Depending on the meaning of the phrase ‘cat breed’ the first cat breeds were either the Japanese Bobtail, British Shorthair and Egyptian Mau OR the British Shorthair and the Maine Coon. I’ll explain why I have come to this conclusion.
Other authors have confidently stated that the first cat breeds are those that have been around in the countries of their original for a thousand years or more such as the Egyptian Mau, Turkish Angora, Japanese bobtail, British Shorthair and Siamese (there are others). We can guess when these ‘breeds’ started in these countries and they are all named after their countries please note. There is some guesswork because records are scarse or non-existent. The cat book poems is one example concerning the Siamese.
But they were not cat breeds in the meaning of the word as it is used today before the middle of the 1800s because the cat fancy did not start until the late 1800s in Britain. To take one example. The British Shorthair was a random bred cat living with the Romans about 2,000 years ago. Do we say that the British Shorthair is the first cat breed? Or do we measure how long it has been a breed from the time it was declared a cat breed by the cat fancy in Britain, the world’s first cat fancy? The first cat registry (cat association) was the National Cat Club, set up in 1887 in England (part of Britain or the UK).
By ‘cat fancy’ I mean the group of cat lovers and breeders who together created and showed their cats at cat shows and who formulated breed standards (how the cats should look).
You see, I think that we have to say that the first cat breed is the first type of cat which is recognised by the first cat associations as a ‘breed’. Until then they were not breeds because they were unrecongised as such. They were, as stated, random bred cats. They were cats who were breeding amoung themselves without any human intervention.
If I am correct, on this basis what is the first cat breed? Well, we have a nice list which answers the question because the registration of the various breeds is on record. I’ll add the top two, one on each side of the Atlantic:
- British Shorthair – UK – 1870s
- Maine Coon – USA – 1860 or 1870s
The cat fancy and cat shows started at more or the less the same time in the UK and USA with the UK being first by about ten years.
I realise that this is slightly artificial but a cat breed really only comes into existence once it has been ‘refined’ by selective breeding carried out by breeders affiliated to the cat associations who accept and register the breed. Until then they are and look like moggies more or less. They will have some distinguishing features sometimes such as the tricolor coat of the Japanese bobtail and the short tail of the Manx but some cat breeds before they were formally accepted as breeds, such as the British Shorthair, were indistinguishable from a moggie before they were selectively bred.
If we want to decide the first cat breed on when they were considered informally to be cat breeds I would select these:
- Japanese Bobtail – Japan – 5th – 10th century
- Siamese – Thailand – ancient – shown late 1800s in England
- Egyptian Mau – Egypt – ancient and 1953 in Europe
- Korat – Thailand – 1350-1767
- Turkish Angora – Turkey – 1400s
- Manx – UK – before 1700s
- Chinese Lop – China – 1796
- Abyssinian – Ethiopia – 1860s
- Maine Coon – USA – 1860s
- British Shorthair – UK – 1870s
- Malay Cat – Malaya Peninsula – 1881
- Persian (original) – UK – 1800s
- Birman – Burma – uncertain
And if you want to see the full list please click here.