Cats in the Enlightenment (Part 8 – Katterfelto the Conjurer)

Gustavus KatterfeltoThe evil mantle that the cat had procured through history from the Greeks and early Christians was exploited and manipulated into a source of individual profit for a Prussian magician, Katterfelto (1743-1799).  In order to entice crowds to his show, he used a “Famous Moroccan Black Cat” in his act, which he advertised as “evil”.  After luring in the gullible audience, he confessed that the cat was as innocent of evil as himself.  Katterfelto said that his cat “…so much excited the attention of the public, as to induce several gentlemen to make bets respecting its TAIL, as by the wonderful skill of Katterfelto she in one moment appears with a big tail and the next without any, to the utter astonishment of the spectators.” (Paton-Williams, 2008, p 81)  

One of Katterfelto’s advertisements read:

“Wonders! Wonders! Wonders!

Are to be seen by Katterfelto and his Black cat, worth 30,000 pounds, let out of the bag by the Philosopher himself, who has discovered a secret more valuable and astounding than the Philosopher’s Stone, the art of extracting god from the body of the cat.”† 

One news announcement written about his fabulous cat, reads  “…his celebrated Black Cat, who has nine times more excellent properties than any nine cats among those nine-lived animals, was safely delivered of NINE kittens, seven of which are black and two are white.” Katterfelto’s cat became so popular that royalty eagerly awaited the ownership of one of the kittens.  Marie Antoinette was even rumored to have received one of these special kittens in 1783 (Paton-Williams, 2008 p.84). With the kittens he kept, Katterfelto made good use.   “…one of the gentlemen present asked the Doctor what he had done with his black cat and kittens; the Doctor, to great surprise of the whole company conveyed one of the kittens into the Welsh gentleman’s waistcoat pocket at 6 yards distance, purposely to make that gentleman believe he was the Devil.” (Ibid. p. 87)  That he chose to keep “conveying the cats into people’s pockets taking money and watches out of them, as well as stopping and starting these time pieces were some of Katterfelto’s favorite tricks.” (Ibid. p.88)      


† A reference to the cat being a goddess in ancient Egypt.  



Paton-Williams, David. (2008). Katterfelto: prince of puff. Troubadour Publishing Ltd.


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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