Cats in the 19th Century (Part 2 – First Cat Show)

Society as a whole began to change because of the taming and acceptance of domestic pets, and with it came many firsts.  The first public aquarium opened in London in 1875.  The first cat show was held in London’s Crystal Palace in 1871, and in 1895 New York’s Madison Square Garden welcomed the first national cat show in the United States. 

First Cat Show Crystal Palace London 1871

First Cat Show
Crystal Palace London


On July 13th, 1871, only 65 felinesGrand cat show 1883, cats in history were exhibited at the Crystal Palace in Sydenham, London according to the excerpt below even though later accounts estimate over 150 felines participated.  Below various papers reported the auspicious event. 

“CAT SHOW AT THE CRYSTAL PALACE. Twenty-five years ago, Mr Fred Wilson (Superintendent of the natural history department) had the happy idea of organising a Cat Show at the Crystal Palace. In this early exhibition only sixty-five animals were shown; but such was the novelty that immediate popularity was attained, and from that day to this the Show, under the auspices of the Crystal Palace Company and the National Cat Club, has gone on increasing, until yesterday about six hundred of these domestic pats were ranged before judges for inspection. It has, indeed, been found necessary to amalgamate several classes, and to put certain checks upon the entries, in order that the works of judging might be brought within reasonable limits.”( London Standard, 18th October 1893, page 6)


“THE CAT SHOW AT THE CRYSTAL PALACE… Over 150 specimens have been sent in, although the entrance fee is 3s. 6d., but then it must be recollected the directors of the Crystal Palace Company have held out the inducement of nigh £70 in prizes. Mr F. W. Wilson, the superintendent of the natural history department, has to a great extent been instrumental in collecting so large a congregation of cats, and heaps of difficulty he had in many instances to overcome the objections of fair ladies to part even temporarily with Pussy.” (Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 20th July 1871, page 5)  Harrison Weir is not mentioned here although he actually had a large part in organizing and initiating the first cat show at the Crystal Palace.

“CAT SHOW AT THE CRYSTAL PALACE. The fourth National Cat Show at the Palace was opened yesterday afternoon for private view, and also for the awarding of prizes by the judges. This show, which will be thrown open to the public to-day, and again on Monday and Tuesday is the largest that has yet been held here, or indeed anywhere else in the country, there being 300 entries, which include, with kittens, no less that about 370 specimens of the domesticated feline race. Although exhibitions of cats on so extensive a scale may be said to have chiefly originated with Mr. Harrison Weir, the artist, and Mr. F. W. Wilson, of the Natural History Department at the Crystal Palace, yet the credit of the idea should be given to the Baroness Burdett Coutts, the Duchess of Sutherland, and a few other ladies, who, with a view to encourage the humbler classes to take an interest in and treat with kindness poor Puss, had previously given rewards for the best specimens of cats bred by working men.”(Morning Post 26 October 1872, page 5)

 “CAT SHOW AT THE CRYSTAL PALACE. The first Championship Show held under the auspices of the National Cat Club was opened yesterday at the Crystal Palace. The club, which contains many distinguished members, some time ago appointed a special Show Committee, consisting of Lady Marcus Beresford, Mrs Balding, Mr. S. Woodiwiss, Mr. Hawkins, and Mr. Gresham, and every effort was made to render the exhibition a great success. The services of Mr. Harrison Weir, Mr. Louise Wain, Mrs Vallance, Mrs Bridewater, and Messrs. Welburn, Billett, and Jennings were secured as judges.” (Morning Post 14 October 1896, page 3)


Francis Simpson and Louis Wain Judging at the Crystal Palace 1871 first cat show

Francis Simpson and Louis Wain
Judging at first Crystal Palace Cat Show


In 1895 a brown tabby named Cosy won the first American national cat show at Madison Square Garden, New York. “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 (sic). It must have been a spectacular show, numbering 176 animals in all and including two ocelots, two wildcats, and three civet cats.” (Hornidge, 2002) 

Cosey 1895 winner first cat show



Edna B. Doughty and Louise Grogan with their Persians at a cat show in Washington, DC 1920's

Edna B. Doughty and Louise Grogan with their Persians at a cat show in Washington, DC 1920’s



Hornidge, Marilis. (2002) That Yankee Cat. Tilbury House Publishers


Want to know more about the cat in literature, art and history? Then Revered and Reviled is the book for  you. Now available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. 

Revered and Reviled: A Complete History of the Domestic Cat, cat history, cats

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