LONGHAIRS OF THE 19TH CENTURY - MAINE CAT
Maine Cats (Harrison Weir 1889)
In his 1889 book "Our Cats and All About Them", Harrison Weir included this description of Maine Cats
Among the numerous letters I have received from America is one from Mrs. Mary A. C. Livermore, of Cambridge, Mass., U.S.A., who writes: "I have just come possessed of a black long-haired Cat from Maine. It is 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.' Mine is a rusty bear-brown colour, but his relatives have been black and white, blue and white, and fawn and white, the latter the gentlest, prettiest Cat I know. His tail is very bushy and a fine ruff adorns his neck. A friend of mine has a pair of these Cats, all black, and the female consorts with no one but her mate. Yet often she has in her litter a common short-haired kitten."
Since the above reached me, I have received from another correspondent in the United States a very beautiful photograph of what is termed a "Coon" Cat. It certainly differs much from the ordinary long-haired Cat in appearance; but as to its being a cross with the Racoon, such a supposition is totally out of the question, and the idea cannot be entertained. The photographs sent to me show that the ears are unusually large, the head long, the length being in excess from the eyes to the tip of the nose, the legs and feet are large and evenly covered with long, somewhat coarse hair, the latter being devoid of tufts between and at the extremity of the toes; there are no long hairs of any consequence either within the ears or at their apex. The frill or mane is considerable, as is the length of the hair covering the body; the tail is rather short and somewhat thick, well covered with hair of equal length, and in shape like a fox's brush. The eyes are large, round, and full, with a wild staring expression. Certainly, the breed, however it may be obtained, is most interesting to the Cat naturalist, and the colour, as before stated, being peculiar, must of course attract his attention independently of its general appearance.
Since the above was written, I have received the following from Mr. Henry Brooker, The Elms, West Midford, Massachusetts, United States of America. After asking for information respecting Cats of certain breeds, he says: "I have had for a number of years a peculiar strain of long-haired Cats; they come from the islands off the coast of Maine, and are known in this country as 'Coon' Cats. The belief is that they have been crossed with the 'Coon.' This, of course, is untrue. The inhabitants of these islands are seafaring people, and many years ago some one on his vessel had a pair of long-haired Cats from which the strain has sprung. There are few short-haired cats on the island as there is no communication with the mainland except by boat. I want to improve my strain and get finer hair than the Cats now have. Yellow Cats are the most popular kind here, and I have succeeded in producing Cats of a rich mahogany colour with brushes like a fox. They hunt in the fields with me, and my Scotch terriers and they are on the most friendly terms." This, as a corroboration of the foregoing letters and the photographs, is, I take it, eminently satisfactory.
COON CATS. A correspondent of Science tells of seeing in a private house in Chicago recently two cats which the owners called “coon cats.” They had been obtained in the edge of the forest around Moosehead lake, and it was claimed that they were hybrids or descendants of hybrids of the domestic cat and the raccoon. They were larger than the ordinary house cat, had very coonlike countenances and bushy coonlike tails that were always extended. One had the habit of ascending something high and resting stretched out, and their motions when in a little hurry were a coonlike gallop. - The Lowell Sun, November 25, 1893.
A PAIR OF RARE CATS - The Saint Paul Globe – Nov 8th, 1893
From the Albany Express. Stephen Schreiber has two beautiful specimens of coon cats, brought from the interior of Main. The cats are peculiar in that the female is pure white and has a large, bushy tail, resembling that of a coon. The males is a big fellow, marked with dark colors and having large eyes and heavy tufts of hair on his cheeks, which stand out quite prominently. The species is very rare and seldom seen in this part of the country. The male is about one year old and the female only about six months. They are very docile and friendly, but when they engage in a contest with ordinary domestic cats the latter have but little show. The male measures fully three and a half feet from tip to tip and weighs about fourteen pounds.
Maine Cats (Maine Coons) from the 1800s to 1903 (Mrs F R Pierce)
In her 1903 book, Simpson (a lover of longhairs) included a history of the Maine Cat provided by American breeder Mrs F R Pierce. At that time, the Maine cat was not recognised in the UK, but was known and shown in the USA. (This section is greatly summarised as Pierce tended to ramble!)
