SHORTHAIRED CATS OF THE 19TH CENTURY - MALTESE OR AMERICAN BLUE

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.'"

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