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White Persian cats held sway amongst long-haired varieties at Crystal Palace Cat Shows for many years, and were usually only defeated by the increasingly-popular Chinchillas and or the Blues as those colours separately rose to prominence. So it was not unusual to see a White long-hair taking top honours of show. A well-presented white is spectacular to behold and even to this day, they bring the 'wow' factor to the show bench, particularly when immaculately presented by an expert groomer.
Three white males in particular, contributed extensively to the rise of the White Persian in England and the United States. These were namely Mrs. White Atkin's 'White Knight', Miss Hunt and Mrs. Finnie Young's 'White Friar' (formerly Tim of Redgrave), and Mrs. Pettit's own 'King of the Pearls'. All three, sired a wealth of blue-eyed white offspring as breeders sought to capitalise on the 'wow' factor that these blue-eyed beauties brought to the show bench. Accordingly blue-eyed whites were sold and exported at an ever increasing rate as breeders on both sides of the Atlantic sought to secure the best of these bloodlines, as and when, they became available.
In her Cats and All About Them published in 1902, Frances Simpson gives this opinion of the White Persian Cat, and separately, a glowing recommendation for 'Piquante Pearl':
"A White Persian Cat, with correct blue eyes, in full coat and spotlessly clean, is indeed a 'thing of beauty,' but let no one try to keep one of this breed unless they live in the country. A white cat soiled is a white cat spoiled, and I have known a famous prize-winner put down by a judge on account of its dirty condition."2
Then in the chapter specifically on Whites in The Book of The Cat (1903) she says of the blue eyes:
"....no colour is so completely in accord with the purity of the coat, as eyes of heavenly blue. The tone should not be so much of a sapphire, as of a deep forget-me-not blue."2
Then of 'Piquante Pearl' she says:
"This lovely female is quite the most beautiful specimen of a long-haired White Persian, having glorious blue eyes, with a full coat of finest texture."2
During this period, the benchmark for White females was set by Miss Pettit's 'Piquante Pearl' by 'King of the Pearls', and a number of females out of Miss Hunt's 'Crystal', all sired by 'White Friar'.
Unknown King of Pearls, blue-eyed White | Unknown Piquante Pearl, Jul-26-1900, blue-eyed White, F | Unknown Queen of Pearls, blue-eyed White Unknown
'Piquante Pearl' was born on 26th July, 1900, sired by Mrs. Eugene Pettit's imported blue-eyed white male, 'Champion King of Pearls' (NCC:3001) and out of her blue-eyed white female, 'Queen of Pearls'. (NCC:3012). It should be noted, that although both parents are registered as simply '..of Pearls', both are often referred to by historians, as '..of the Pearls'; including the eminent Frances Simpson.
By the time Frances Simpson penned The Book of The Cat, the breeder of 'Pearl', Mrs. Pettit, had long earned her renown as a successful breeder of Whites. She had begun to breed White Persians in 1896, remaining faithful to the variety from that time. Apart from Mrs. White-Atkins, who was based at Botley, near Southampton, the majority of White breeders were based in Scotland, including Mrs. Finnie Young and Miss Hunt, who jointly owned 'White Friar' (formerly the property of Mrs. Champion). But in the South of England, based at St. Leonards-on-Sea, Mrs. Pettit dominated with her Whites. On visiting her cattery Miss Simpson observed:
"In the South we have Mrs. Pettit, whose tribe of blue-eyed whites I had recently the pleasure of seeing. No more lovely specimens could be imagined, and I counted more than a dozen long-coated, full-grown, bonnie blue-eyed beauties, walking about in the woods surrounding Mrs. Pettit's dwelling-place, near St. Leonards-on-Sea. The illustration shows Mrs. Pettit surrounded by eight of her pretty white pussies."
Mrs. Pettit's male, 'King of the Pearls', enjoyed an enviable show career himself. Just those wins listed in the Register of the National Cat Club include: 1st,Crystal Palace,1896; 1st, Crystal Palace, 1897; 2nd. Crystal Palace, 1898; 1st, Botanic, 1898; 1st,Westminster, 1899; 2nd Brighton NCC, 1899: etc.