From my earliest recollection I have had from one to several long-haired cats of that variety often called Maine cats. As to how and when they came, I would say, like Topsy, they just "growed," for their advent reaches far back beyond the memory of the oldest inhabitant. Our own family circle was never complete without one or more cats - not always longhaired, but that variety always held the place of honour. As early as 1861 my younger brother and myself owned jointly a beautiful long-haired black pointed with white ; he bore up for several years under the remarkable name of "Captain Jenks of the horse Marines.'' I have no recollection of his earlier history or advent. I fancy, however, that these cats came into Maine much in the same way and about the same time that they did in England.
The Maine people having had them so long, it is difficult to arouse any great enthusiasm about them there. They are much like other people - they go into heroics over things they know less about. Not until the craze for long-haired cats struck the West did they think much about selling cats; their very best would be given to their dearest friends. When I think of the number of beauties that I have had given me on my return visits because I would be good to them, it makes me wish for the good old times when the little dears were beyond price in "filthy lucre.''
I think the first really important development of the cat fancy that took deep and lasting root in me occurred in 1869, when I saw for the first time a pair of blue-eyed white Persian kittens that landed, to say the least, free of duty, in a sailmaker's pocket, from a foreign vessel, which put into a seaport town for repairs after a severe storm. This Mr. P----, being a great lover of cats, while on board the vessel making repairs, admired a beautiful white Persian cat with a family of kittens, belonging to the cook, who gave him a pair of them. They grew and were nursed with tenderest care, the female developing much the better quality in hair ; but females were not highly prized at that time. They were both kept two or three years to get a good male for a gelding. I was told that they destroyed all the female kittens but at last they were rewarded, and then the original pair were sent to a relative in the country. From that time on long-haired blue-eyed white kittens sprang up in most unexpected places. At intervals they have appeared and almost disappeared several times for want of care in breeding, but with this drawback they will still frequently come forth in the same fine type.
I owned a very fine specimen called "Dot," who became a noted winner, and who came from this strain about eleven years after the kittens landed. I think he was quite as good a specimen of Persian as the one that came from the original kittens. They were both cat show winners at the same time, although "Baba'' (or "Babie'') was in his dotage when "Dot" was in his prime. We were not thinking of pedigrees then, but merely who had the best cat. "Baba" at that time belonged to Mrs. Mason (formerly Mrs. Philbrook), and won the cup over everything in the Boston show. "Dot" was not at the Boston show, but won first in his class at Bangor, Maine, which was held at about the same time. "Dot" was sent to the Bangor show to please Mr. Robinson, owner of "Richelieu,'' who had the management of it, and without the slightest thought of winning. He brought home a gorgeous silver butter-dish, elaborately inscribed, which sat about at least ten years before being given to the cook. Oh, that I had it now, that its picture might grace these pages!
For intelligence and affection "Dot'' was by far the superior cat. I have never seen his equal. .Although deaf, his other senses were so keen that we hardly realised he did not hear. He would answer to the slightest beckon, and was always watching for a call. He was quite proud of his beauty, and never failed at his mistress's receptions to speak to each person present before taking his seat in the window. At one time some office girls who passed our house every day on the way to their work told me he was usually on the gate-post at seven o'clock in the morning to salute them and wave his plume to them. Each one stroked his head, said "Pretty kitty!" and passed on. He then took his morning roll on the lawn, and was ready for his breakfast.
His benevolence and tender feeling for cats of 1ow degree was displayed by his keeping a cat two winters ; his protégé was an example of the sad-eyed forlorn cat (one sad eye, the other closed beyond repair) ; spirit completely broken by neglect. As soon as the weather became cool, "Dot" would usher his sad friend into the kitchen every morning and ask for breakfast for him, then sit back on the rug the while, and with utmost satisfaction - expressed in song - watch the tramp cat eat it. Where he kept his friend when he was not eating we knew not ; he was invisible.
He also excelled as a traveller, making several short journeys. When with me he scorned a basket, much preferring to sit on the seat and look out of the window and incidentally entertain the other passengers by his unusual privileges in cat travelling. He developed an unusual taste for moisture, often sitting on a garden bench through a heavy shower, while his frolics in a light snowfall were most entertaining. Taking him all in all, I have not yet seen a finer pet cat. We sent him to rest in the happy hunting grounds at the age of ten years.
