SHORTHAIRED CATS OF THE 19TH CENTURY - ABYSSINIAN TO MANX
Abyssinian (Gordon Stables)
The first real mention of Abyssinian cats appeared to be in the book "Cats, Their Points, Etc" by Gordon Stables published in 1874 (HC Brooke erroneously stated a publication date of 1882 in his booklet on the breed). The British troops that had fought the war under Napier left Abyssinia in May, 1868, so the cat had probably been in this country for some time even before Stables' book was published. The book contained a colour print of 'Zula, the property of Mrs. Captain Barrett-Lennard' and stated that the cat was 'brought from Abyssinia at the conclusion of the war, fed on the way home on raw beef and was long very wild. she is now very fond of her mistress, but has a great many eccentricities which other cats have not, and is altogether a wonderful specimen of cat-kind'."
Abyssinian (Harrison Weir)
Abyssinian cats were mentioned by C H Ross in his "Book of Cats" (1867): "In Abyssinia cats are so valuable that a marriageable girl who is likely to come in for a cat is looked upon as quite an heiress" although this may be fanciful rather than accurate. Gordon Stables mentioned the Abyssinian in "Cats, Their Points, Etc." (1874, sometimes given as 1882) while Louis Wain's contribution to "Living Animals of the World" included the statement "The Manx cat is allied to the Abyssinian". According to Weir:
"I now come to the last variety of the tabby cat, and this can scarcely be called a tabby proper, as it is nearly destitute of markings, excepting sometimes on the legs and a broad black band along the back. It is mostly of a deep brown, ticked with black, somewhat resembling the back of a wild (only not so grey) rabbit. Along the centre of the back, from the nape of the neck to the tip of the tail, there is a band of black, very slightly interspersed with dark brown hairs. The inner sides of the legs and belly are more of a rufous-orange tint than the body, and are marked in some cases with a few dark patches; but they are best without these marks, and in the exhibition pens it is a point lost. The eyes are deep yellow, tinted with green; nose dark red, black-edged; ears rather small, dark brown, with black edges and tips; the pads of the feet are black. Altogether, it is a pretty and interesting variety.
It has been shown under a variety of names, such as Russian, Spanish, Abyssinian, Hare cat, Rabbit cat, and some have gone so far as to maintain that it is a cross between the latter and a cat, proving very unmistakably there is nothing, however absurd or impossible, in animal or everyday life, that some people are not ready to credit and believe. A hybrid between the English wild cat and the domestic much resembles it; and I do not consider it different in any way, with the exception of its colour, from the ordinary tabby cat, from which I have seen kittens and adults bearing almost the same appearance. Some years ago when out rabbit-shooting on the South Downs, not far from Eastbourne, one of our party shot a cat of this colour in a copse not far from the village of Eastdean. He mistook it at first for a rabbit as it dashed into the underwood. It proved not to be wild, but belonged to one of the villagers, and was bred in the village.
When the ground colour is light grey or blue, it is generally called chinchilla, to the fur of which animal the coat has a general resemblance. I have but little inclination to place it as a distinct, though often it is of foreign breed; such may be, though ours is merely a variety - and a very interesting one - of the ordinary tabby, with which its form, habits, temper, etc. seem fully to correspond; still several have been imported from Abyssinia all of which were precisely similar, and it is stated that this is the origin of the Egyptian cat that was worshipped so many centuries ago. The mummies of the cats I have seen in no case had any hair left, so that it was impossible to determine what colour they were. The imported cats are of stouter build than the English and less marked. These bred with an English tabby often give a result of nearly black, the back band extending very much down the sides, and the brown ticks almost disappearing, producing a rich and beautiful colouring.
To breed these (Abyssinians) true, it is well to procure imported or pedigree stock, for many cats are bred in England from ordinary tabbies, that so nearly resemble Abyssinian in colour as scarcely to be distinguished from the much-prized foreigners. The males are generally of a darker colour than the females, and are mostly marked with dark-bown band on the forehead, a black band along the back which end at the tip of the tail, with which it is annulated [ringed]. The ticking should be of the truest kind, each hair being of three distinct colours, blue yellow or red, and black at the points, the cushion of the feet black, and back of the hind-legs. Choose a female, with either more red or yellow, the markings being the same, and, with care in the selection, there will be some very brilliant specimens. Eyes bright orange-yellow.
Curiously coloured as the Abyssinian cat is, and being a true breed, no doubt of long far back ancestry, it is most useful in crossing with other varieties, even with the Persian, Russian, Angora, or the Archangel, the ticking hues being easy of transmission, and is then capable of charming and delightful tints, with breadths of beautiful mottled or grizzled colouring, if judiciously mated. The light tabby Persian, matched with a female Abyssinian, would give unexpected surprises, so with the dark blue Archangel; a well-ticked blue would not only be a novelty, but an elegant colour hitherto unseen. A deep red tabby might result in a whole colour, bright red, or a yellow tint. I have seen a cat nearly black ticked with white, which had yellow eyes. It was truly a splendid and very beautiful animal, of a most recherché colour. Matched with a silver-grey tabby, a silver-grey tick is generally the sequence. A yellow-white will possibly prove excellent."
In 1889, Weir's standard for the Abyssinian called for a cat that was "large" and whose fur was "woolly, yet soft, silky lustrous and glossy, short, smooth, even and dense". Silver Abyssinians existed alongside the tawny form although opinions were divided over its existence. Weir accommodated the silver variety, writing "The Abyssinian Silver Grey or Chinchilla is the same in all points, with the exception of the ground colour being silver instead of brown. This is a new and beautiful variety."
There was much confusion over whether the Abyssinian was a true breed or a hybrid. Weir, perhaps trying to appease both camps, contradicted himself on this matter and wrote:
"A hybrid between the English wild cat and the domestic resembles [the Abyssinian] and I do not consider it different in any way, with the exception of its colour, from the ordinary tabby cat. I have but little inclination to place it as a distinct, though often it is of foreign, breed" he later goes on to say "To breed [Abyssinians] true, it is well to procure imported or pedigree stock, for many cats are bred in England from ordinary tabbies, that so nearly resemble Abyssinian in colour as scarcely to be distinguished from the much-prized foreigner […] Curiously coloured as the Abyssinian cat is, and being a true breed, no doubt of far back ancestry, it is most useful in crossing with other varieties, even with the Persian, Russian, Angora or the Archangel, the ticking hues being easy of transmission, and is then capable of charming and delightful tints, with breadths of beautiful mottled or grizzled colouring, if judiciously mated.[…] Matched with a silver-grey tabby, a silver-grey tick is generally the sequence."
