America’s First Show Cat:
The Maine Coon Cat
The Maine Coon Cat
is America’s first indigenous show cat. A dozen of these down-east, working class heroes were listed in the program of a show held in Boston in January 1878. Often called the “gentle giants” of the cat fancy, the Maine Coon’s origins are shrouded in the mists of time and the legends told by their owners.
Many people once believed the Maine Coon originated by interbreeding the American bobcat with the domestic cats brought to North America on the various sailing ships that came to the Northeastern seaboard. Probably the tufted ears and feet of the Maine Coon, which are similar to the bobcat’s, gave some credence to this legend. The tuft curls outward from the inside of the ears and tufts of fur are found between the toes. Taking fantasy one step farther is the belief that the domestic cats of New England bred with raccoons. The early Maine Coons may simply have looked like raccoons to the natives, since the brown tabby, with its bushy ringed tail, occurs most commonly in nature. The Maine Coon also converses occasionally with an endearing trill or chirp, somewhat like the cry of a young raccoon. It is genetically impossible for domestic cats to breed with either raccoons or bobcats, as we in the cat fancy know, because they are of different genera and do not hybridize.
Another tale is that the Maine Coon’s ancestors came from Norwegian Skogkatts brought over by the Vikings. A letter from Mrs. Jack Bjonness to Mrs. Rod Ljostad describes them as follows: “The head is longer than that of the shorthaired domestic. The coat is about half as long as that of the Persian. They come in all colors, the ears are high with lynx tufts, the whole cat is ‘tall’ not Cobby like a Persian. But no one could say it is a slender cat. They are “hardy.”
More romantic versions of the Maine Coon’s development have been handed down over the years. The first involves Captain Samuel Clough and Marie Antoinette. Captain Clough was one of the principals (or so the legend goes) in a plot designed to smuggle the French queen out of France and bring her to Wiscasset, Maine. The scheme was cut short, but not before Clough had loaded his ship, the Sally, with luxurious furnishings, priceless bric-a-brac, some of the queen’s personal belongings, and six of her favorite pet cats. While Clough waited, there was a sudden outburst of violence. Marie Antoinette was seized, and eventually beheaded. Captain Clough had to make sail with all haste to escape repercussions for his part in the attempted rescue and with him went the queen’s possessions and the six longhaired cats still in his care. It is assumed that the queen’s cats bred with the American cats and voilˆ – the origin of the Maine Coon.
Still another legend concerns an English sea captain, improbably named Coon, who was excessively fond of cats. He sailed up and down the New England coast with his army of cats. Predominant in the group were his longhairs – the Persians and Angoras that were popular in England. When the captain went ashore, so did his cats. When longhaired kittens began appearing in local litters, the owner’s comment would be “one of Coon’s cats.”
A more logical conclusion is that the Maine Coon developed from the domestic shorthaired cats of settlers who came to America with all their worldly goods and the family pet. Later, as the country became more civilized and the trading ships returned from their travels, the sailors returned with longhaired cats. The new longhaired cats in turn bred with the local shorthaired cats and began populating the Eastern seaboard, and thus began the survival of the fittest. Those cats that survived the harsh New England winters produced the next generation of kittens. After nature finished combining the genetic ingredients of form, coat, and substance of the Maine Coon Cat, man looked upon these cats and said, “that is some pretty good cat.” It was to be expected that these intelligent cats would find their way into the settlers’ homes and become beloved pets as well as good workers (mousers). It was during the 1860s that farmers would tell stories and brag about the powers and intelligence of their Maine Coons. During this decade these same farmers began having their own cat show at the Skowhegan Fair where Maine Coons from all over the territory competed for the title “Maine State Champion Coon Cat.”
Mrs. E.R. Pierce, who co-owned a black and white Maine Coon Cat named Captain Jenks of the Horse Marines, documents the early history of domestic cats in the United States and of the Maine Coon Cat in particular. She not only gives names and dates of cat shows along the Eastern seaboard, but also names the cats who won them. In 1878 a show was held in Boston where a dozen Maine Coons were entered and shown. Mrs. Pierce states emphatically that large shows were held in all the populous eastern cities, although not on a yearly basis. Some shows were held as far west as Chicago in the 1870s.
