From the Maine Angora to the Maine Coon

This article refers to the very early days of the Maine Coon Cat in the US state of Maine. I'm referring to that precise moment when longhaired cats in the state of Maine became purebred cats and show cats.

The original longhaired cats of Maine at around the late 1800s had various names one of which was the Maine Angora. The description "Angora" meant at that time longhaired cats in general. And they were very popular as they are today. So, as I see it, the Maine Angora referred to longhaired cats from the state of Maine.

Portland, Maine, USA in 1890
Portland, Maine, USA in 1890. Photo in public domain (assessed). The Maine Angora was popular at this time in this state.

Sometimes they were called the 'Maine Cat'. They were exhibited at local cat shows before the cat fancy took off. The "cat fancy" means the breeding and showing of purebred, pedigree cats essentially. So, the early cat shows were informal and local, and 'Maine Cats' were shown at them.

And remarkably, an industry appears to have built up around them such was their popularity because thousands of these handsome cats were exported out of the state of Maine to other parts of America. The report is that over 6,400 cats were shipped out of the state going to all parts of the United States and even exported to foreign countries.

RELATED: Maine Coon Early History: Eight Theories.

One business, the Walnut Ridge Farm Company of Boston, shipped out 986 Angoras (over 12 months I believe). There was concern at that time (and we are talking about the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century) that the state of Maine would run out of Maine Angora cats. It's worth reminding ourselves that this early version of today's Maine Coon was very popular, perhaps as popular as it is today.

One of the reasons might have been that at that time there were no purebred cats that could be labelled 'American'. The Maine Angora was and is a home grown purebred.

First formal cat show winner in America, a Maine Cat. Image in the public domain due to passage of time.

And you probably know that a Maine Angora or Maine Cat was the best in show at the first formal American cat show at the Madison Square Garden arena (May 8th, 1895). The cat's name was Cosey. There is a photograph of this cat and Sarah Hartwell, the owner of the messybeast.com website, has an interesting illustration from Harper's Weekly showing cats as an earlier 1884 New York cat show (see the images on this page).

'Coon Cat' of 1884 at local cat show
Image in the public domain due to passage of time.

The illustration (see above) includes a drawing of the 'Coon Cat' which was another name for the Maine Angora and the Maine Cat. And you can see from the drawing that even at that early stage they were described as the largest cat in the show.

You can also see that they were not the sort of Maine Coon cat that we are familiar with today. There is no ruff, the ears were normal, and the face was 'normal' as well (no large, square muzzle). They were pretty regular semi-longhaired cats by the look of it, but they were large and that would seem to be the beginnings of the concept of the Maine Coon cat being a large domestic cat.

They ended up being the largest domestic cat breed as you probably know as well. So, this short article gives you an insight thanks to Sarah Hartwell of the transition from pre-cat show days to local cat shows and then to becoming a formal show cat ultimately which set the Maine Coon on a path for an alteration in their appearance through selective breeding over 130 years.

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