COSEY (c 1893)
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The story of 'COSEY' will forever be enigmatically linked with her historic win as Best Longhaired Cat in Show, 'irrespective of class'1, at the first National Cat Show, held at Madison Square Garden, New York, in May 1895.
However, like all achievements, they must be seen in historical context. The first National Cat Show at Madison Square Garden, was not the first National Cat Show in the United States, nor was it necessarily the biggest. Boston, another east coast port city, was also a significant centre for Cat Shows and there is empirical evidence to show that this was where the first American cat shows styled as 'National Cat Shows' were held. The Boston shows of 1878 and 1880, were both styled as 'National Cat Shows' and we could endlessly debate what in fact constitutes the criteria upon which such an accolade or title is based. In the simplest terms, it is any show open to entries from the entire country, plain and simple. So, in fact, the shows from both these great cities were National Cat Shows in the simplest understanding of the term.
The same was the case in Britain, where, as one might expect, the first and subsequent cat shows to follow the Crystal Palace Show of July 1871, were likewise styled as National Cat Shows. But even as early as 1873, a show held in Birmingham was likewise styled as the "Birmingham & National Cat Show', held at the Old Wharf, Bread Street Corner12.
Nevertheless, this does not take away from the fact that the Cat Show held at Madison Square Garden in New York, in May of 1895, is seen by most American fanciers as the most significant Show held in North America, duly considering it as a hallmark moment in a newly burgeoning Cat Fancy in the United States.
While 'Cosey' may not have necessarily been named as the Best Exhibit in the Show, this entrant was declared to be the Best Long-haired Cat in Show and had the awards to prove it.
History has also accorded 'Cosey' with recognition for being one of the earliest and most successful competitive examples of the early Maine Coon breed. While debate may also entered into on defining what qualities truly constituted an early Maine Coon cat, there can be no denying that during this time, while the term 'Coon' was in use, the generic term of 'Angora' was still highly prevalent. There are many examples, both illustrative and photographic, of early cats styled as 'Coon's. Illustrations date from prints published as early as 1884, showing 'Coon Cats' exhibited at the New York Fanciers Club Show, which was also held at Madison Square Garden.
In the catalogue of the actual show, we find evidential advertising of the sheer number of Angora styled cats being produced and distributed around the country annually. Just one of five major farms in and around the Boston Massachusetts area was 'Walnut Ridge Farms', who boldly announce a dispersal of over 1,000 Angora cats in the preceding 12 months!
This same farm features in a landmark book entitled "The Angora Cat" by Robert Kent James, published in Boston in 1898. The book is profusely illustrated with no fewer than thirty-five photographs of Angora cats from life, courtesy of the Walnut Ridge Farm Company.
Although it is clearly stated that the basis for the 'Angora' cat is root stock coming from 'Angora' in Asia Minor, an area also famous for its goats; a study of newspaper advertising from this same period shows that by far the vast majority of feline root stock for the many cat farms based in the North-eastern corner of United States, came from Maine.
In time, they became known colloquially as "Maine" Angora's, then later as Maine Cats, and eventually, once a recognised style had emerged, as Maine Coons.
It stands to reason that all the Eastern seaboard, and especially the northern-most ports, would have been the point of entry for all cats coming from across the Atlantic, whether originally from Europe or the Middle East, or England, Scandinavia or Russia. Many an early cattery had its stock replenished from farms such as this, and the cats obtained also included what could also be clearly identified as 'Persian' in origin, as well as 'Angora'.
Without a paper trail, 'Cosey' could easily have fallen into either the 'Angora' or 'Maine Angora' category, but as we have no historical way to trace this cat's origins, we are all left to form our own opinions on whether this was an early example of a Maine cat or not.
Unknown Unknown | Unknown Cosey, circa August, 1893, Brown (Silver?) Tabby Maine Cat, M | Unknown Unknown Unknown
The ownership of 'Cosey' is one factor that has never been in question. This cat was always known to have been the property of Mrs. Frederick Brown, but now, with the official catalogue in hand, we have the definitive proof, as well as an official address of residence, which was 240 East 27th Street, New York.