The most famous and largest of the early shows was held at New York’s Madison Square Garden in May of 1895. That show was won by a brown tabby female Maine Cat named Cosey owned by Mrs. E. N. Barker. The number of Maine Coon Cats entered in the show is not easily ascertained since they were classified along with Persians and Angoras as “longhairs.” All cats were categorized first by hair length and then by sex. The show was a great success both financially and as a public relations showcase for the various breeds. What did the first place and best of show win? Cosey was awarded a silver medal marked “National Cat Show, 1895,” with a cat face in the middle, a silver cat collar engraved “National Cat Show, 1895, won by Cosey,” and a picture of “Cosey” wearing a collar ribbon marked “National Cat Show.”
The silver collar, an important piece of cat fancy history, was purchased by the CFA Foundation for its Jean Baker Rose Memorial Library housed at the CFA Central Office. This purchase was made possible thanks to a generous donation from the National Capital Cat Show.
The New York show did not develop into the prestigious event hoped for, but the Boston show circuit did. One of Mrs. Pierce’s brown tabby Maine Coon Cats, King Max, dominated this classic for three years, winning in 1897, 1898, and 1899, until defeated by his son Donald in 1900.
At the beginning of the twentieth century “show fever” hit the fancy, and cat shows began to spread from the Northeast to the Midwest and finally to the West Coast. At about the same time, the Cat Fanciers’ Association, founded in 1908, was keeping the only breed record books we have of this period, The CFA Stud Book and Registry. In Book I, 28 Maine Cats, as they were still known, were listed under a special proviso that depended on a sworn statement that the sire and dam were “same breed, long hair and that neither is a shorthaired.” It is noteworthy that CFA Registration #5 is a tortoiseshell female Maine Cat named Molly Bond.
Soon after this the Maine Coon Cat decreased in popularity as other longhaired cats with pedigrees came into greater favor. Slowly, the Maine Coon began disappearing from the ranks of the registry and shows. The Maine Coon had its last big recorded victory for over 40 years when a “longhaired blue Maine Cat” took first place in his class and best of show, out of an entry of 170 cats, at the Portland, Oregon show in 1911. After that, Maine Coons slipped into the background and were shown occasionally under the AOV category.
Remaining in the background during the next four decades, the Maine Coon Cat was declared extinct in the late 1950s. The Maine Coon’s extinction, like Mark Twain’s death, was an exaggeration.
In the early 1950s, Alta Smith and Ruby Dyer formed the Central Maine Cat Club (CMCC) as an effort to end the Maine Coon’s slide into a regional oddity and to give impetus toward record keeping and showcasing for the breed. For the next 11 years the CMCC sponsored a combined cat show and exhibition of the photographs of cats. The club provided a means to call attention to all cats and the Maine Coon Cat in particular, and in doing so kept the image of the Maine Coon alive. By 1963, the CMCC shows outgrew the barn, the elementary school gym, the high school gym and every other workable large local meeting place. The organization became too large to continue its amateur status and the Central Maine Cat Club ceased to be. Before its demise, its achievements included creating one of the first written standards for the breed, keeping records in the breeding of the Maine Coon, and making people aware that the Maine Coons existed and had credentials. People in other parts of the country were starting to breed and show Maine Coons as well as keeping them as pets. They were still being shown as AOVs, but they were beginning to appear in the show halls from which they had disappeared.
In the 1960s, Maine Coon breeders were few. Some of the people involved back then include Mrs. Robert Whittemore, Lillian Vanderhoff, Nancy Silsbee, Rose Levy, Henrietta O’Neill, Eugene and Lee Eminhizer, and Sonia Stanislow.
In 1968, the idea to create a universal Maine Coon Cat club whose purpose was to preserve and protect the breed came from Nancy Silsbee. The will and guidance to see the project through was supplied by Dr. and Mrs. Rod Ljostad. These early “movers and shakers” were completely dedicated to the concept of the Maine Coon Cat.