Early (1902) photographs of the Silver Grey or Chinchilla Abyssinian show a cat with a ringed tail, heavily barred forelegs, a head like the English short-hair and body markings. At that time, the larger cat shows had classes for both the "brown" and the "silver" variety of Abyssinian. At that time, Abyssinians were exhibited as The "Any Other Variety Foreign Cat" and tended to lose out to other exotic types of cat including the Indian, Japanese and Geoffrey's cats, the latter being spotted wild cats. Public interest was in the more striking appearance of the Siamese than in the relatively mundane-looking ticked cats.
The opinions of cat fanciers were firmly divided into those who liked the silvers and those who despised them. Mr H C Brooke (breeder and judge) was opposed to them, but Mr W Johnson Wood favoured them over the browns!
Abyssinian (Louis Wain)
Around 1900 the term Abyssinian was supplanted by "Ticked" and "British Tick" and the cats themselves were often mottled and barred with the look of an English cat favoured over that of a foreign one. The ground colour was usually a dark grey, the type and head were distinctly British and they had heavily barred legs and tails. When a confused would-be Abyssinian breeder asked for advice, Louis Wain, editor of "Our Cats" responded in a December 1903 issue
"The Abyssinians, so called, seen in our shows of late years are not the Abyssinians which were exhibited occasionally as a rarity some 15 years ago . Those cats were a light brown, with just a suspicion of tick on the body, but not one that I have ever seen was free of tabby markings on the legs, head and the ring round the neck. To call the modern ticks Abyssinians is a misnomer. The tick is the ground basis of most tabbies and the pure tick is a conglomerate of Argentine, Chilean, African and in some cases Eastern Cats.
I have myself traced the origin of the bunny cats and find them to be of Chilean parentage. They were first introduced to show knowledge by Miss K.M. Bennett, who gave me two kittens, one of which I gave to Mr. Sam Woodiwiss [a noted breeder] who, however, did nothing with it. I have at present four of them, sire and dam, and two eight months old kittens. These have never been shown and I hope to keep them until I can give them to someone who will perpetuate the breed properly and show them. The toms are great cats, far bigger than any cat I have seen at shows for ten years past. The queens are smaller and very highly strung. The tails of all of them are partly ringed and at the stump are as broad as their backs. They are tabby-marked on legs and heads and ringed round the neck. When born they ar nearly black and the first year they are shot with faint thin mackerel markings under the tick marking. The succeeding years the mackerel marking disappears and comes back with age a bit. [...] The fur is bluish near the skin, then half an inch fawn-coloured; following that is a splash of black then the [yellow] tick, and finally tipped with black like a porcupine quill; but please do not call them Abyssinians."
However, "In Living Animals of the World", Wain wrote "The sand-Colour Cat, with a whole-coloured coat like the rabbit, which we know as the Abyssinian or Bunny Cat is a strong African type. On the Gold Coast it comes down from the inland country with its ears all bitten and torn away in its fights with rivals. It has been acclimatised in England." Strangely, Louis Wain wrote in "Living Animals of the World" that "The Manx cat is allied to the Abyssinian" although they did not look at all alike! (If all this seems contradictory, remember that Wain's sanity ultimately deserted him. Quite what Wain's Chilean cats were is uncertain, but evidently the recipient, an experienced breeder, decided they were not Abyssinian and, wisely, did not breed them.)
Wain also urged that classes be thrown open to "All ticks, including all English and foreign varieties and colours [and not] levelled down to a cat which is not an easy breeding one. […] The 'bunnies' [British Ticks] throw both long- and short-haired kittens and many are born dead or killed by the mother; hence the strength of the breed; the ailing kittens are killed off." Very much later, those long-haired ticks became the modern Somali.
It is worth noting that another author wrote, in 1904, an article on "Uncommon Cats" in which it was said "The Abyssinian cat has lately been creeping into popularity, as many as eleven having been exhibited at the Crystal Palace Show." Considering all the controversy over name and colour, eleven was a great number indeed.
Abyssinian ("Domestic or Fancy Cats", John Jennings [pre-dated Simpson's 1903 work])
"Those who are familiar with the Belgian hare will have no difficulty in recognising the cat [called] Abyssinian."
Abyssinian (Frances Simpson)
In her earlier work "Cats and All About Them" (1902), Simpson included a section by a an English breeder of the period who wrote "The only other foreign cat that calls for attention is the Abyssinian or Bunny cat, and it is not often that specimens are exhibited at our shows. We have no special fanciers of this breed. The fur has a ground-work of reddish brown ticked with darker brown markings. The coat should be close and soft."
In Frances Simpson's "The Book of the Cat" (1903), contributor H C Brooke wrote "A very taking variety is the Abyssinian. A good specimen should very strongly resemble what one might well expect the Egyptian cat to become after generations of domestication. […] The colour of an Abyssinian should be a sort of reddish-fawn, each individual hair being 'ticked' like that of a wild rabbit - hence the popular name of 'bunny cat. The great difficulty in breeding these cats is their tendency to come too dark and too heavily striped on the limbs; the face should be rather long, the tail short and thick and the ears large. […] The Abyssinian should not be a large coarse cat. A small cat of delicate colouring and with the above-mentioned body properties is by far to be preferred to the large, coarse, dark specimens one sees winning under some all-round judges because of their size."
"More than any other varieties have the foreign cats suffered from the negligence of show committees and the awful judging of all-round judges, plus the equally awful reports furnished by all-round reporters! At the best, knowledge of the different varieties of foreign cats is absolutely in its infancy." However things were looking up for the Abyssinians with no fewer than eleven Abyssinians exhibited at a recent National Cat Club Crystal Palace show.
On the other hand, The Cat Club (i.e. the other cat club in Britain) was soundly condemned by Brooke for its attitude towards Abyssinians, "Has persistently neglected them, having on almost every occasion handed them over to some all-round judge who knows little and cares less about them with the natural result that exhibitors are disgusted. Take, for instance, the last show when a very dark, almost sooty Abyssinian was placed above a very fair specimen merely because the latter had about a dozen white hairs on its throat! The value of the winner may be gauged from the fact that its owner, a lady well known in the cat world, expressed her intention of having him neutered and keeping him as a pet. The same judge, in dividing the prizes amongst the Manx cats, appeared to think the colour of the throat of far more importance than the shape of the hindquarters."