The entry details also reveal two hitherto unknown facts, and in conjunction with an article from the 1896 Show, clarifies a hitherto popularly accepted, but none-the-less erroneous detail. Firstly it provides us with a more definitive approximation of age, which is listed as 1 year and 9 months at the time of entry into the show. This places the date of birth into around late July or early August 1893.
Secondly, the colour and breed are recorded as a "Black and gray Tabby Angora". So although it has been presumed for many years that she was most likely a Brown Tabby, she could just as easily have been a Silver Tabby, or a strongly marked Brown Tabby with a much less rufous undercoat (the latter still remains the most likely).
Thirdly, in an article written about the show of March 1896, into which 'Cosey' was also entered, the description given is as follows:
"Mrs. Frederick A. Brown's dark gray Angora Cosey, No. 118, was admired a great deal also. 'HE' won three special prizes last year. 'He' is a peculiar sort of cat, and prefers vegetables to meat."7
Yes, you've got it. Cosey was a "He"! And although for generations this modest but historically significant cat has been unequivocably and popularly accepted as being a female, where are the facts to support that 'assumption'? The official catalogue, not showing or listing gender on specific exhibits, does however show whether the exhibits were entered into classes for males or females and in this case, 'Cosey' is entered in a class for 'Gelded' Cats! (Would you not expect the term - "gelded" suggestive of a de-sexed male cat?).
The fact that he is described as an 'Angora' should not come as any surprise. This was the generic name given to most long-haired cats, including those from Persian or East Mediterranean origin, and in particular to the many thousands of 'Angora' cats being bred on farms around Boston, most of which had their roots in long-haired stock out of the state of Maine.
His parentage, of course, remains unknown.
Although there are no records of siblings, there are a number of press releases regarding the Madison Square Garden shows to illuminate for us some of the show wins and the stresses experienced by the exhibits.
From the show catalogue of 1895, we know that 'Cosey' was entered as a Longhair Gelded or (de-sexed) cat, and that his main class number was 41, for "Tabby - any color, but with no white."1 From the same catalogue also we find that 'Cosey' was entered into an additional class listed for 'SPECIAL PRIZES', - Class 44, for Best Long-haired Cat in the Show, irrespective of class1. The silver collar offered as a win for this class was donated by Mrs. Richard F. Carman1. In addition, a Silver Medal was awarded by the Cat Show. The silver collar was unique to this individual class, but we now know that no fewer than seven Silver Medals were offered by the show in various Special Prize categories1.
In an article on the March 1896 show, we find the following reference to 'Cosey' and the pressures associated with being an exhibit at the show, dealing with the jostling crowds:
"Many of the cats lay on silk and satin cushions, watched every moment by jealous feminine eyes. Razzle and Dazzle were in a bower of Jack and Beauty roses. Cato was on a gorgeous hand-painted cushion. Little Nickie slept on a silk-embroidered bed, with yellow and black curtains draped around.
"And all these cats behaved with the greatest decorum. Some posed as consciously as men and women are wont to do on parade; others stretched out gracefully and blinked lazily at the spectators. Only the very young and very foolish cats deigned to take notice of the straws and strings that were dangled before them to play with…
"Cosey, a big Angora, stood the flippant insults of the crowd until patience was exhausted, and the next gloved hand that was poked through the bars of its cage received a sharp blow."7
The Collar and Medal from the National Cat Show 1895
Very often, the manner in which rare or historically valuable items become found, is a mere matter of chance, and in the case of the Silver 'Cosey' Collar, the Medal, and the 1895 Show Catalogue, is no exception.
