THE MAINE ANGORA
There are various folktales about the origins of the longhaired Maine cats: cat-raccoon hybrids; cat-bobcat/lynx hybrids; they arrived with the Vikings in the 10th Century; sailors from New England returned home with Turkish Angora cats in the late 17th century; they are descendants of Marie Antoinette's Turkish Angora sent to the USA in 1793; they are due to Captain Charles Coon's longhaired ship's cats which spread through dockyard populations up and down the East Coast. Several early cat fanciers in North America mentioned the arrival of blue-eyed white longhairs at East Coast seaports during the 19th Century. More prosaically, they descended from longhaired and shorthaired cats that arrived in New England with European explorers, settlers and on trading ships although Persians and Angoras no doubt mixed with established local longhairs later on. They had numerous names - American Longhair, American Snughead, American Shag, Maine Cat, Maine Trick Cat and, more commonly at the time, Maine Angora. Prized as hardy working cats, these "poor man's Persians" were also farmed and sold as luxury cats, especially to the cities.
Before the fancy Persian took off in the USA, "Angoras" (longhaired cats in general) were very popular cats. Angoras appeared at many American cats shows in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Maine Angoras (aka "coon cats") appeared at county fairs in their home state and were among the first cats exhibited at early cat shows in the United States. They were first recorded in cat literature in 1861. By the 1880s, Maine Cats were being regularly exhibited in local cat shows. They were large cats and some winners weighed 20 pounds. The state of Maine became well known to cat fanciers for its brown tabby longhairs, while silvers and smokes were rare in the variety. They were later exhibited in Boston and New York, winning the 1895 Madison Square Gardens show. A brown tabby Maine female named 'Cosey' won Best Cat at the Madison Square Garden Show in New York in 1895. Many of the prize-winning longhair cats of the 1890s came from Maine and they resembled the early Persian in conformation.
In 1889, Harrison Weir mentioned Maine Cats in his book "Our Cats and All About Them" as "neither Persian, Angora, nor Indian. They are called here 'Coon' Cats, and it is vulgarly supposed to be a cross between a common Cat and a 'Coon.'" Photographs sent to Weir showed a cat with unusually large ears, large legs and feet and a neck ruff. The eyes had a wild, staring expression and the tail was long and like a fox's brush. Weir considered the breed worthy of attention, although no-one seemed interested enough to import these cats into Britain at that time. Cat fanciers were more interested in Turkish and Persian longhaired cats.
"THIS IS PUSSY'S WEEK. CATS OF BREEDING WILL SIT IN STATE IN THE GARDEN. It is said that the Maine coon cats get their coat characteristics from the Angora, several of which breed may have got into the State years ago from some shipwreck and cross-bred with some of the old New-England tabbies. The Maine people say that they are a species by themselves and demand large prices for them, as they make the best kind of pets, being particularly kind and gentle. " - The New York Tribune, Sunday March 1st, 1896.
Those involved in breeding imported Persians and Angoras (mostly from Britain) tended to look down on the Maine cats. For example this article promoting a cat show which appeared in The Inter Ocean, (Chicago) on November 20, 1898: 'THE CATS OF SOCIETY. It is the idea to have the society cats the main feature," said Mrs. Norton, "We want the cats best bred and best reared. Blood and education tell in cats just as they do in men. By way of contrast, a few oddities will be introduced. For instance, there will be a full exhibit of coon cats. They are a novelty from Maine and will be interesting."
The "coon cat" was mentioned by Helen Winslow in "Concerning Cats - My Own And Some Others" (1900) and she noted that Mrs Locke, an importer of Persians from Europe, also supplied long-haired cats from Maine to those who did not care to pay the high prices commanded by Persians. Frances Simpson included a chapter about the Maine Cat (written by F R Pierce) in her "Book of the Cat" (1903)
The huge business of shipping these longhairs to "all parts of the United States" (especially New York and Philadelphia) led a decrease in their numbers in Maine and neighbouring areas where they were raised. Newspapers even provided numbers of Maine Angoras shipped during 1899.