Abyssinian - some additional notes
In the early days, British shorthair cats with the ticked pattern were bred with the Abyssinians. The longhair gene may have been introduced into Abyssinians in the early days of the cat fancy in Britain when Abyssinians were crossed to Persians, Angoras and Bunny Cats (a native British variety, a ticked British Shorthair). These experimental matings were done to find out what "delightful grizzled hues" would turn up in the offspring. One result was the Abyssinian Chinchilla, an early form of Silver Abyssinian. Though often confused nowadays with the Abyssinian, the Bunny Cat was a distinct British variety. Early cat show judge Louis Wain described them as very big cats, both shorthaired and longhaired, who were born black and later lightened to an unbarred agouti coat.
Some breeders conducted even more exotic breeding experiments. Champion Southampton Red Rust, Claude Alexander's exceptional Abyssinian was apparently mated to an "Imported African Wild Cat" and the female offspring, Goldtick, registered as an Abyssinian. Goldtick was mated to a red self (solid red) called Ras Brouke (owned by Mr HC Brooke in the 1920s) and produced Tim the Harvester, registered as a Ruddy (Usual) Abyssinian. Tim the Harvester sired Woodrooffe Ras Seyum (born 1935) and other offspring in Britain before going to the USA circa 1938 and established some of the early British lines of Abyssinian. Ras Brouk may have introduced sorrel red and cinnamon into Abyssinian lines, but has also been described as chocolate in colour. Woodrooffe Leo, born in 1933, was other self red, but was unrelated to Ras Brouk. Another red Abyssinian, Nona's Red Chiki, born 1943, was related to both Ras Brouk and Woodrooffe Leo, while her maternal grandmother was a Siamese called Miss Melodious Venture! With outcrosses to other breeds and to imported wild cats, no wonder "sports" appeared in later generations.
In those early days, Abyssinians with no ticking also appeared, though most would have been discarded. Some, presumably having excellent conformation, were used in breeding programmes. In the 1930s, a "self black" Abyssinian called Woodroofe Nigra was registered. Nigra's parents Ras Isis and Empress Zauditu, were both Abyssinians and would have carried the gene for solid (non-ticked) colour. Nigra's grandson, Croham Menelik, became an influential sire.
Although Silver Abyssinians were known almost from the start, the judges didn't like them. Abyssinian cats believed to be Silver - called Aluminium I, Aluminium II and Aluminium Silver - were bred by Mrs Carew Cox in the early 1900s. She exported them to the USA to found the breed there. By the 1920s, Silvers Abyssinians had died out in the UK as they always lost out to the Usual Abyssinian on the showbench. They were not reintroduced until 1966/7 when a Usual/Ruddy Abyssinian (Lalibela Jijiga) was bred to a Silver Spotted British Shorthair (Culverden Mercury). As for Carew Cox's exports in the 1900s, silvers didn't catch on in the USA either and breeder ads indicate that it was only at the end of the 20th century that the colour was becoming acceptable. The 1972 CFA Yearbook had a photograph of a yellow Abyssinian called Puma and mentioned that "Albino" Abyssinians existed in England (probably meaning silvers) as well as creams and blues (familiar in England, but not in the USA).
One of the difficulties facing the Abyssinian in its early days in the show world was that it competed against unusual varieties of foreign cats including HC Brooke's Indian cat and Geoffrey's cat. Those exotic species frequently beat the Abyssinians, although it hard to work out quite how judges discriminated between a domestic Abyssinian (with its standard of points) and an imported wild cat (which had no standard of points). For example, in the "Any Other Variety Foreign Cat" class at the 1902 Crystal Palace show, Mrs Heslop's Abyssinian 'Greek Maiden' was beaten into 2nd place by a Geoffrey's cat. An Indian cat took 3rd place and a Japanese cat took 4th. These unusual cats undoubtedly added to the interest of the show, but Abyssinian breeders and fanciers found it quite unfair that they had to compete against wild animals and novelties.
H.C. Brooke (Vice-President of the Abyssinian Cat Club) wrote in his booklet "The Abyssinian Cat" (1930) that the history of "this beautiful and interesting breed" had been deplorably neglected and too little was known of its origin. Its early history is found in the first two publications dedicated to the Abyssinian. H.C. Brooke's "The Abyssinian Cat" and Helen and Sidney Denham's "Child of the Gods". Both are out of print and almost impossible to find.
Many breeders and fanciers consider the modern Abyssinian to descended from cats worshipped by the ancient Egyptians, making it the oldest distinct breed. They point to Egyptian bronzes and paintings of lithe, long-bodied cats that resemble the modern Abyssinian. However, Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald wrote in "Cats" that the Abyssinian was a breeders creation, developed from British domestic tabbies. Some early show specimens resembled the [British] Shorthair of the 1900s, with heavy ticking.
The earliest known written account of the Abyssinian cat in England was by Gordon Stables in 1874. He wrote that Mrs. Barrett-Lennard brought an Abyssinian cat into England in 1868. However, the Barrett-Lennard family had no record of either this lady or her cat. 1868 was the end of the Abyssinian War and other accounts mention a British soldier bringing back an unusual cat or kitten when British soldiers pulled out of Abyssinia. This first Abyssinian cat was called "Zula", but could have been picked up anywhere along the route home.
The Leiden Zoological Museum in Holland has a stuffed Abyssinian-type cat that pre-dates Zula. It was purchased between 1834-1836 and labelled as an Indian cat. H.C. Brooke later described an Indian cat, allegedly from Bombay, and illustrations of the Indian cat show a sandy coloured ticked cat similar to an Abyssinian (sandy, ticked cats from Sri Lanka are now bred as Celonese). So it is possible that Zula came from India where the British had a strong presence at the time.
It is not clear how the breed progressed between 1868 and 1903 when Frances Simpson's "The Book of the Cat" was published. Even Abyssinian expert H.C. Brooke could not account for 30 years of missing records about the breed. Certainly no further cats had been imported from Abyssinia, which meant Zula had to have been crossed with British shorthaired cats. We know from the writings of early cat fanciers that they were also crossed with Persians, Angoras and Russian Blues. This was probably when the silver gene entered the Abyssinian breed.
