While the Victorian and Edwardian exhibitor would be astounded (or even horrified) at the variety of breeds and colours on the modern show-bench, what about the breeds we missed? A number of unusual breeds are mentioned in early cat fancy literature. Some failed to attract sufficient interest from early cat fanciers. Others were based on hearsay and travellers tales and may never have existed in the form reported in early cat literature. Yet others were cases of mistaken identity (The Madagascar cat) or were mutations that were not perpetuated. Some of these "lost breeds" are known today by a different name although the early descriptions make it difficult to be certain. And yet other varieties, such as the British Tick/Bunny Cat, were absorbed into breeds that existed at the time.

One of the more amusing cases of mistaken identity was that of the "Madagascar Cat" which won the Foreign class at Crystal Palace (around 1900), but which turned out to be a Ringtailed Lemur. At the time, sailors sometimes brought back tame lemurs and called these little primates Madagascar Cats. The farce was reported in general newspapers as well as in the cat magazines of the time - surely a cat judge could tell the difference between a cat and a fruit-eating primate? Defending the decision, the judge (Miss H Cochran) reportedly stated "A lemur is a lemur, but a Madagascar cat is a Madagascar cat". A number of hybrids were also reported, including ones now known to be impossible such as the Civet/Cat hybrid and the Marten/Cat hybrid (the Civet referred to the Viverrine Civet, although the name has sometimes been used for the African Wildcat). There was also ongoing debate about the origins of the Siamese cats, with some enthusiasts insisting that it was descended from a cross between the Bay Cat and a viverrine. There were even early reports of Leopard Cat hybrids, decades before the Bengal was bred.

Although livestock breeders understood how to "fix" mutations by crossing to a more common type and then back-crossing the offspring to the mutant parent, cat fanciers seemed to hold out in the hope of finding a mate of the same type. The most famous loss was probably the original Mexican Hairless Cat, a breed that could have been saved. It would be some 60 years, and several missed opportunities, before the hairless type was re-established. Although we associate Peke-faced cats with the American Peke-faced Red Persian of the 1980s, a similar mutation was reported much earlier.

Lemurs and civets notwithstanding, imagine what might be on the modern show-bench had the following varieties attracted enough serious interest!

Details of lost breeds, along with more recent lost breeds, can be found at Lost Breeds


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