The Grand American Cat Show (1883)

MUSEUMFACTFILE
ClassificationEphemera
CategoryShow Catalog
ArtifactCatalog for the "Grand American Cat Show", Boston, 1883
DateOctober 15, 1883
ConnectionBoston Cat Show
Coon Cats
Siberian Cat
Polydactyls
CollectionThe Harrison Weir Collection
DescriptionSmall show catalog for 1883 Boston Cat Show
Brief HistoryA catalog listing entries for the "Grand American Cat Show, held in Boston on October 15, 1883.
AcquisitionPurchased by John Smithson for The Harrison Weir Collection.

"Catalogue of the Grand American Cat Show" held in Boston, MA on October 15th, 1883.
Courtesy of The Harrison Weir Collection

As cats became popular in North America, owners looked for venues to show them off. Often, shows that included cats were held as part of general "pet" exhibitions at local fairs, which also included dogs, fancy chickens, pigeons and other birds, rabbits, etc. These shows were often associated with the local SPCA and organized by the SPCA Women's Auxiliary or by management teams that produced traveling shows in various cities.

While Milwaukee likes to claim that their 1895 show was "the first cat show which has been held on this continent", a show catalog exists for an organized cat show held in Boston during 1878. A February 19, 1880 Boston Daily Globe article confirms a show that year by reporting, "in a few days, the books will close on the [second] cat show in Music Hall."

Interestingly, one of the classes at the 1883 Boston show was for "Earlier Winners", such as 'Pinkey'. This listing definitely confirms the existence of both the 1878 and 1880 shows.

This 1883 "Catalogue of the Grand American Cat Show" tells us that the regular Boston show moved from Music Hall to the Horticultural Hall, and details a very organized show, with individual exhibition classes established for a variety of cats, all competing for $500.00 in prizes - a considerable sum of money in those days! The show was advertised as opening on Monday, Oct. 15th, 1883 and may well have been a simple one day show, but we do know, through newspaper articles at the time, that a series of Boston cat shows extended to at least early November of that year (see article on 1883 Boston Cat Show trophy).

In addition to the breed classes at the show, cats could be entered in "Earlier Winners", "Oddities", "Old Cats", and "Polydactyls". The existence of a specific "Polydactyl" class seems to confirm the notion that ports in the northeast USA are the predominant location of cats with this genetic anomaly.

Entry listing for the "Polydactyls" at the 1883 Boston Cat Show.
Courtesy of The Harrison Weir Collection

In the breed classes, as can be expected in the northeastern part of the USA, there is a respresentative class for "Coon Cats". These would certainly be among some of the earliest recorded "Coon Cats" found in a show catalogue.

Catalog shows an entry of seven "Coon Cats".
Courtesy of The Harrison Weir Collection

Of particular interest is entry number 163, 'Snowball' entered by Alexander Anderson in the class for "Siberian Cat". This may well be the earliest documented 'Siberian' cat to be exhibited at a aat show in the United States.

A debt of gratitude is owed to the organizing committees for the early Boston Cat Shows, as they laid a very secure groundwork for the existence of cat shows and the cat fancy in North America.


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