The Abyssinian was listed as a separate breed in 1882, but in 1889, Harrison Weir ("Our Cats and All About Them ") insisted that it was not a breed at all. Louis Wain agreed with him. Both of those notable early cat fanciers and judges considered that "very passable Abyssinian-type kittens are born from time to time as the result of 'chance matings' between very ordinary tabbies." Weir found the native British Ticks to be scarcely distinguished from the imported Abyssinian and some of the early Abyssinian champions were very evidently Ticked British Shorthairs.
The first mention of Silver Abyssinians came from Weir in 1882. He referred to them as a new variety. H.C. Brooke was very opposed to them, and in his booklet "The Abyssinian Cat", he wrote, "I regard silver as an absolute alien colour to the breed, and though there would have been no harm done if these silvers had been kept to themselves, I cannot but think that they did an infinity of harm to the breed, by introducing a grey tinge into the coat, with the result that the beautiful "ruddy" tinge which we used to see in the cats of long ago, is now apparently lost to us. How they originated, or whether any cross was made use of to obtain them, I do not know." Nevertheless, the 14th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica contained a picture of a beautiful "Silver" Abyssinian belonging to Mrs. Carew-Cox. Upon H.C. Brooke's retirement from the cat fancy, Mrs Carew-Cox worked hard to keep the Abyssinian from dying out.
Weir, wrote out his own standard for the Abyssinian: "There is the same emphasis on absence of white anywhere and a minimum of 'marks', the same emphasis on the 'graceful, lithe, elegant carriage'." However Weir wrote that the Abyssinian should be large, with the fur that was "woolly, yet soft, silky, lustrous, and glossy, short, smooth, even dense." This seems to have accommodated both the British Ticks and the sleeker cats closer in type to Zula - in other words a "catch-all".
Around 1900, the "Abyssinian" name was dropped and the "ticked" shorthairs were known as "British Ticks" (nicknamed "Bunny Cats"). Those cats often had a "mottled" appearance. Wain preferred this home-grown English variety and owned a large number of them. The "ground colour was usually a dark grey or blackish grey; they had heads of a pronounced 'British' type and heavily barred legs and tails." This contrasted with the warm, rufous tones that are now desirable.
Frances Simpson, in her book, "Cats and All About Them" (1902) included a description written by a well known English breeder of the period: "The only other foreign cat that calls for attention is the Abyssinian or Bunny cat, and it is not often that specimens are exhibited at our shows. We have no special fanciers of this breed. The fur has a ground-work of reddish brown ticked with darker brown markings. The coat should be close and soft."
H.C. Brooke described the colour of the cat as "very strikingly resembling that of a wild rabbit, when placed side by side, until carefully examined, when it is seen that the fur of the rabbit is grey near the skin (under-colour) whilst that of the cat is, or should be, rufous. The ticking is a most essential property of the breed, and is caused by blackish, or dark brown, tips to the hair. Some, the best ticked, have about three bands of brown or orange shades, the darkest being at the tip. Others have merely the rufous base and the dark tip. The under-colour should always be as bright as possible, and as clear, not a dull lifeless brown, which much distracts from the beauty of the cat."
HC Brooke wrote in his booklet, "The general appearance of the Abyssinian is that of a rather small and very elegantly built cat, with graceful slender limbs, fine head with rather large ears and lustrous eyes. Any person capable of appreciating truly graceful lines and sinuous and elegant shape in the cat, will admit that in this respect the Abyssinian cat has but one rival, to wit, the Siamese."
An article written by breeder Mrs. H.W. Basnett and published in a 1938 edition of "Fur, Feather, Rabbits and Rabbit Keeping", gave the standard for the British Abyssinian: "The typical Abyssinian has a long, lithe body, showing well-developed muscular strength, and the beauty of the long, fine head is accentuated by luminous, almond-shaped eyes. The whole head is set off by large ears, broad at the base, which, while matching the feet and legs in colour, are tipped with a darker shade. The coat is short and close-lying, of a rich, tawny brown colour, and instead of being striped or barred, each hair is 'ticked' with black or brown, i.e., two or three bands of colour on each hair being preferable to a single ticking'. The feet and legs must be clean colour, free of barring and toning with the body colour, whilst the under parts of the body should preferably be an orange-brown to harmonize with the main colour."
In England, the breed was championed by Mr H.C. Brooke and Mrs. Carew-Cox who recognized a variety worth preserving.
Abyssinia (modern day Ethiopia), had no tradition of domestic cats and later explorers in the region found no domestic cats of any type. Possibly a cat was picked up along the route home by British colonists. The early Abyssinian superficially resembled the African Wildcat which has a ticked coat and barred markings on the legs.
However .... in the 1960s, Mr. and Mrs. William Maguire of South Weymouth, Massachusetts owned a cat from Abyssinia that met the criteria for the Abyssinian breed. Named "Smokey P", he was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 1957 in the home of an American family there. His mother was a native domestic cat and his father was a ticked semi-wild cat. In the 1990s, cats resembling early Abyssinians were documented in Singapore; they were larger and more heavily marked than the pedigree breed. These "Wild Abyssinians" did not meet with the approval of purist Abyssinian breeders in the USA and died out in the USA.
Abyssinian ("The Abyssinian Cat", H C Brooke)
Noted fancier of numerous breeds, Mr. H C Brooke, a contributor to Frances Simpson's work, wrote a pamphlet called "The Abyssinian Cat" in which he said "this beautiful and interesting breed has been neglected, that too little was known of its origin and too little interest was being shown by the cat fancy. Brooke described the colour of the Abyssinian as "very strikingly resembling that of a wild rabbit, when placed side by side, until carefully examined, when it is seen that the fur of the rabbit is grey near the skin whilst that of the cat is, or should be, rufous. The ticking is a most essential property of the breed, and is caused by blackish, or dark brown, tips to the hair. Some, the best ticked, have about three bands of brown or orange shades, the darkest being at the tip. Others have merely the rufous base and the dark tip. The under-colour should always be as bright as possible, and as clear, not a dull lifeless brown, which much distracts from the beauty of the cat."