The fact that 'King of the Pearls' is listed as "imported" with no confirmation of where from, should also not be a surprise. White long-hairs in particular were being constantly imported, from a wide variety of locations. This fact is supported by various statements from the early breeders, this one from Mrs. McLaren Morrison, who in mentioning some of her own whites, claims:
"..but I especially love white Persians, and, in fact, at one time I owned a 'white cattery'. I may say I still have some good specimens, namely 'Musefer', 'Queen of the Pearls', and 'Lily'. I love the imported cats, and always get them when I can. I have nine now at Kepwick. One of these hails from Patagonia, and one from Afghanistan."
And from the same book, in the chapter on white Persians, is a lively anecdote about white cats imported from India:
"A gentleman who for ten years has lived in Assam, says that he never saw in that part of India any long-haired cats except blue-eyed whites. He then gives an amusing account of the usual way of obtaining a cat of this variety for a pet. It is as follows: 'You give instructions to a native, who offers to procure you one at a certain price, but gives you no idea of where or how he means to procure it. In about a week's time he appears with the cat and claims the money. Things progress favourably with your new possession for a time, but suddenly and unaccountably your puss disappears. You are calling on some friend or acquaintance, and, to your surprise and astonishment, there on the armchair lies, curled up, your cat!' Thus it will be seen that the wily native, makes a small income out of one cat, by stealing or enticing it away from the original purchaser and calmly re-selling it to one of the neighbours."
And so we see that the source of the stock was vicariously unimportant. What mattered most to the breeder, was the overall quality, and whether the cat possessed both a long coat and the highly desired 'blue' eyes.
Given that Mrs. McLaren Morrison owned an imported white female named 'Queen of the Pearls', it is certainly well within the realms of possibility that Mrs. Pettit may have purchased both of her 'of Pearls' imports direct from Mrs. McLaren Morrison, for whom the importation of foreign cats and dogs was nothing short of all-consuming hobby!
Full and/or Dam Siblings:
'Piquante Pearl' was not the first high quality white to be produced from this particular pairing of cats. Her older full sibling, 'Beautiful Pearl' (CCR), had been born almost a year earlier on 8th August, 1899. In her commentary of Mrs. Pettit's fine white long-hairs Miss Simpson refers to both of these lovely females.
Another repeat of the breeding produced 'Enchanting Pearl', (OC:13/02/1904). In this case, a date of birth is not given, but this female became the property of Mrs. A. Finnie Young, who was the joint owner of the magnificent, 'White Friar'.
Another full sibling with no date of birth recorded is 'Little Queen Oddity' (presumed to be an odd-eyed white), and could conceivably had been a litter sister to either 'Beautiful Pearl or 'Piquante Pearl' as she was retained by Mrs. Pettit and bred back to her sire, to produce 'Fairy Pearl' (CCR), born 11th July, 1901. 'Fairy Pearl' was exported to the United States and has two owners of record, one being Mrs. C.E. Hurlbut, of Freeport, Illinois (USR), and the other being F.G. Hasselman, of Indianapolis, Indiana (ACA:332).
'King of Pearls' was a prolific stud and it would be easy to fill a couple of pages with a full listing of all his offspring, but it will suffice to mention just a few of the more notable sire siblings of 'Piquante Pearl'.
Her older sister, 'Beautiful Pearl', was bred back to her sire on a number of occasions, and from these breeding's were produced:
'Princess Pearl', (CCR), born 1st May, 1901 and retained for breeding, by Mrs. Pettit.
One of the more interesting sire siblings we find is an orange (red) female, very appropriately named 'The Fascination of The King' (CCR), born 28th July, 1898. Sired by 'King of Pearls' and out of 'Dainty Doris', what this tells us is that regardless of the colour of the dam, the sire, in order to produce a red female, had to be a white masking the 'o' gene, indicating that under his white coat he was in fact a genetically RED or CREAM cat. The dam, also had to mask 'o' but could also have been masking Tortoiseshell (ie.both black and red). Sex-linked red, was not understood at this time, but these little insights help us to decipher the possible genetic make-up of each of these early white cats. It is distinctly possible therefore, that 'Piquante Pearl' may herself have masked Tortie, depending of course, on what colour her dam was masking.