I would like to say a few words here in regard to American cat shows. We are continually hearing it stated or seeing it written by the clubs and those who are new to the fancy, "The first cat show ever held in this country," and so forth, was, we will say, according to their light, some three years ago. That is true so far as clubs go, but large cat shows were help spasmodically in all the large and some small eastern cities as far back as the 'seventies.
I have a photograph of "Richelieu," owned by Mr. Robinson, of Bangor, Maine, who had won first in his class at Boston, New York, and Philadelphia previous to 1884, when he was shown at Bangor, Maine, in a limited show of the one hundred best cats. He was a silver or bluish tabby, very lightly marked ; about seven years old at the time ; weight about twenty pounds ; he was, as his picture shows, rather a coarse-grained variety ; a drug store cat. I know nothing of his early history ; but his owner had the cat fad - a well-developed case - and travelled from city to city to show his cat, much as we are all doing now twenty years later. At that time Maine, near the coast, was rich in fine specimens of the long-haired cats. That was before they began to sell. I have in mind their brown tabbies.
We often hear it said by people who know them not that the Maine cats are unhealthy, that they have worms ; and I have to admit it, and that they sometimes die like other cats ; but here is one that didn't until he had rounded out his full seventeen years. On page 329 is a picture of "Leo," brown tabby, born 1884, died 1901 ; presented to Mrs. Persis Bodwell Martin, of Augusta, Maine, by Mrs. E. R. Pierce, when he was six months old. He lived a life of luxury and ease, having his meals served by his mistress's own hand in the upper hall, where he chose to spend his time for the later years of his life. If I may be permitted, I would ask comparison between the picture of "Leo" and any thoroughbred brown tabby - first, colour of muzzle, length of nose, size and shape of eyes, breadth of forehead, size of ears, length of hair in the ears, and on the head. In body markings "Leo" would fall off, as his hair was so extremely long that the markings became somewhat confused.
They have had some extremely fine brown tabbies in Maine. In the summer of 1900 I bought "Maxine" there - the mother of "Young Hamlet,'' who won over his sire "Prince Rupert" the first year he was shown. She was, or is, very much the type of the "King Humbert" stock, though she has no pedigree whatever. It is one of Nature's own secrets how they keep bringing forth - now and then, not always - these fine types.
I have before me a most interesting letter from a Maine lady, one of my contemporaries. I will first explain that Maine at that time was one of the largest ship-building States in the union, residents of the seaport towns and cities being often misters of their own floating palaces, taking their families with them to foreign countries, and having in many towns quite social sets, like the army set or official set in other sections. Mrs. Thomas, to whose letter I refer, was the daughter of the late Captain Stackpole, who commanded his own ship for many years, taking his wife and little daughter with him. That was before our Civil War. She says: -
"I was always very fond of cats before they had to have a pedigree. In my younger days, en route for California, we stopped at Juan Fernandez, and I got a little wild cat. Later on, when in Europe, I got a Manx cat from the Isle of Man ; it was a great curiosity, and not considered very handsome, with its bob-tail, and hind legs so much longer than the front ones. It came to an untimely end by running up a flue, and was smothered to death. The wild cat did not flourish on condensed milk, and lived but a short time. Bad luck has followed me right along, but I keep right on like an old toper, and don't know enough to stop."
In writing of her own cat, the mother of "Swampscott,'' she says: "I cannot tell you much about my cat's pedigree - only that her great-grandfather was brought to Rockport, Maine, from France ; he was a blue-eyed white.'' This line of whites, while in the same locality, are quite distinct and unrelated to the first whites mentioned, of which "Dot" was given as a type. But her reference to her early exploits with Manx cats clears the air as to how these different varieties first got root in Maine. This instance is only one in many where pets of every variety were bought in foreign ports to amuse the children on shipboard ; otherwise, as in one case I can call to mind, the children would make pets of the live stock carried to supply the captain's table with fresh meals - chickens, lambs, etc. - until it would be impossible to eat the little dears after they were served by the cruel cook.
Therefore birds of plumage and singers, cats, dogs, and even monkeys, found their way to nearly all the coast towns - many more in the past than at this time, when sailing vessels have passed their usefulness as money-making institutions, and those that do go out are not commanded by their owners ; paid captains, as a rule, cannot take their families with them, and the supply of cats from that source has been cut off for many years, so those we find there now can safely be called natives.