Brooke also wrote "The general appearance of the Abyssinian is that of a rather small and very elegantly built cat, with graceful slender limbs, fine head with rather large ears and lustrous eyes. Any person capable of appreciating truly graceful lines and sinuous and elegant shape in the cat, will admit that in this respect the Abyssinian cat has but one rival, to wit, the Siamese" which is very different from Wain's large Chilean cats.
The opinions of cat fanciers were firmly divided into those who liked the silvers and those who despised them. Mr H C Brooke (breeder and judge) was opposed to Silver Abyssinians and marked down a silver in 1903 with the remark "It is a ticked cat but not the proper Abyssinian colour." Elsewhere, Brooke wrote "I regard silver as an absolute alien colour to the breed, and though there would have been no harm done if these silvers had been kept to themselves, I cannot but think that they did an infinity of harm to the breed, by introducing a grey tinge into the coat, with the result that the beautiful "ruddy" tinge which we used to see in the cats of long ago, is now apparently lost to us. How they originated, or whether any cross was made use of to obtain them, I do not know." A few years later, in 1908, W Johnson Wood commented that "the silver specimens are even nicer than the brown"!
Note: In the GCCF 1912 stud book the only female Abyssinian listed is Mrs E A Clark’s "Silver Fairy", bred by Mrs Carew Cox (sire Aluminium; dam Fancy Free) which sounds like an early Silver Abyssinian.
Note: A strain of apparently albinistic Abyssinians had been bred by Sir William Cooke, of Newbury, but in 1927, his last male died, thus ending a very remarkable strain of albinistic Abyssinians. HC Brooke noted that a lady in Yorkshire owned a pair, but had never shown them and that she was contemplating having the male neutered. It was suggested that the strain derived from a cross with Siamese cat, but Sir William was confident that this was not the case and that the colouration did not bear out this theory. These cats were creamy white, with rabbit-coloured fur on their ears and an "eelstripe" or dorsal line down the back. Their eyes were blue suggesting a form of albinism. At around the same time, another mutation of Abyssinian was reported from Vienna by Herr Lesti. In his second litter by Ras Tafari, one kitten was fawn with a pinkish tint, though the previous litter had all resembled their sire.
Abyssinian ("The Cat Its Points and Management in Health and Disease" (1908), Frank Townend Barton MRCVS)
This is a short-haired variety of cat, occasionally seen at the larger shows. In colour it is hare-brown with brownish black tickings. There should be a sharply defined black trace running the length of the spine, ending in the tail. The eyes are hazel. Abyssinians are a good deal used for cross breeding. They should be of a smart and compact conformation of body. In size they are about the same as the ordinary English cat.
Australian (Helen Winslow)
Dr. H. L. Hammond, of Killingly, Ct, makes a speciality of the rare Australian cats, and has taken numerous prizes with them at every cat show in this country, where they are universally admired. His Columbia is valued at six hundred dollars, and his Tricksey at five hundred dollars. They are, indeed, beautiful creatures, though somewhat unique in the cat world, as we see it. They are very sleek cats, with fur so short, glossy, and fine that it looks like the finest satin. Their heads are small and narrow, with noses that seem pointed when compared with other cats. They are very intelligent and affectionate little creatures, and make the loveliest of pets. Dr. and Mrs. Hammond are extremely fond of their unusual and valuable cat family, and tell the most interesting tales of their antics and habits. His Columbia was an imported cat, and the doctor has reason to believe that she with her mate are originally from the Siamese cat imported from Siam to Australia. They are all very delicate as kittens, the mother rarely having more than one at a time. With two exceptions, these cats have never had more than two kittens at a litter. They are very partial to heat, but cannot stand cold weather. They have spells of sleeping when nothing has power to disturb them, but when they do wake up they have a “high time,” running and playing. They are affectionate, being very fond of their owner, but rather shy with strangers. They are uncommonly intelligent, too, and are very teachable when young. They are such beautiful creatures, besides being rare in this part of the world, that it is altogether probable that they will be much sought after as pets.
Australian Cat (1900)
Burmese Cat (1903)
The Manx Cat (Harrison Weir)
The Manx cat is well known, and is by no means uncommon. It differs chiefly from the ordinary domestic cat in being tailless, or nearly so, the best breeds not having any; the hind legs are thicker and rather longer, particularly in the thighs. It runs more like a hare than a cat, the action of the legs being awkward, nor does it seem to turn itself so readily, or with such rapidity and ease; the head is somewhat small for its size, yet thick and well set on a rather long neck; the eyes large, round, and full, ears medium, and rather rounded at the apex. In colour they vary, but I do not remember to have seen a white or many black, though one of the best that has come under my notice was the latter colour.
I have examined a number of specimens sent for exhibition at the Crystal Palace and other cat shows, and found in some a very short, thin, twisted tail, in others a mere excrescence, and some with an appendage more like a knob. These I have taken as having been operated upon when young, the tail being removed, but this may not be the case, as Mr. St. George Mivart in his very valuable book on the cat, mentions a case where a female cat had her tail so injured by the passage of a cart-wheel over it, that her master judged it best to have it cut off near the base. Since then she has had two litters of kittens, and in each litter one or more of the kittens had a stump of tail, while their brothers and sisters had tails of the usual length. But were there no Manx cats in the neighbourhood, is a query. This case is analogous to the statement that the short-tailed sheep-dog was produced from parents that had had their tails amputated; and yet this is now an established breed. Also a small black breed of dogs from the Netherlands, which is now very fashionable. They are called "Chipperkes," [Schipperkes] and have no tails, at least when exhibited.
Mr. St. George Mivart further states that Mr. Bartlett told him, as he has so stated to myself, that in the Isle of Man the cats have tails of different lengths, from nothing up to ten inches. I have also been informed on good authority that the Fox Terrier dogs, which invariably have (as a matter of fashion) their tails cut short, sometimes have puppies with much shorter tails than the original breed; but this does not appear to take effect on sheep, whose tails are generally cut off. I cannot, myself, come to the same conclusion as to the origin of the Manx cat.
Be this as it may, one thing is certain : that cross-bred Manx with other cats often have young that are tailless. As a proof of this, Mr. Herbert Young, of Harrogate, has had in his possession a very fine red female long-haired tailless cat, that was bred between the Manx and a Persian. Another case showing the strong prepotency of the Manx cat. Mr. Hodgkin, of Eridge, some time ago had a female Manx cat sent to him. Not only does she produce tailless cats when crossed with the ordinary cat, but the progeny again crossed also frequently have some tailless kittens in each litter.
