Cat Show in 1871: The Day Changed Perception of Cats

Cat Show in 1871 — That’s the world’s first cat show held at Crystal Palace and changed the cat status forever. Well, cats haven’t changed, but the human conception of cats changed and there’s no going back. We will see who held the show and his wish behind the show.

Cat Show in 1871: The Day Changed Perception of Cats

World's first cat show poster

GRAND CAT SHOW (Club Birman Suisse)

The Crystal Palace

The Crystal Palace in London

The Crystal Palace (Wikipedia)

The Crystal Palace where the world’s first cat show was held was a cast-iron and plate-glass structure originally built in Hyde Park, London. It was to house the Great Exhibition of 1851, which showcased the products of many countries throughout the world.

The Transept of the Crystal Palace, from the South Entrance

The Transept of the Crystal Palace, from the South Entrance (National Diet Library. Japan)

The Great Exhibition was opened on 1 May 1851 by Queen Victoria. It was the first of the World’s Fair exhibitions of culture and industry. There were some 100,000 objects, displayed along more than ten miles, by over 15,000 contributors.

Britain occupied half the display space inside with exhibits from the home country and the Empire. France was the largest foreign contributor. The exhibits were grouped into four main categories — Raw Materials, Machinery, Manufacturers and Fine Arts. There was also a 27-foot tall Crystal Fountain.

Harrison Weir

Harrison Weir

MR. HARRISON WEIR, F.R.H.S. From photo by C. E. Corke, Sevenoaks. (chestofbooks.com)

Weir, the man who held the first cat show was a natural history artist and provided some of the illustrations for Rev John George Wood’s “Illustrated Natural History”. He also provided illustrations for many of the books of the natural history author Sarah Bowdich Lee. Weir was enormously prolific and popular as a book illustrator.

CAT, THE WANDERER RETURNED, BY HARRISON WEIR, 1867

CAT, THE WANDERER RETURNED, BY HARRISON WEIR, 1867 (ebay)

In 1889, Weir wrote Our Cats and All About Them describing and illustrating the pedigree varieties of the time. This was the first pedigree cat book. Weir was a keen animal fancier and his illustrations of domestic cats, dogs, and poultry are probably best known.

He was an experienced breeder of cats, carrier pigeons, and poultry and for thirty years often acted as a judge at the principal pigeon and poultry shows.

He confessed he had a bias against cats himself, but after spent some time with them and came to believe cat as an object of increasing interest, admiration, and cultured beauty. This belief led him to develop a whole new form of competitive entertainment — the cat show.

Weir drafted a set of points and standards by which the cats, divided by breed and size, would be judged to give this thing legitimacy and attract an upper-class crowd.

MISS MARY GRESHAM'S PERSIAN KITTEN, LAMBKIN NO. 2.

MISS MARY GRESHAM’S PERSIAN KITTEN, “LAMBKIN NO. 2.” (gutenberg.net)

The judging process pleased the aristocratic crowd and drew a lot of attention to the wide variety of breeds. His motivation to hold this show was to raise people’s awareness about cats.

He hoped that by celebrating cats, owners would take better care of their feline companions.

Breeds Shown at the First Show

Prize Cats at the Crystal Palace Cat Show, 1871 (messybeast)

Prize Cats at the Crystal Palace Cat Show, 1871 (messybeast)

Royal cat of Siam prize winner

Royal Cat of Siam, prize winner (WIKISOURCE)

And how many visited this show? A staggering 200,000 guests are said to see those exotic cats with full of curiosity! The second show after the huge success of the first which was held immediatley, encouraged working-class individuals to submit their not fancy domestic cats.

Cats Status Before and After the Show

EXAMPLE OF TORTOISESHELL CAT, VERY DARK VARIETY.

EXAMPLE OF TORTOISESHELL CAT, VERY DARK VARIETY. (gutenberg.org)

Before the show, cats were nothing but street animals. They had been excellent as rodent exterminator, but to snuggle? Not in a chance. Weir thought long ages of neglect, ill-treatment, and absolute cruelty, with little or no gentleness, kindness, or training, have made the Cat self-reliant.

MR. CLARKE'S "MISS WHITEY."

MR. CLARKE’S “MISS WHITEY.” (gutenberg.org)

Why he approached aristocrats first, it’s because he knew once they changed their perception of cats, it’d influence working-class people’s conception as well.

He was right and cats were no longer considered dirty and wicked, but gradually creeping into the affections of human.

Although he found distasteful features in aristocrats such as their narcissistic quality and focus not on cats but on themselves, he was definitely successful at changing people’s perception of cats in all class and all around the world as a ramification.

It all started with the show and a man’s doting love and belief for cats.

"SYLVIE"

“SYLVIE” (gutenberg.org)

Reference

How England’s First Feline Show Countered Victorian Snobbery About Cats (Atlas Obscura)
 THE CAT SHOWS (HARRISON WEIR)
 A Brief, Fur-Filled History of Cat Shows (mental_floss)
 Crystal Palace (BBC London)
 The Crystal Palace (Wikipedia)
 Social Class (The Victorian Web)

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Originally published at Johnny Times.

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