Frances Simpson describes the first major American cat show (1895) at which a Maine Coon won the top prize

The first mention of Maine Coon cats in a literary work was in 1861 in Frances Simpson's The Book of the Cat (1903). I have a copy of that book! It is a terrible copy, as if it has been photocopied and bound together. It is hard to read. Simpson was the leading writer about the cat fancy at that time.

For those who are interested in cat history particularly American cat history and the Maine Coon cat I will recite verbatim what she said about the first major cat show held in the Madison Square Garden, New York, on May 8, 1895.

She does say that in the state of Maine they had cat shows well before this one. These must have been fairly informal. 

Comment: Maine Coon cats in those days were called 'Maine Cats'. Several cats brought over from England died after the show. I find this shocking. Frances Simpson does not explain why they died. She does mention that there were very high temperatures in the showroom and it may be that they fell ill because of these high temperatures. It was cold outside as well. So, I can see problems there. And it must have been an arduous journey. The description 'gelding' is used to describe a castrated male horse nowadays. In those days they used the same word for cats!

'Cosey' the Maine Cat who won the first major American cat show in 1895
'Cosey' the Maine Cat who won the first major American cat show in 1895. Image in public domain

She writes:

"This show was organised by Mr James T Hyde, an Englishman, who has been closely identified with the horse shows at the Garden for many years, and the idea of holding a cat show came to him suddenly, from having attended the Crystal Palace show. 

"The first cat show in New York was a great success from the time the doors opened till its close, though the temperature - which was for part of the time as high as 96 degrees - was hard upon the cats, especially those that had just come from England. 

When we returned home the morning after the show there was a white frost! Part of the judging was done - and well done - by the late Dr. Huidekoper, who had picked up a good deal of his cat lore while a medical student at Paris and Edinburgh and in London. Miss Hurlburt and Mr T Farrer Rackham were the other judges.

In regard to this show - which marks the beginning of the cat fever in America, that spread outside the State of Maine - I think I ought to point out what was chiefly remarkable, and the parts of the show that were destined to bear upon the future. 

In the first place, the prize for the best cat in the show was won by a brown tabby - a native, or, as some people designate them, Maine cats.

This cat was in every way a good one; but he was a gelding, and of course, in May, much ahead of the breeding cats as to plumage; but still there was little dissatisfaction at the awards.

Of English cats there were not more than about eight, and several died soon after; and all those shown at this our first show the only ones that have really made any marks or real impression upon the cat fancy in America may be mentioned "King Humbert", "Topaz," "Minnie," and "The Banshee".

The first name were all brown or gray tabbies, the last a white. Cats bred from these are still winning, and their descendants keep their names green in the annals of present-day stud books."


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