Up to this point I have been writing of the cats of the long, long ago, and perhaps only interesting to myself, being as full of pain facts as Gradgrind. Before coming down to some of the fine cats of the present day, I will say that I am told by an eye-witness that on a little island quite well off the coast which is inhabited by only three families, and where a few gentlemen have a quiet nook to fish in summer, they found pure white Persian cats with the most heavenly-blue eyes. So far as is known, no other cats are on the island. I had the promise of a pair last year, but cruel fate had visited them in their sheltered nook, and the kittens that year died. The promise still holds good, and I do not want to believe it a "fish story.'' Time alone can finish it.
I really know nothing of the cats that are said to be found on the islands ; but no doubt they are much the same as those found all along the New England coast. For a long time the long-haired cats seemed to be confined mostly to the coast towns and cities ; but the giving their best to "their sisters and their cousins and their aunts" have spread them inland, as well as scattered them over nearly every State in the Union. They thrive as well as any other long-haired cat. No doubt they do still better in Maine, but the difference comes from the fact that they have the freedom of living a natural life, without dopes or over-coddling. Their offspring are beautiful, because they are from their own choosing, and not from compulsory mating - often distasteful, no doubt.
About 1895 or 1896 the cat fad struck the Middle West. The time was ripe for its development. The high, the low, the rich, the poor have all felt its force, as the real love of animal pets is no respecter of persons, and this fancy has made the whole world kin. A few people who had never seen a cat show in their native land "go across," attend a cat show, or pick up a cat at a bargain on the streets of London ; They "fetch" it home, and, lo! their neighbour has seen something very like it while at their summer home on the coast of Maine. The fad is contagious, and if they have the fever running very high they send back east to their "handy-man" to get them a long-haired cat, and these cats become popular. Clubs are formed to discuss points and exchange knowledge, shows become a necessity, large premiums are offered, numerous valuable specials become a feature, cats must be found to fit them, the home market at a low figure is looked over, many Attic treasures are brought out, and have often tipped the scales in favour of the Yankee cat. We all turn green with envy. Before another show we must import a ready-made winner at any cost! In the meantime, the demand for the home-grown article is increasing, and prices are getting much inflated, the dealers in large cities keeping their buyers busy in the New England field during the fall and winter months. But the stock of kittens has been looked over by the summer residents or visitors ; the real cream disappeared with the first frost to some winter homes in the big cities ; the dealers get what is left at almost any price they please to pay, many of the specimens being indifferent, and some, no doubt, mongrels.
In the last few years I have known less of the Maine cats, except through the shows and a few that I have owned myself, which have not been shown much or proved remarkable in any way ; but among the gems that have shown out with more or less brilliancy when on the bench we find "Cosie,'' a brown tabby, taking first and special for best cat in show in New York, 1895. Mrs. Lambert brings out "Patrique" in New York in 1896 - blue, and a nice one. "King Max" - first brought out by Mrs. Taylor - won in Boston first in 1897-98 99, only to be beaten by his sire "Donald" in 1900. Mrs. Mix has shown a fine Persian type from Maine called the "Dairy Maid." I believe she has also "Imogene," from the same place - a tortoiseshell.
Mrs. Julius Copperberg's "Petronius," of whom we all expected great things, was from a line of creams coming well down from a fine cream brought from some Mediterranean port by one Captain Condon about fifteen years ago. I have secured for friends several kittens from his cat's descendants, which are now somewhat scattered, but all showing great strength, form, bone, and sinew. Mrs. Chapman's "Cusie Maxine" - a fine type of brown tabby, dam of "Young Hamlet," who won over his sire "Prince Rupert" - was also a Maine cat. Mr. Jones, of The Cat Journal, has from time to time had some fine brown tabbies of the Maine stock, winners at some of the larger shows.
A fair representative of the whites, who has acquitted himself well at the various shows in competition with large classes, is "Swampscott,'' owned by Mrs. F. E. Smith, of Chicago. He comes from Mrs. Georgia Thomas's white cats at Camden, Maine, his maternal great-grandsire coming from France. "Midnight" - a younger black cat, winning second it Cincinnati to a cat from New Hampshire in better coat, and second in Chicago in 1901 in large classes - has since become a gelding and pet of Mrs. J. J. Hooker, of Cincinnati. He comes from a line of blacks owned by a retired sea-captain named Ryan, who had at one time four generations of black cats. They loved their cats like babies, and for years looked for people suitable to give their kittens to. I have been the flattered recipient three times in the last dozen years of these beautiful black diamonds.