MAINE'S ANGORA CAT INDUSTRY. "There were larger shipments of cats from Maine the past year than for any season previous, there being over 6,400 cats shipped out of the state, going to all parts of the United States and exported to foreign countries. One concern alone, the Walnut Ridge Farm company, of Boston, sent 986 Angoras. Frederick D. Nudd of Waterville 486, Mr. Emery of North Anson 379, Mrs. Mary H. Rawlett of Rockland 289, B. W. Palmer of Rockland 114, J. W. Dean of Troy 419, besides many others. Besides this large shipment of Angoras, there are now over 14,860 Angora cats remaining in various sections of Maine. It is estimated that there are only 32,500 Angora cats in all America, compared with several millions of common cats. The number of Angora cats in Maine is gradually diminishing, there being at least 1,000 less each season. 'The demand is so great for them that the farmers cannot keep up with a sufficient supply. Maine people made over $50,000 last year on their cats. This is rather a lucrative business when one stops to think that three years ago but few shipments could be recorded. The express companies are large gainers. " - The Meriden Daily Journal, 17th August 1899, and many others.
MAINE'S ANGORA CATS. BREEDERS SHIP LARGE NUMBERS TO NEW YORK - SUPPLY GIVING OUT. "The business of raising cats for the New York and Philadelphia markets has reached quite large proportions in Maine during the past 12 months. Since July 1, 1898, 6,400 cats of different varieties have been shipped out of the state, many of them going to foreign countries, says a Portland (Me.) dispatch to the New York Times. One concern alone has sent 968 Angoras, and another has disposed of 486, besides other varieties. In addition to these shipments there are more than 1,860 Angoras remaining in the hands of their owners in Maine, and as it is estimated that there are only 32,500 cats of this kind in the United States it can be seen that Maine still has its share. However, the number of Angoras is gradually diminishing each season, showing a loss of at least 1,000. The demand for them is so great that the farmers cannot keep up a sufficient supply. Maine breeders made over $50,000 last year on their cats, some of the felines selling for as much as $50. The stock of coon cats also is giving out in the state, and it will not be long before the fancy breeds will be gone entirely." - The Beatrice Daily Express (Nebraska), 8th September 1899.
In Munsey's Magazine, 1901, Mabel Cornish-Bond differentiated the Maine cats from the Persian cats that were becoming popular as the cat fancy developed in the USA. "CAT RAISING AS A BUSINESS.. . . We are told that there is no real difference between the Angora and the Persian. The Century Dictionary declares them to be identical, . . . The tendency here, at present, is to call them all Persian, either through ignorance, or from a desire to distinguish them from the cats of Maine. The progenitors of these latter were brought to America by old time sea captains who touched at oriental ports. The modern animals are unworthy and degenerate descendants, and one aim of breeders is to eradicate this Maine strain. The name "coon cats," often applied to this class, is physiologically and zoologically a misnomer. Though their long noses and shaggy coats and bushy tails suggest the raccoon, it is merely a coincidence, and there could, of course, he no blood relationship between animals of such widely different families. Whether different species of the same family – as the cat and the lynx - have mated, is not proven. Authorities state that no reversion of type has ever been observed between the domestic and the wild cat, and that the former is not a tamed wild eat, though there are many instances of the domestic cat run wild. The pampas of South America have a wild cat greatly resembling our Maine Angoras, and possibly a similar animal. Every cat run wild takes on a gray coat or tabby markings - nature's means of protecting her from her foes."
Patriotic cat breeders naturally considered their Maine cats to be finer than the imported varieties. "CHICAGO WOMAN SELLS HIGHLY BRED CATS TO AID BABIES. Mrs. E.R. Pierce of Cincinnati, who being intensely and devoted patriotic, believes that there are no finer cats than those of her cherished domestic, or 'Maine,' variety, and who will exhibit a number of these at the Beresford show.' - The Inter Ocean, November 30, 1902
"CAT SHOWS AND CATTERIES. The uninitiated has no idea of the variety of cats bred and valued for their fine qualities. There are Angoras, Persians, Chinchillas, Abyssinian, Australian cats, Manx cats with no tails, little hairless cats from Mexico, cats with blue eyes, yellow eyes; blue, gray, black, orange and tawny cats. They are all gentle, intelligent, sensitive, aristocrats. One of the most valuable kind of cats is the coon cat. This term does not imply that these cats are any cross between the coon or a cat, but they are a species brought to America by the early French settlers of Canada. Thence they were brought to Maine, which is the only part of this country where they are numerous. They feed upon milk, liver and corn and catch mice like any other cat. They need a great deal of fresh air, are nervous and do not care for water. If they take a dislike to anyone they spit and snarl like a wild cat. Persons meeting them in this condition do not care for further acquaintance. Still they can be most tractable and are so beautiful that the Angora must take a back seat when they are neighbors. The difficulty in bringing these cats from Maine by express is that they are liable to die on the way. For this reason transportation companies will only take them at their owner's risk. One man in North Anaen. Maine, raises these pets and asks from $100 a piece up for them, and a few years ago Bar Harbor shipped about 5,000 of them yearly. They are to be seen in every Maine village and enjoy a deserved popularity." - Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette, 21st June, 1903.