I have also been told there is a breed of tailless cats in Cornwall.
Mr. Darwin states in his book on "The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication," vol. i. p.47, that "throughout an immense area, namely, the Malayan Archipelago, Siam, Pequan, and Burmah, all the cats have truncated tails about half the proper length, often with a sort of knob at the end." This description tallies somewhat with the appearance of some of the Siamese cats that have been imported, several of which, though they have fairly long and thin tails, and though they are much pointed at the end, often have a break or kink. In a note Mr. Darwin says, "The Madagascar cat is said to have a twisted tail." Mr. St. George Mivart also corroborates the statement, so far as the Malay cat is concerned. He says the tail is only half the ordinary length, and often contorted into a sort of knot, so that it cannot be straightened. He further states, "Its contortion is due to deformity of the bones of the tail," and there is a tailless breed of cats in the Crimea.
Some of the Manx cats I have examined have precisely the kind of tail here described - thin, very short, and twisted, that cannot be straightened. Is it possible that the Manx cat originated with the Malayan? Or rather is it a freak of nature perpetuated by selection? Be this as it may, we have the Manx cat now as a distinct breed, and, when crossed with others, will almost always produce some entirely tailless kittens, if not all. Many of the Siamese kittens bred here have kinks in their tails.
The illustration I give is that of a prize winner at the Crystal Palace in 1880, 1881, 1882, and is the property of Mr. J. M. Thomas, of Parliament Street. In colour it is a brindled tortoiseshell. It is eight years old. At the end of this description I also give a portrait of one of its kittens, a tabby; both are true Manx, and neither have a particle of tail, only a very small tuft of hair which is boneless. The hind quarters are very square and deep, as contrasted with other cats, and the flank deeper, giving an appearance of great strength, the hind legs being longer, and thicker in proportion to the fore legs, which are much slighter and tapering; even the toes are smaller. The head is round for a she-cat, and the ears somewhat large and pointed, but thin and fine in the hair, the cavity of the ear has less hair within it (also a trait of the Siamese) than some other short-haired cats, the neck is long and thin, as are the shoulders. Its habits are the same as those of most cats. I may add that Mr. Thomas, who is an old friend of mine, has had this breed many years, and kept it perfectly pure.
The Manx (Frances Simpson)
Simpson wrote: "These quaint cats are rapidly and surely coming into notice in the fancy. As a breed they are intelligent and affectionate, and, I believe, splendid sporting cats. They are undoubtedly great favourites amongst the sterner sex, perhaps because they are such keen and plucky cats. As a breeder of Persian cats, and having become used to the beautiful wide-spreading tails of these cats, I confess there is something grotesque and unfinished, to my eyes, in the Manx, and from choice I should not care to keep these tailless pussies as pets. They do not appeal to me and to my sense of the beautiful. Having, therefore, never kept or bred Manx cats, I feel diffident in writing about them.
If I were to adjudicate, I should first closely examine their tails, or, to be more correct, the place where the tails ought not to be! I remember in former times, stump-tailed cats, called Manx, used to win comfortably at shows, but in our up-to-date times I should make a black mark in my judging book against those cats with a stump or an appendage, or even a mere excrescence. I do not fear contradiction when I state that a Manx cat of the true type should have no particle of tail - only a tuft of hair, which ought to be boneless.
The next point for which I should search would be the length of the hind quarters, which lens such great individuality to this breed of cat. No doubt the lack of tail in itself makes a cat's hind legs look long, but we want more than that; we need a very short back, so that from the point of the quarters to the hocks there is a continuous and decided outward slope. In fact the hind legs stand right back from the body, like a well-trained hackney's [a type of horse] in the show ring. Coat I should next consider, as this differs, or should differ, considerably from both the long- and short-haired breeds. It should bear more resemblance to the fur of a rabbit, being longer and softer than that of our common or garden cats."
Simpson noted that the common colours of Manx being tabbies (both silver tabby and brown tabby), orange, bicolours of these and also tortoiseshells. Self-colours were apparently uncommon and she quoted Harrison Weir as never having seen a white Manx., while other contributors to the chapter stated that blue-eyed white Manxes were rare. One of the champions of the time was a spotted tabby whose colour/pattern was described as peculiar and unattractive, but whose conformation evidently outweighed those deficiencies. The eye colour of Manxes was customarily unimportant, but Simpson believed that the it should match the coat colours according to the standard for short-haired English cats. Long-haired Manx, though they occurred, were not acceptable and Mr H C Brooke a famous cat fancier, breeder and exhibitor of the time stated "Now and then we see long-haired Manx advertised, but these are, of course, mongrels or abortions, and by no means Manx cats."
Manx cats were considered difficult to show as they needed to be judged in a large empty pen to display the cat's rounded rump and long hind legs and preferably the rabbity gait. Six different Manx types were exhibited: the long straight-backed cat; the long roach-backed cat; the long straight-backed cat with high hind quarters; the short straight-backed cat; the short roach-backed cat and the short-backed cat with high hind-quarters. The short-backed cat with high hind-quarters was the "correct" type. The long straight-backed Manx was the commonest and worst type. The other types were intermediate and should be judged accordingly, although many breeders felt that some all-round judges were not competent to judge Manx cats. They wanted to see specialist Manx judges capable of appreciating the subtleties between the Manx types and of awarding the highest honours to those which best met the Manx standard. One judge even stated that he could manufacture perfect specimens - breeders called for his name (unfortunately now lost to us) to be publicised so that Manx breeders could boycott the class whenever he officiated, "he should be saved the trouble of going over cats which he neither likes not understands."
Mr H C Brooke, emphasised that the Manx should have a "round, guinea-pig like rump, round as an orange, which of course, can only be obtained when there is absolutely no tail. Even a tuft of gristle or hair, as found in many specimens, though in itself but a very trifling defect, detracts from this typical 'rumpy' appearance […] unless it be situated so far back between the hip-bones that it in no way projects."