In the matter of the success of Whites on the show bench and in particular, white females, Miss Simpson elaborates further, concluding with another tribute to 'Piquante Pearl':
"There have not been any very notable female white cats since the appearance of Lady Marcus Beresford's 'Nourmahal,' with the exception of Miss Hunt's 'Crystal' and Mrs. Pettit's most lovely 'Piquante Pearl,' bred by her from her from her stud cat 'King of the Pearls, and 'Beautiful Pearl'. This cat is as near perfection as possible and has carried off highest honours whenever exhibited."
"This enthusiastic breeder always accompanies her exhibits, and her precious Pearls are never seen at the smaller mixed shows."
Pearl's show successes are best seen in the context of how she compared against other show quality whites with whom she was competing. This is obtained by taking a peek at a judge's Show critique on the White Longhair female class from the Crystal Palace Show of 1901, in which we find the following:
"LONG-HAIRED WHITE FEMALES (9): 1st, Mrs. Pettit's lovely young Piquante Pearl, in perfect coat, deep blue eyes, capital shape, trifle weak in head. 2nd, Lady Decies well-known Fulmer Powder Puff, beautiful cat, good eyes. 3rd, Miss Kerswill's Blue-eyed Edelweiss,capital head and shape, not in good coat; Vhc, Mrs. Pettit's Beautiful Pearl, last year's winner; good eyes, out of coat. Vhc, Miss Atkin's Bitterne Rinshah, very good coat and shape, one orange eye. Hc, Miss White Atkin's White Butterfly. The best class of white females we have seen."7
And in a supplementary report on the same show published in Our Cats on 9th November,1901:
"Mrs. Pettit's brilliant young female, Piquante Pearl, for shape, coat, colour and quality, about as good as anything in the show, is a remarkable advance in type. Her eyes are that intense sky blue so much sought after, and her coat possesses that delightful silkiness of texture and purity of tone which never fails to fascinate."
Mrs. Pettit's own comments on the show were published the following week, 16th November, 1901:
"I have been looking forward to the Crystal Palace Show ever since Piquante Pearl was three months old. What more could I wish her to win than what she did? Four first prizes, eight specials; championship and 2nd in the Ring Class to Lady Decies' beautiful Zaida; and then again my lovely pair of blue-eyed white kittens, who won 1st and three specials, although out of coat, did exceeding well. How well the Show was managed. I do not think even the most particular could find anything to complain of with regard to the sweet new milk and meat that even the daintiest of our pets were tempted to take." She then adds in a separate note: "Thanks to OUR CATS I have sent my charming Prince of Pearls to America, also a lovely young daughter of Champion King of Pearls."
There are only two kittens of record from 'Piquante Pearl'. In both cases they were sired by Mrs. Pettit's own male, 'Picturesque Pearl'. Although there are no records in relation to his breeding, it is likely that he was a half-brother, sired by 'King of Pearls'. In support of this premise, another male named 'Picturesque Pearl II' (CFA Vol.4) is recorded as by 'King of the Pearls' ex 'Sunbury Belle'.
The first breeding produced a blue-eyed white male, 'St. Leonard of Cademuir' (OC: 26/02/1910), who was born 20th May, 1906 and owned by Mrs. Hill Shaw (Cademuir).
The second breeding produced a blue-eyed white female, 'Pearl o' Devon' (ICFAGB), born 19th September, 1907, who was sold to Miss Jackman (OC: 10/04/1909).
'Piquante Pearl' was the show cat that fairly set the star of Mrs. Eugene Pettit's breeding reputation in the firmament of fame, for white long-hairs. 'Beautiful Pearl' led the initial charge, and 'Piquante Pearl' sealed the deal! From that point forward, Mrs. Pettit enjoyed an enviable record of success.
It should be noted that she was very careful with her breeding stock, retaining several females from some litters and not reducing until they had bred successfully. In this way she insured her program against failures and against the risks of loss, which in the day, were very real indeed.
That she was able to manage to keep so many white longhairs in such beautiful condition, is a testament to her organisational ability and her personal industry. We can learn two very important lessons from her example: - don't keep them unless you can look after them - and don't sell them just because you can!
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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