"Antonio,'' a gelding, now owned by Mrs. A. B. Thrasher, of Cincinnati, Ohio, is also a fine representative of this stock. See photograph. In the last few years, since cats there are at such a premium and old age getting nearer every day, these good people have hardened their hearts, and now sell like others to the highest bidder. I can also think of "Peter the Great," a neuter cream and white, owned by Mrs. Carl Schmidt, shown at Detroit, Michigan, 1901. Also "Black Patti" - originally owned by Miss Ives - and "Rufus," both Maine cats, now owned in Detroit, and winners in some of the Middle West shows ; and many, many other winners whose place of nativity is a sacred secret with their owners, which we will not wilfully expose to public gaze until our native cats have been accorded the place that is due to them.
I would like to tell you of some of the handsome geldings in Maine. No cat is too good for a pet with them. They may be seen on nearly every lawn or stoop ; but as that is a little out of the province of this story I will only describe one - a beautiful smoke owned by Dr. and Mrs. E. A. Wilson at their beautiful home in Belfast, Maine. He is now ten years old ; his mask and feet are black, or nearly so ; his hair is very dark, rather brownish at the tip, but as white as snow at the skin. I have begged them to show him at Boston or New York. The answer is always the same: "Not for any amount of money or prizes. 'Tags' wouldn't like it ; he would be unhappy. Wouldn't you, 'Tagsie'?
The smokes have not been well developed there yet. In a letter lately received in regard to that variety, I am told that one of the regular agents said he found only about one in 200. The silvers and chinchillas are not common. The strong coloured predominate, whites, blacks, blues, orange, and creams, tabbies also being well divided and distributed along the coast, and for quite a distance back, perhaps sixty miles or more ; but I have not known of their appearing to any extent in the northern portion of the State, which is less thickly settled.
Having had this fancy from my infancy and before it became a fashion, I took kindly to all the new developments. I have since had some experience with imported and kennelbred cats, and from time to time had opportunities of seeing the best we have in our shows, and I fully believe that cats that have their freedom, as most of the Maine cats have for the greater part of their lives, are healthier than kennel cats can be. The cool climate and long winters, with clean air full of ozone, is what is needed to develop their best qualities, and, with a few years of careful breeding for types, they would be able to compete quite successfully in an international cat show.
Note: It was to be many years before Maine Coons were fully established as a breed in the USA and even longer before they arrived in Britain. With the Persian already established in Britain in 1903, there was little incentive to import Maine Cats as a separate breed. The various longhairs - Angora, Russian Longhair and Persian Longhair - had been judged against each other and interbred; the Persian had become the preferred type and the Maine Cat would, in all likelihood, have lost out to the established Persian type.
A Coon Cat - The Indianapolis News, November 30, 1895.
Girls Who Have Spent Summers in New England Have Brought Them Out. Philadelphia. The rich spoils that Philadelphians bring back with them from their summer visit to New England include no more charming an article that the so-called coon cat. The New England coon cat is really a hybrid between the common cat and the Angora or Persian cat, which the seafaring men of all the New England coast cities in times past were in the habit of making part of their home cargo.
This “coon cat” is a most beautiful long-furred maltese type. Far from being wild, the “coon cats” are the most angelic little beasts imaginable. Their structure is far more delicate than the ordinary common cat, and as their long, fluffy air conceals the frailness of their body most people who pick them up for the first time are amazed, as the sensation is that of picking up the downiest of muffs hung upon the most delicate of wire framework. This Vermont cat, which now resides in Spruce street, represents the type at its best.
It is a relief to know that women pick their pets from the feline instead of the canine world. It is a much prettier sight to see a cat with a ribbon round its neck purring in the lap of a daintily-gowned woman than a snarling, shaven poodle. There are few fads that women have taken up as objectionable to the sterner sex as this adoption of the lap-dog, but with the little cat comes the suggestion of a warm hearth on a winter’s night, of home life and a womanly woman.