Of the varying degrees of taillessness, Brooke wrote that the tails should be like snakes in Iceland [this is not a misprint - he wrote "Iceland", not Ireland] - absent. Brooke's perfect specimen had a hollow or depression where the tail would otherwise begin. Slightly less perfect was the cat with a little tuft of gristle and hair, with at most a suggestion of a twisted and withered bone. Thirdly was the Manx with a distinct caudal vertebra, but not more than two joints in show specimens (although cats with more than two could still be used at stud if otherwise excellent in type). If the vertebra were twisted or abnormal in shape, this was preferable. Brooke saw no reason, if breeders were careful and if incompetent judges were banned, that 99% of Manx cats should not be tailless.
Not knowing anything of lethal genes, breeders like Brooke aimed to create true-breeding (what we would now call homozygous) Manx. Simpson wrote that only recently had English fanciers tried to breed true Manx cats. One Miss Samuel had successfully established a strain which bred true to type. Interestingly, one of her cats was named "Kangaroo" - perhaps because of its long hind legs. Many of the Manx at the time were exhibited by the owner, but their details read "Breeder and pedigree unknown", which Simpson considered a pity. These were what today might be termed "foundation cats" i.e. cats of the correct type, but whose background is not known. Some were found as strays, possibly the offspring of Manx cats taken from the Isle of Man over the years, since the toms were often allowed to roam free and mate with local cats.
"At one time, we may presume, the Manx cat was kept pure in the Isle of Man; but alas! the natives, with an eye to the main chance, have been led into manufacturing a spurious article, and many more tailless cats and kittens than ever were born have been sold to tourists eager to carry home some souvenir of the island to their friends on the mainland. I have been told that the landing pier is a frequent resort of dealers in so-called Manx cats, where the unwary traveller is waylaid and sold. On some out-of-the-way farms on the island I believe none but tailless cats have been kept for generations, and some genuine specimens may thus be picked up, if the tourist gives himself the trouble to go off the beaten tracks." As well as faked Manxes, there was also the problem of genuine Manx cats being stolen by visitors to the island.
Simpson also included a paragraph from the German weekly paper "Mutter Erde" which had been translated and appeared in Our Cats in March 1900; it represents one of the earliest studies into how the Manx trait was inherited and in what proportion of kittens. It even assigned a separate taxonomic classification to the manx cat, as though it were a subspecies of domestic cat, rather than a breed.
"The Progeny of a Tailless Cat of the Isle of Man. A cat brought from the Idle of Man (felis catus anura) to S. Germaine en Laye, of which the pedigree is unknown, was mated with ordinary long-tailed cats, and among twenty-four kittens, the four following kinds appeared:
I - Kittens with ordinary long tails.
II - Kittens with short and stump tails.
III - Kittens without tails, like the mother.
IV - Kittens without the least sign of a tail.
The comparison between the influence of the sire and that of the dam on the young is interesting:-
1 litter - 1 kitten like the mother.
2 litter - 6 kittens, 5 like the mother, 1 like the father.
3 litter - 5 kittens, 3 like the mother, 2 like the father.
4 litter - 3 kittens, 1 like the mother, 2 like the father.
5 litter - 4 kittens, 1 like the mother, 3 like the father.
6 litter - 5 kittens, 3 like the mother, 2 like the father.
It will be seen that the influence of the mother predominates."
"Mutter Erde" had, without realising it, identified that Manx was a dominant gene and that the mother was heterozygous. What they, and other breeders, were not to know was that homozygous - or genuinely true-breeding - Manx cannot occur. Simpson wrote that Manx were "shy breeders", frequently having only a single kitten in a litter. Manx females often bred only once per year and many Manx males were peculiar in that they showed no interest in the females presented to them. The small litter sizes were due, unknown to the 1900s breeder, to the lethal gene involved - embryos which inherit two copies of the Manx gene generally died in the womb early on in pregnancy. Some of the problems of females and males simply not breeding was possibly due to intensive inbreeding in the attempt to create true-breeding Manx cats.
No chapter on Manx cats would be complete without at least one theory about their origins. As well as including letters stating that the Isle of Man was home to both tailed and tailless cats and that these interbred and had mixed litters, Simpson included several breeders' and writers' ideas, including passing mentions of cat-rabbit matings (the cabbit myth), shipwrecked cats from the Armada, accidental tail amputation and as "sports" (mutations) of ordinary cats.
"A lady friend of mine, who was brought up in the Isle of Man, has told me that she always understood that Manx cats came from a cross with a rabbit, but if this supposition is correct it seems too strange to be true that cats and rabbits should only form matrimonial alliance in the little island off our coast! It would appear more probably, therefore, that a foreign breed of cat was brought to the island, and the following article from the pen of Mr Gambier Bolton gives his ideas on the subject:-
'In the Isle of Man today we find a rock named the Spanish Rock, which stands close into the shore, and tradition states that here one of the vessels of the Spanish Armada went down in the memorable year of 1558, and that among the rescued were some tailless cats which had been procured during one of the vessel's voyages to the Far East. The cats first swam to the rock, and then made their way to the shore at low tide; and from these have sprung all the so-called Manx cats which are now to be found in many parts of Great Britain, Europe, and America.
The tale seems a bit 'tall' and yet the writer feels so satisfied of its truth that he would welcome any change in the name of this peculiar variety of the domestic cat to sweep away the idea that they sprang from the Isle of Man originally.
Any traveller in the Far East - Japan, China, Siam, and the Malay region - who is a lover of animals must have noticed how rarely one meets with a really long-tailed cat in these regions, for instead one meets with the kink-tailed (i.e. those with a bend or screw at the tip of the tail), the short kink-tailed (i.e. those with a screw like tail like the bull-dogs), the forked-tailed (i.e. those having tails which start quite straight, but near the tip branch out into two forks) and finally the tailless (or miscalled Manx) cats; and the naturalist Kæmpfer states definitely that the specimens of this breed now so common in parts of Russia all come originally from Japan. Again, anyone who breeds these tailless cats, and keeps the breed quite pure, must have noticed how they differ in appearance and habits from the short-haired cats. They are, and should be, much smaller in size; the coat should be longer and more 'rabbity'; the 'call' is much nearer that of the jungle cat of the East than that of the ordinary cat; and their habits, like those of Siamese cats, are much more dog-like. In all these points they keep closely to what the writer firmly believes to be their original type, the domesticated cats of the Far East. […] Kink-tailed, screw-tailed, fork-tailed and absolutely tailless cats have all be exhibited at British shows of recent years.' "
The June 30th, 1900 issue of "Our Cats" carried two letters from gentlemen of the Isle of Man who wished to remain anonymous.