The Semi Weekly New Era (Lancaster, Pennsylvania), 25th November 1903 referred to the Maine cat as a degenerate Angora in this cutting:
"THE COON CAT OF MAINE. Every one knows the Pine Tree State, but not every one knows that it occupies a unique niche in feline history. Within its borders may be found not only the Angora, the Persian, the Manx, the Siamese, the Russian, the pure Maltese, the common short hair and. indeed, every variety of domestic cat known to this generation, but also the coon or shag, unknown elsewhere until transported thither from this, his natural habitat. The origin of the coon cat, says an American correspondent of The Ladies' Field, no one knows. and, though one of the earliest and largest of American cat clubs states in its constitution that one of the reasons for its existence is to discover the origin of the coon cat, no light has yet been thrown on the mystery.
The coon cat is usually regarded as a degenerate Angora, descended from cats brought from distant lands in the early days of the State by old sea captains. Others have supposed it to be a cross between the wildcat or Canadian lynx and either the fox or raccoon, but men of science have demolished this theory by proving that crossing of species does not occur in the wild state. Neither is the cat a native of the soil, for such an animal was unknown to the Indian aborigines. No one even knows the origin of the name coon cat, although the animal is considered to be somewhat like a raccoon. His front legs are shorter, in comparison with those of the ordinary domestic cat, than his hind legs. He has a somewhat pointed nose, the unique waddle of the raccoon, the overhanging, shaggy coat. and the long, bushy tail often carried close to the ground, He is sometimes very handsome and usually most affectionate. The very existence of the coon cat has been denied, for there are large sections of Maine where he is not to be found, and some American breeders resent the term 'Maine Angora' which has been adopted as a polite and non-committal way of designating the animal. "
'BIG PROFIT IN CAT FARMS. WOMEN FIND PLEASURE IN RAISING VALUABLE BREEDS. THE cult of the cat is the recent thing in America, but in England fine cats are raised by wealthy amateurs and for sport and by many others for profit. For some time the Maine cat farms have flourished and of late the rearing of these animals for sale has been established in a better and more professional basis in many parts of the country . . . In Turkey the cats are called Angoras; those brought from Asia are called Persian. Cat fanciers usually speak of both as Persian, especially in this country, where it is the preoccupation of breeders to eliminate the Maine "Angora" strain. The Maine cat is not a pure breed, the original stock, brought into the state by roving seamen, having become decidedly mixed, until now they form a species of their own, the name of "Angora cat" seeming to describe them appropriately. They have long noses and shaggy coats, as well as other objectionable points belonging exclusively to short-haired cats. Some beautiful cats are bred in Maine, but they are exceptions and are valueless for breeding purposes.' - The Tacoma Daily News, 5th March 1904
Regardless of the dismissive "degenerate Angora" description and being passed over by the cat fancy which preferred imported Persians, the Maine Angora was still a highly favoured cat and they were still being raised and sold in their hundreds, often commanding high prices for the rarest colours.
"MAINE ANGORA CATS ARE THE BEST OF ALL THE BREED. The Board of Trade is receiving a great number of demands for information regarding Maine angora cats, where to buy them, prices, etc. There is no denying that Maine Angora cats are now the finest in the Country and in fact Maine is the only state where they can seem to be raised successfully. Hundreds upon hundreds of the handsome animals are now shipped out of the state monthly, going to nearly all parts of the civilized world and almost fabulous prices are paid for the rarest breeds. Their price is anywhere from $5 or $10 up into the hundreds but even costly as they are there is a big sale for them. The industry was first started down in the Eastern part of the State and has now spread to several sections, Portland and vicinity having a number of places where these beautiful cats are raised and sold." - Bangor Daily News, 22ND December 1905.
Naturally, when something is popular and expensive, there were people who exploited public demand. The demand for Maine Angoras was no exception as the following 2 cuttings show. One indicates that "any old cat" was shipped to buyers, the other suggests that pet cats were being stolen to fulfil orders.