Maine Coons (Mrs F R Pierce)
"In May of 1895, when the most famous and largest of the early shows was held at Madison Square Garden in New York. The show was won hands down, first place and best of show by a brown tabby female Maine Cat named Cosie. It must have been a spectacular show, numbering 176 animals in all and including two ocelots, two wildcats, and three civet cats." Mrs. Fred Brown's Cosey (the correct spelling of the name) had been named Best in Show in the first major show in the United States. Cosey’s prize was a silver collar and medal made by Whiting Mfg. Co., (a contemporary of Tiffany's). Cosey was later exhibited at a show in New York City.
FLUFFY MAINE COON CATS - The Daily Republican, 19th October, 1897
Cat-loving visitors to Maine are sure to bring back to their homes in other States the pretty, fluffy, little coon cats for which Maine has a reputation. Some of these animals in their normal condition are very little different in appearance from the ordinary cat, but in the presence of her enemy, the dog, all the long, soft hair of Miss Kitty Coon stands on end, and she swells visibly until she has a barrel-like appearance. A bandbox with air holes, if seen on a Maine train, is almost sure to be the traveling home of one of Maine’s feline products.
THE MAINE CAT INDUSTRY – The Wilmington Messenger, September 10, 1899
[Note: The term “Angora” was used to mean any longhair cat, so many of the “Angoras” shipped from Maine were Maine Coon cats] The Massachusetts Ploughman, which has been studying up the Maine cat industry, learns that there were larger shipments of cats from Maine the past year than for any season previous, over 6,500 cats having been shipped out of the state to all parts of the United States and 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. Ranlett, of Rockland, 280; E. W. Palmer, of Rockland, 114; J. W. Dean, of Troy, 419; besides many others. Besides this large shipment of Angoras, there are now over 1,860 Angora cats remaining in the hands of dealers in various sections of Maine. It is estimated that there are only 32,500 Angora cats in all America, compared with a several million of the 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 then farmers cannot keep up with a sufficient supply. Maine people made over $50,000 last year on their cats. Just think of this when tempted to throw a bootjack at serenading Tommy.
MAINE’S NOVEL ENTERPRISE – The Saint Paul Globe, 19th August, 1900
(Excerpt) For some years old Dirigo has gloried in two coon cat incubators, one in Belfast and the other in Rockland, where fashionable felines have been turned out on schedule time for the moneyed homes of the hub and metropolitan centers.
Maine Cat (1900, Helen Winslow)
There is in this country a variety known as the "coon cat," which is handsome, especially in the solid black. Its native home is in Maine, and it is thought by many to have originated with the ordinary cat and the raccoon. It grows somewhat larger than the ordinary cat, with thick, woolly fur and an extremely bushy tail. It is fond of outdoor life, and when kept as a pet must be allowed to run out of doors or it is apt to become so savage and disagree-able that nothing can be done with it. When it is allowed its freedom, however, it becomes affectionate, intelligent, and is usually a handsome cat.
Rare Coon Cats In Minneapolis - The Minneapolis Journal, Saturday, April 6th, 1901
“Coon cat” is almost an unknown term in Minneapolis except to those who claim the state of Maine as a birthplace, and to those who are fortunate enough to own such a cat. As far as the cat census shows the only Minneapolitans who own coon cats are James G. Blaine, Fendall G. Winston, S. C. Tooker, Miss Mary Chute, Rufus Lane and H. B. Merrick. John P. Kelly of St. Paul is also the happy possessor of one of this beautiful brand of house pets. Mr. Blaine has a male cat, a female, and four kittens. The other coon cats owned in the city have at some time been members of the cat family which Mr. Blaine owns. Mr. Blaine has given no kittens away except to people who, assured him that they were fond of animals and would give them the best of attention and a good home. They require considerable watching, for their scarcity makes them valuable and they have to be kept out of the clutches of the light lingered gentry.
The term coon cats does not imply in any way that these cats are any more edible than the ordinary house cat; neither are they a cross between a coon and a cat, as generally believed. They are a species of cat brought to America by the early French settlers of Canada. Thence they were brought to Maine which is the only part of the United States where they are numerous.
They feed upon milk, liver, potatoes, corn, and catch mice much as any cat would do. They are not fond of water, are playful and have very nervous dispositions. If they are shut up in a box they crouch down and then stretch out. These cats require a great deal of fresh air and are best kept in a barn. When they dislike anyone they spit and growl like a wild cat. Their appearance is such on these occasions that they frighten even men away and at times they have been taken for polecats because of their shape and the breadth of tail. Persons meeting them under misapprehension often beat a swift retreat to a place of safety. Yet they are most tractable and are really prized over other cats on account of their beauty. The angora must take a back seat in a contest with the coon cat for points in a beauty show.