"When I was a boy there was a kind of tradition that the tailless cat was brought here by the Spanish Armada. We have a headland called 'Spanish Rock' where it has been believed that some tailless cats escaped and took refuge here, and that from such cats all the so-called Manx have been derived. During my life I have frequently met persons who have travelled in Spain, and I think I have always asked from such persons if they had ever met with tailless cats there, but I never met anyone who had seen them. I never heard any other (traditional) origin of the Manx cat alleged. They are very common here, but not so common as cats with tails. Both cats with and cats without tails associate together."
The writer went on to note that utterly tailless cats were called rumpies, but that litters included rumpies and also kittens with vestigial tails. He added that he had owned a pure black rumpy tomcat, but that it had gone missing, apparently stolen by a tripper [holiday-maker], this being a common problem. He added that many tailed kittens were "deprived of their tails" (i.e. surgically) to meet the demand. The second writer was equally dubious of the spanish Armada tale in his letter:-
"Certainly we have cats with tails - the rumpy being the rare form. Perhaps one in a litter, and one or two of them with half tails. As to what they are supposed to be, I have of course heard the Spanish Armada story. My own belief is that they have originated in a sport [a mutation], e.g. as we find in dogs and fowls, and have been perpetuated as curiosities, and in modern times on account of their commercial value. […] The height of the hind legs is perhaps more apparent than real, caused by the abrupt ending, without the falling tail as in ordinary cats. Professor Owen made a preparation, which may be seen at the British Museum, showing the bones (if any) of the tail. I think in a perfect specimen there should be no bones. Of course, there are all degrees of stumps."
Breeder and fancier, Mr H C Brooke "What is the origin of the Manx? That is a question which in all probability will never be answered. The theory that it originated from a cat (or cats) having lost its tail by accident I do not consider worth a moment's considerations. Such a cat might well have tailless progeny [note: this is the out-of-date theory of Lamarckian inheritance still given credence in Brooke's time], but that would have nothing to do with the abnormal length of the hind legs, which in good specimens is patent to the most superficial observer, and which makes the gambols of a couple of Manx a comical sight calculated to excite laughter in the most mournfully disposed person. Quaint is the old versified explanation, which I remember hearing some years ago. It ran, if I remember rightly, somewhat like this:-
Noah, sailing o'er the seas,
Ran high and dry on Ararat.
His dog then made a spring, and took
The tail from off a pussy cat.
Puss through the window quick did fly,
And bravely through the waters swam,
Nor ever stopped, till, high and dry,
She landed on the Isle of Man.
Thus tailless puss earned Mona's thanks,
And ever after was called Manx.
The most feasible explanation, in my opinion, though of course it can be but a theory, is that these cats were originally imported from the East. Asiatic cats of domestic varieties show remarkable variety in the shape of their tails, as witness the kinks often found in the tail of the Siamese cat, and the knot tails of other varieties."
Note:The first Manx to become a champion was a Silver Tabby kitten called Bonhaki, who was owned by a keeper at the London Zoo. The award was made in the presence of Queen Alexandra, who was then the Princess of Wales, and the show was held in the Royal Botanical Gardens. Louis Wain, the famous cat artist of those days, was judging.
The Manx (R S Huidekoper)
According to R S Huidekoper in his book, "The Cat" (1895), "The Manx Cat really can be classed as a monstrosity, having been developed probably by the interbreeding of some freak of nature in the form of a cat which inhabited the Isle of Man at an early period. An ordinary cat can easily be rendered tailless if operated on at a young age [...] especial attention should be paid to see that the absent tail is natural and that there is no scar as evidence of operative interference, or, as such things are called in dog shows, “faking”."The Maltese or American Blue (Frances Simpson)
"The blue colour they are familiar with [in America] from the long acquaintance with the short-haired blues of Maltese." These Maltese cats were favoured by many people who had never heard of cat shows, had a reputation of being excellent mousers and of having good temperaments. They varied in shade and some had a white spot on the chest, but unlike blue Russians they did not have shadowy tabby markings in kittens. The colour of the (French) Chartreuse blue of olden times apparently had an input into the gene pools of many American breeds since was not at all uncommon in either long-hairs or short-hairs. English breeders had become considerably interested in the American Maltese breed.
"So celebrated had some strains become that off-coloured cats bred from these cats are sometimes called Maltese and the idea seemed to have gained considerable ground that this was a separate breed; but evidence of this fact is very much lacking in most parts, and in travelling over a good deal of the country and finding them thousands of miles apart, I must confess that I have never been able to trace the origin of these cats nor to find out any reason for their numbers. I have been led to think that they are the same, or were the same, in the beginning as the blue Russian or Archangel cat, and that they were brought to the country many years ago, and that the name was given them by sailors or others."
She noted that the name "Maltese" was a case of tradition, just as longhairs in Britain were often still called "Angora" and continued "Probably a good many of the so-called Maltese are just blue specimens of the ordinary short-haired cat; and, in fact, there has never been anyone of my acquaintance who had any ideas as to points or type; but the colour was the feature to be looked at. We find Maltese cats of the short and cobby type besides the long and more extended species, but the latter predominate. […] No doubt the preponderance of blue cats before the advent of the cat shows was largely owing to the selection of blue kittens in the litters, which left a great many blue sires to roam the streets by night and sire blue kittens."
Simpson added "If I were to make a comparison between the average American blue and what I saw in England as Russians, I should say the American cats are mostly lighter in colour and do not have quite so glossy coats. Perhaps if taken up and selected for a few generations, these features would come out more strongly."
What is interesting from a modern viewpoint is that English cat enthusiasts (e.g. Carew-Cox), gave little credence to blue short-hairs occurring in ordinary English cats except as a result of mating with a blue Russian, but were quite willing to accept that blue short-hairs occurred naturally in American cats! There was evidently far more snobbery about blue cats in England than in America.
A few years later, Dorothy Champion, writing in "Everybody's Cat Book" in 1909, noted "[Shorthaired] Blues are usually kept for show purposes only in England, and are not nearly so plentiful as house pets as they are in this country, where they are called 'Maltese.'"