide is solid and tough; they are soft and delicate, with very loose skin.
“Nellie” has a very small head, large amber eyes, extra long moustache and eyebrows; her voice now is a good baritone, when young it sounded exactly like a child’s. They have great appetites, and are quite dainty eaters – fried chicken and good steak is their choice. Have never been sick an hour. The enclosed faded picture is the only one I have at present; it is very lifelike, as it shows the wrinkles in its fine, soft skin.
“Dick” was a very powerful cat; could whip any dog alone; his courage, no doubt was the cause of his death. He always was the boss over our dogs. I have priced “Nellie” at $300. She is too valuable a pet for me to keep in a small town. Many wealthy ladies would value her at her weight in gold if they knew what a very rare pet she is. I think in your position she would be a very good investment to exhibit at cat shows and other select events, as she doubtless is the only hairless cat now known.
I have written to Old Mexico and all over this country without finding another. I would like to have her in some large museum, where she would interest and be appreciated by thousands of people.
Trusting this will reach you in safety, I am, very truly yours, FJ Shinick.
Frances Simpson writes having read that letter that she hoped that he was able to find another specimen to mate with Nellie. She feared that the breed so-called would become extinct. She also discussed whether the Aztec cat had poor dentition as had the Mexican hairless dogs.
Nellie and Dick looked like the modern day Sphynx hairless cats to a large extent but perhaps a little less extreme because they arrived in this world naturally whereas the sphynx cats that we see today are selectively bred.
Wikipedia says that Mr Shinick acquired his cats in 1894. Nellie died in 1908 according to The New York Times of 31 December 1908. Her death was announced at the Atlantic Cat Club’s seventh annual “Championship Show”. Dr Cecil French said that with the permission of Mr Shinick, Nellie’s hairless body would be presented to the Museum Of Natural History in New York and it was planned to offer the body as evidence that the cat had a part in Aztec as well as Egyptian civilisation. A search of the website of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City does not throw up any information about Nellie’s body, which is unsurprising.
The cats’ diets are interesting. This was mostly before the commercial manufacturer of cat food and these precious and incredibly valuable hairless cats, Nellie and Dick, were fed with human food: “chicken and good steak”. There was no attempt to provide all the nutrients demanded of a domestic cat. The idea of a balanced diet for felines had not been discussed at the time. It was pure chance as to whether a domestic cat received all the required nutrients which cat owners take for granted today.
P.S. the cats are also referred to as “New Mexican Hairless”.