Mr. Blaine’s male cat is 3 years old and weighs fifteen pounds. He is a tiger cat with stripes around his body from head to tail tip. He looks fierce, has long, terrifying whiskers. His eyes are big like a tiger’s; at night they become perfectly round. The male is much handsomer than his consort. The fur lies smooth. The cheek bones are higher than those of the ordinary cat. The face is flat. The tail is very bushy and broad. The claws are very sharp like those in a racoon's feet. The hind leg between the knee and the foot resembles that of a fox. The kittens come twice a year, are very small at birth and with their spike tails resembles a small rat.
The difficulty in bringing these cats from Maine by express is that they are liable to die from nervousness on the way. The transportation companies take them at the owner's risk. A man in North Anson, Me., is in the business of raising this particular kind of pet. They are worth from $5 to $100 apiece and the supply does not meet the demand. The popularity is shown from the fact that one firm shipped from Bar Harbor nearly 3,000 in 1899. Ignorance in regard to coon cats is not understood in Maine where one will find several in every village.
MYTH OF THE COON CAT - Popular Superstition That is Based on Common Phenomenon. The Tennessean, December 22, 1901
The assistant curator of mammals receives more downright nonsense in a day, perhaps, than all the other curators of the National Museum put together, says the Washington Post. Letters from all parts of the country concerning grotesque wonders und requesting information on absurd questions pour into his office in such number that for some time past he has urged, in all seriousness, the publication by the Government of a book or bulletin dealing with popular fallacies.
The worst of all these absurd beliefs is the “coon-cat” idea. At least four-fifths of the people of the United States are ignorant of the fact that it is impossible to obtain hybrids, or cross-breeds, other than by mating animals of different varieties, but of the same genera. Thousands of people are in ignorance, of the importation of Persian cats. Now, in crossing the Persian or Angora cat with the common variety an offspring is, from time to time, produced inheriting the long, silky hair of the Persian, but with color and markings strikingly like those of the raccoon, even to the alternating black and gray rings above the tail. Ignorant people have seen these cats and have jumped at the conclusion that they are the result of a cross between the cat and the raccoon, a thing clearly impossible, in view of the fact that, the latter animal belongs to the Ursidae, or bear, and not to the felidae, or cat, family; and, while the country is steeped in ignorance of the Persian cat, the fame of the miraculous “coon-cat” has gone far and wide over the land.
Every now and then an advertisement appears where some one is seeking a “coon cat,” and letters by the dozen reach the assistant curator from people anxious to know where they can procure a coon cat. Quite recently a wealthy merchant in a Western city (not a town, but a large city) kept an advertisement of this sort running for six weeks, until he finally secured a “coon cat," which he kept In his store for several days as a “genyouwine kew-rosity” for his customers to gaze upon and wonder at. Then he gave it to his daughter, who showed it to her friends, and started a “coon cat” craze.
The assistant curator attended the last cat show held in Boston, and his feelings may be imagined better than described, to witness one of these cats in a large cage, bearing the following legend In flaming letters: “Genuine Coon Cat Hybrid Of Raccoon and Domestic Cat. Only specimen in the United States, etc.” This In Boston, the Hub, the center of learning and culture.
If North Carolina heads the list in the production of bogus Indian antiquities, then Maine ranks first in the production of varied and diversified cats. A land of spinsters, it is also a rendezvous for cats, and the people of that State enjoy the distinction of having imported the first Persian cats to reach this country. The Maine cat farmers soon took advantage of the “coon cat” fallacy to supply the demand, and advertisements for such animals are soon answered by enterprising cat fanciers in Portland and Bangor, who “warrant the specimen part coon and part cat.” The Western merchant referred to in the foregoing paid $150 to a Maine cat man for what he in his ignorance took to be a monster, whereas $2 spent on the proper literature would have saved him $l25 at least. To the intelligent person who knows that such cats are merely the peculiarly marked offspring of Persian with common cats, the dealer would have sold the same animal for $5, but none of them Is going to enlighten the public mind by dispelling a fallacy as popular as the “coon cat" idea.