Well-known CFA breeder of Bi-Color and Calico Persians, Bobara Pendergrast, who also had an interest in making Victorian Jewellery that featured cats, was actively searching for items in antique stores. In 1990, she received a tip-off from a friend about some unusually unique items which were in an antique shop in central New Jersey.9
On investigating them in person, she found a silver medal marked "National Cat Show, 1895," with a cat face in the middle, a silver cat collar with "National Cat Show, 1895, Won By Cosey," and a picture of a cat wearing a collar ribbon marked "National Cat Show." Unbelievably, all of them were in perfect, mint condition. The antique dealer said that they had been found packed safely away in the attic of a house near Lambertville, New Jersey where they were discovered during an estate sale. Because the collar was dated 1895, the antique dealer knew she had rare piece.9
The antique dealer drove a hard bargain but Bobara instinctively knew there had to be a story behind these items. Upon closer examination, she saw that the silver collar and medal had been made by Whiting Mfg. Co., and this immediately made her feel better about the purchase price. Whiting was a contemporary of Tiffany's that first opened in 1840. After a fire destroyed its store in Massachusetts in 1866, it moved to Newark and opened stores in New York. They started as makers of ladies silver combs before moving into fine jewellery. They were known for their craftsmanship and were eventually bought out by Gorham in 1926.9
Bobara began displaying the items at her jewellery booth at cat shows and they drew a lot of attention. She was also able to make reproductions of the medal, which proved to be very popular. Everybody had theories about them and their significance, but it was a friend of hers, Donna Wiley, that made the initial discovery, linking it to a reference she found to a "Cosie" not "Cosey" as it says on the medal, in a chapter of a book titled "That Yankee Cat."9
This sent them off to the New York Public Library where a New York Times article confirmed that Mrs. Fred Brown's Cosey had been named Best Long-haired Cat in Show. They were very excited, not only had we found an early cat show award, but in fact had discovered the prize for the Best Long-haired Cat in the first major show in the United States.9
Since then, this important piece of cat fancy history was purchased by the CFA Foundation for its collection, which was temporarily housed at the CFA Central Office in Manasquan, New Jersey. This was made possible thanks to a generous donation from the National Capital Cat Show. The collar and medal are now on display at the CFA Foundation's Feline Historical Museum in Alliance, Ohio.9
The 1895 Madison Square Garden Show Catalogue
In more recent times, a collaboration between The CFA Foundation and The Harrison Weir Collection has allowed both to combine considerable historical resources, making significant additional information on our earliest cats more readily available.
During a routine process of purchasing feline based antiquarian books, John Smithson, (curator of The Harrison Weir Collection), unwrapped an item that had been delivered and found a hand-written note from the seller asking if he would be interested in a 19th century show catalogue. He responded by email and asked the seller to send details about the Catalogue, plus one or two images related to it. You can imagine his surprise when he discovered it was that of the 1895 Madison Square Garden show! This was a case of simply choosing not to dilly-dally or quibble, but to close a deal on this item of feline historical significance! Consequently, an agreement to purchase was struck that same day!
A number of scans from that catalogue are now featured in this article about 'COSEY' and of course, has helped us to confirm a more correct possible date of birth, match the spelling of his name to the silver collar, confirmed ownership and place of residence, as well as confirming his competitive classes and that of every other exhibit at that show.
History is often shrouded in mystery, and therefore very subjective opinions have to be formed where there is a clear lack of documentary or substantive evidence. But of course, from time to time, pieces of more definitive evidence are found which help to clarify theoretical observations, turning subjective opinions into demonstrative facts.
In the case of 'Cosey', historical presumptions have been made regarding breed, colour, gender, image, age and wins. The discovery of her Silver Collar in 1990, inscribed with cat's name and matching Medallion, both of which can now be verified correctly against an entry and classes as listed in the Official Show Catalogue found in 2016, give us the evidence needed to confirm his wins, his age and his ownership.
But regardless of where you may personally sit on the matter of his breed, and whether he is simply an Angora Long-hair, or a Maine Angora, or indeed an early example of a Maine Coon, there is no denying that he convinced the judges of the day of his qualities, and consequently took out an historic win, setting him on a path to perpetual fame.
Registers associated with this article include The Incorporated Cat Fanciers Association of Great Britain (TICFAGB), National Cat Club (NCC), The Cat Club (CCR), Beresford Cat Club (BCC), Feline Federation Francaise (FFF), Siamese Cat Registry (SCR), US Register & Studbook for Cats (USR)including Supplement(USRS), The Studbook of the American Cat Association (ACA), and the Studbook & Register of the Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA).
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