During the first part of the 1970s the Maine Coon breeders requested and were denied provisional status. In 1969-70 the first attempt was made to bring the Maine Coon to provisional status. At the March 3, 1970 meeting, the board felt that they would be acting prematurely to accept the Maine Coon for provisional status beginning April 1, 1971. They wanted to determine if there were sufficient numbers being registered. At the time, only 20 Maine Coons were registered.
Provisional status was again denied at the board meeting held in February 1971. Following advice offered, the Maine Coon Cat Club was formed in 1973 with the following members: Rod and Betty Ljostad, Liz Eastman, Harold Hansen, Robert Wilson, Cynthia Wilson, Franklin Gullo, Lillian Vanderhoff, Maureen Jenkins, and Gerald Kastenbaum.
At the Spring 1974 meeting, Mrs. Jean Rose announced that CFA now had a Maine Coon Cat breed club. The members stated that they had now fulfilled all the requirements for recognition of the Maine Coon Cat as a provisional breed: they had a standard, a breed club and 133 cats registered. Unfortunately, the timing for acceptance was off as per the existing rules; in addition, some board members thought the breed standard still needed clarification.
The Maine Coon Cat was accepted for provisional status beginning May 1, 1975 at the October 1974 board meeting. Championship status occurred May 1, 1976. America’s native American longhair was back on the show bench with championship status.
The 1977 show season produced Best of Breed CH Lybe Christa’s Katy, owned by Elizabeth H. Brouch, but no Maine Coon grand champion. 1977-78 produced CFA’s first Maine Coon grand champion and Best of Breed, GC Purrbred’s Silent Stranger, a copper-eyed white male owned by William and Ruth Patt. The next three show seasons saw a few more Maine Coons achieving their grand championship status. Three Tufpaws female grand champions were the national breed winners in 1978-79, 1979-80, and 1980-81: GC Tufpaws Reuelette, GC Tufpaws Schnitzel of Zookatz, and GC Tufpaws Rosana Dana of Zookatz.
The 1981-82 show season produced the first national winning Maine Coon, GC NW Tufpaws Rosette. What an achievement for a female whose breed standard tends to favor the male! Rosie was the 19th Best Cat in 1983-84. The first national winning Maine Coon in premiership was GP, NW Tufpaws Pepe Le Peu of Cheyenne. “Pepe” was the first bi-color to achieve national winning status.
The next five show seasons, 1982-1987, saw Maine Coons granding in both championship and premiership. The 1982-83 show season had six grands and 1986-87 had 44 Maine Coon grands for that year.
CFA’s next national winning Maine Coon was GC, NW Terrificats P.C. Gambit, DM. Gambit was 14th Best Cat in the 1987-88 show season, and later went on to become the first of CFA’s seven male DMs.
1988-89 saw continued success for the Maine Coons on the show bench with eight regional winners in championship, premiership, and kitten classes.
The 1989-90 show season found a Maine Coon back in the national rankings with GC, NW Kanab’s Luanne’s Mahogany Rush, DM placing 7th in Championship. This is the highest placement in the national rankings achieved by any Maine Coon to date. “Rusty” was a red tabby with white. During the 1990-91 show season GC, NW Terrificat’s P.C. Gambit, DM’s son, GC, NW Groovycats Alexander The Great was shown to 18th Best Cat in championship. “Alexander” was a brown tabby with white.
A banner year for Maine Coons occurred in the 1991-92 show season, with three achieving the coveted National Winner title: GC, NW Bangor’s Eskimo Pie, a black and white bi-color; GC, NW Buctales Dirty Dancer, a brown mackerel tabby with white ; and GC, NW Kanab’s Luanne’s Vincent, also a black and white bi-color, . “E.P.,” “Dancer” and “Vincent” placed 14th, 15th, and 19th in the national rankings. That season also saw 116 Maine Coon grands of which 15 were regional winners. It was the best year for Maine Coons to date.
The 1992-93 show season saw a return to tradition, when brown mackerel tabby GC, NW Coonsboro Calvin Coonidge became the season’s 17th Best Cat. There were 134 grands, of which 20 earned a regional win.