"CATS AND PIGS ARE BASIS FOR POSTAL FRAUD ORDER. Washington, March 30. - A fraud order, based on cats, pigs and dogs was issued to-day against the Mount Side cattery of Augusta, Me. It is charged that to the maiden ladies of New England there have been sold Just plain, common cats for Angora cats, Guinea fowls for pea fowls, and plain cur puppies for Japanese spaniels. The complaints were not filed by the maiden ladies of New England, at least so far as published at the post office department, but the names of two Philadelphia men are used. 'The cattery'' has been doing business at Waterville and Augusta, Me., and its presiding genius was Chares L. Wakefield of Augusta. Advertisements were inserted frequently in Boston papers to the effect that pure-bred Maine Angora cats would be sold at $3 each, or that, owing to the extreme cold, a choice lot of Japanese spaniel puppies would be disposed of for $2 apiece. When the order, with the cash accompanying it, was received, the inspector states, it would be filled with any old kind of cat or dog that might be available. Once when peafowls were advertised for sale at $5, Guinea fowls were shipped instead, and Wakefield declared, in his answer, that he had bought the Guineas for peafowls. His scheme was adjudged one in violation of postal laws, and the fraud order followed." - St Louis Globe Democrat, 31st March 1907.
"SAYS IT WASN'T AN ANGORA. PHILADELPHIA MAN HAS MADE COMPLAINT - FRAUD ORDER ISSUED AGAINST MT SIDE CATTERY. Washington, March 30 - A fraud order was issued today against the Mt Side cattery, Waterville, Me. The memorandum in this case states that Charles L. Wakefield of Augusta, conducts this business, which is held to be fraudulent. The first complaint came from F. E. Post of Philadelphia. who stated that he saw an advertisement to the effect that upon receipt of $3, the Mt Side cattery would sell a pure Maine Angora cat with kittens. Post said he sent the money and shortly afterward received a common cat, which was sick and died the day after its receipt. Another person complained that the Waterville concern promised to sell Japanese Spaniels cheap, but instead furnished common dogs. When asked for an explanation of his operations. Wakefield stated he bought the cats for pure Angoras and that they were such, but the department authorities suspect that every time he got an order for a cat there was a feline pet missing in the neighborhood of Waterville. The department states that Wakefield was formerly connected with an alleged fraudulent scheme of advertising peafowls for sale and palmed off upon purchasers inferior fowls." - The Boston Globe, 31st March 1907.
However cats with long pedigrees were coming to the fore and the Maine Angora, or simply the Maine cat, started to be seen as a mere domestic cat of mixed ancestry. In "DOGS AND CATS. HOW TO CARE FOR THEM" (The Record Argus, May 1, 1913), Miss Ethel R.B. Champion wrote: "To the public the chief distinction in show cats lies between the two varieties, long haired and short haired, but for the would-be fancier there is much more to learn. Besides the Persian, or long haired variety, there is the Maine, also long haired, but of a very different type and quality to the imported specimens; their fur is usually coarser, face narrower, tail longer and coloring more inclined to be mixed or broken. They are generally considered by the breeders to be more or less mixed short haired varieties, therefore are not nearly so valuable as the cat of known aristocratic lineage, whose pedigree may be traced for many generations on the books of record kept for that purpose."
The name "Maine Angora" was still being used into the 1920s and 1930s, but the Persian and imported Angora had been recognised by the cat fancy and the Maine cats were increasingly seen as mere domestic cats of no specific ancestry. The greater organisation of cat shows meant there were competition classes for Persians and other pedigree cats, but the once popular Maine cat was increasingly relegated to pet classes or overlooked completely. Overshadowed by imported Persians, the home-gown Maine Angoras were largely relegated to the role of pet or barn cat. They had almost vanished from cat shows after 1910 and their decline within the cat fancy was so serious that by the 1950s, the breed was considered extinct.
"CATS. SHORT AND LONG HAIRED, ARE OF MANY BREEDS. First of all there are the two breeds: the long-haired Persian, Russian, Angora, Maine Angora, Blue Carthusian, and so on" [the other breed being the shorthairs] "The cats known as the Maine Angoras are a species that arose in New England years ago, when trading vessels from all parts of the world brought long-haired cats into our ports from the East. As compared with other long-haired cats, Maine cats are apt to have poorer coats and better shaped heads." - Kansas City Star, 14th December 1928.
Cat fanciers finally took a serious interest in the Maine cats in the 1950s. They started recording pedigrees and registered foundation cats based on appearance. In 1965, the first breed standard was created and the "Maine Coon" became a respected pedigree breed. It first achieved breed recognition in 1967 and by 1980, all major American registries recognized the Maine Coon. In 1985, the Maine Coon became the state cat of Maine. In 1953 or 1954, a pregnant female Maine Coon was imported into Austria. In Europe, they were originally known as American Forest Cats. They arrived in Britain in 1984 and recognised by Britain's GCCF in 1988. Their gentle disposition, large size, and adaptability resulted in exploding popularity overseas.