The 1993-94 national winning Maine Coon, GC, NW Noogats Renault Blanc was the 8th Best Cat that year. “Rennie’s” sparkling white coat and gentle disposition made him a favorite in the show ring. Although a white Maine Coon was a departure from the now widely recognized tabby and tabby with white, one must remember that the first Maine Coon to grand in CFA was a white.
GC, NW Coonsboro Beni Pussalini of Angtini was CFA’s 18th Best Cat for 1994-95. “Beni,” a lovely brown mackerel tabby with white was the second national winning Maine Coon to be sired by a national winner. His father is GC, NW Coonsboro Calvin Coonidge. This season produced a record 185 grands including 22 regional winners.
While not producing a national winner, the 1995-96 show season did have 167 grands including 20 regional winners. GC, RW Kemosabe’s Meshach made a valiant effort at trying to place in the top 25, but just fell short of the mark. “Meshach’s” owners can be very proud of their national Best-of-Breed Maine Coon.
As of this writing the 1996-97 show season has yet to end and anything can happen.
Since the last article on the Maine Coon Cat by Martha Young and Tome Rodgers in 1991, our distinguished merits rose from six to 43. The first male to achieve this honor was GC Lovabacon’s Tom Terrificat. “Terry” had his DM confirmed on September 7, 1991. On October 12, 1991, four weeks later, GC, RW Kanab’s Luanne’s Acoma was confirmed, with 15 grand offspring, as the second Maine Coon male DM. Both “Terry” and “Magoo” sired national winners who also achieved the distinguished merit honor. They are GC, NW Kanab’s Luanne’s Mahogany Rush, DM, confirmed on August 7, 1993, and GC, NW Terrificats P.C. Gambit, DM, confirmed with 15 grands on May 14, 1994.
The first Maine Coon to achieve the distinguished merit status was CH Sundar Tiffany of Tufpaws. “Tiffany” was confirmed as a DM on January 13, 1983. She was also the dam of the two Tufpaws national winners. It was another four years before CH Heidi Ho’s Coon Victoria was confirmed as a DM on January 14, 1987. The number of confirmed distinguished merits continues to grow. The 1994-95 show season had the largest number of DMs – nine. The 1996-97 show season has seven DMs so far. As a breed, the Maine Coon has a total of 43 distinguished merit cats, seven males and 36 females.
The Maine Coon Standard
The Maine Coon Cat is a massive, broad chested cat with a long rectangular body and the fur is long and flowing. The males average around 12 to 15 pounds, with some going 20 pounds or more. The females are smaller, averaging 9 to 12 pounds. The head is medium in width and length with a squareness to the muzzle. The cheek bones are high and the chin is firm and in line with the nose and upper lip. The nose is medium long with a slight concavity in the profile. The Maine Coon’s coat is shorter on the shoulders and longer on the stomach and britches. The texture is silky with the coat falling smoothly. The Maine Coon is slow to mature, often not reaching full development until three to four years of age. The Maine Coon has five color classes: solid, tabby, tabby with white, parti-color, and other Maine Coon colors. Classic tabby, mackerel tabby and patched tabby are the only recognized patterns. Colors or patterns showing hybridization, such as chocolate, lavender, pointed pattern or ticked pattern, are not acceptable.
The Maine Coon is a gentle, loyal breed. They make wonderful family pets and get along well with children and dogs. Depending on the breed of dog, the Maine Coon can be bigger than Fido. They are a vocal breed, with a variety of meows, trills and chirps to make up their vocabularies. They are sociable and like to help their owners with any project, especially when the owner is reading or working on the crossword puzzle.
Since 1976, the Maine Coon Cat has been a rising star in the competitive reaches of the cat fancy. This popular breed of the late 19th century drifted into obscurity and imagined extinction well into the 1950s. Those of us who now work with and breed the Maine Coon owe a tremendous THANK YOU to those who worked and fought for recognition and the championship status we enjoy today. As any exhibitor can tell you, spectators can often be seen watching the Maine Coons being judged, exclaiming at the size, and even saying they have one or two like them at home – today, they probably do. The Maine Coon is the second most popular cat in CFA as seen by the numbers of kittens registered. America’s first show cat is back, bigger and better than ever.
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