Our Cats Magazine, Volume 1(1899)

MUSEUMFACTFILE
ClassificationBooks & Magazines/Literature
CategoryMagazines
ArtifactOur Cats Magazine, Volume One
Date1899 - (November 1st 1899 to October 27th 1900)
ConnectionThe first magazine exclusively catering to The Cat Fancy
CollectionThe Harrison Weir Collection
DescriptionBurgundy Leather-Bound Volume, containing the 1st 52 weekly issues
Brief HistoryAn extremely rare volume of historic significance to the Fancy. Only a handful of copies are still extant worldwide, including a portion of Volume One in the British Newspaper library collection, which can only be viewed by appointment.
AcquisitionPurchased by John Smithson, for The Harrison Weir Collection, 2017

Leather-bound spine, & Cover Page from the first issue of OUR CATS Magazine, depicting The Crystal Palace, venue of the National Cat Club's Premier Show.
Courtesy of The Harrison Weir Collection

Historical Background

With the creation of Our Cats Magazine and the first weekly issue published on November 1st, 1899 - a new era dawned for the Cat Fancy, just before a period of massive change, much of which began with the establishment of a number of new feline Specialty Clubs. Prior to this date, most cat fancy related reports were published in the broadsheet Fur and Feather which had been established in 1890, and produced by J.E. Watmough, of Idle, Bradford. This publication, as it's name suggests, catered to all the minor fancies, including but not limited to 'Rabbits, Cage-Birds, Cats, Cavies, Pet Stock..etc,'.

In 1898 and 1899 respectively, Fur and Feather had to compete for dominancy in the marketplace with the new rivals The Show Reporter, begun by George A. Townsend, and then by 'Our Cats', edited by Mrs. Herbert Ransome. Cat Fanciers found the general attitude of Fur & Feather towards catty issues, somewhat high-handed, and when offered an alternative voice, jumped at the chance to support the new venture. When Fur and Feather lost a good number of subscribers, it changed some of its policies and began to slowly increase the number of feature articles surrounding cats, but although this did win it back some subscribers, support for the new Specialist 'Catty' magazine, never really waned. It is also interesting to note that The Show Reporter ceased publication in December 1899, less than two months after the first weekly issues of Our Cats had been released.

Early Issues

Our Cats probably took its name from the lead provided by Harrison Weir's classic work Our Cats published in 1889. It was a title which would last, although the format and content would change considerably over the years and it would be published by alternative companies and be edited by a raft of well-known cat fanciers.

In the first issue dated Wednesday November 1st, 1899: The introductory Editorial had this to say to its new readers:

"When it is considered that thousands of pounds are annually given away in prizes for cats, and then many more thousands are annually spent in the importation and purchase of cats, it is really remarkable that Puss has never yet had a 'paper' all to herself, himself, itself.

"One is tired of hearing it said that this is 'the age of specialism,' but, like many other things that one is tired of hearing, it is as true as it is tedious. The tendency of science is to keep on splitting up its departments and then into sub-departments and then into sub-sub-departments, and so on - to the end. It is impossible, as knowledge broadens, lengthens, and deepens, to attend to more than one branch of it at a time.

"And there is certainly no reason why cats should now be mixed up with cavies and fancy mice. Dogs have gone off by themselves long ago. Why should not cats follow? Is it because the admiration for cats is too limited? Surely not. Their admirers, breeders, and exhibitors form an enormous community, among whom are some of the wealthiest, most popular, and socially most influential men and women in the Kingdom. And is not the beloved and beautiful Princess of Wales herself a cat-lover? What 'fancy' can boast a patron more distinguished, more popular than Her Grace of Bedford?

"Of the proportions to which this fancy has grown in the last two or three years some idea may be formed from the fact that at the last show at the Crystal Palace, held by the National Cat Club, there were no fewer than 1,000 entries. How comes it then the cat has no 'organ' all of its very own? The reason is the old one of pounds-shillings-pence; the doubt as to whether such a paper could pay its way; the reluctance of cat-folk to subscribe and make the experiment. But this has now been got over, and in a very humble way OUR CATS makes its first appearance to-day.

"But only as an experiment, for if OUR CATS is not sufficiently supported, it will retire at the end of the year as quietly and unobtrusively as it now starts. There is good reason, however, to hope that the support given to the experiment will be enough to encourage OUR CATS to go on, and that the twentieth century will see it established as a popular and permanent addition to the periodical literature of pets.

"OUR CATS has the good fortune to start with the knowledge that it is trespassing no nobody's preserves, treading upon nobody's corns. For there is plenty of room for it, as a specialist publication, side by side with others, which include cats among their other topics. That OUR CATS will be a success we do not doubt for a moment; we believe 'it has come to stay.' But we are equally certain that it will make no enemies by its coming and be welcome as long as it stays."

This introductory Editorial makes some relevant points as to the extension and breakdown of numerous specialist departments of science. It alludes strongly to the fact, that OUR CATS had now made its entry into the 'publishing' fray; amongst players with multi-faceted interests, including cats; evidently in a nod to both Fur and Feather and The Show Reporter.

Initially it was published on a newsprint paper with a distinctive pinkish hue, but in its fourth year, the paper stock was changed; with the first issue on basic white newsprint (more tan in colour), being published on March 7th, 1903.

Magazine Covers from OUR CATS Volume 1, from November 15th 1899 and December 20th, 1899, respectively.
Courtesy of The Harrison Weir Collection

The magazine included Judges Reports from the most popular Shows, promoted a record of impending shows and show advertisements, provided a forum for letters to the Editor, and their responses; included lists of judges and their appointments; featured articles on catteries and Cat personalities of interest. It also accepted cattery and stud advertisements, and Classifieds. In addition, it listed National Cat Club registrations, provided information in the form of catty Births, Marriages (Visits or Courtships) and Deaths of well known felines.

Magazine Covers from OUR CATS Volume 1, from November 13th 1899 and February 22nd, 1900, respectively. Note the colour of the paper on the second image one, which was the case for all pages prior to March 7th, 1903 where the colour has not been previously removed, after scanning. This cover page features a painting of two kittens by NCC Honorary Vice-President, Madame Henriette Ronner.
Courtesy of The Harrison Weir Collection

Over time, were added regular columns on cat health, cat breeding, cat exhibiting, advertisements from veterinary practitioners, and cat food companies. In every issue, was included a raft of small newsy topical or gossip items, provided by readers and/or subscribers or sourced from alternative publications; such as this one, taken from the February 22nd, 1900 edition, quoting a piece straight from the pen of Harrison Weir:

'Mr. Harrison Weir contributes to The Girl's Realm a curious incident which occurred in his poultry yard in the middle of 1898, as follows:

"I kept old English game fowls only, and though a hen with a family will kill rats, yet when these are hid in the hen houses they are left unnoticed. At the beginning of 1898, I noticed that besides the hens, I was keeping rats, big and little, in considerable numbers. One day my man came in and asked might he have a couple of hours as he wanted to borrow a pistol to shoot a strange cat that was living among the fowls. "What for?" I enquired. "Oh," he replied, "it is savage, and flies at me when I enter the houses." "Has it killed any fowls," I asked.

"Oh no," he said. "Then it is after the rats," I rejoined, "leave it alone, it will do good."

"In a fortnight or so the cat, which always retired into a hole under one of the houses, came out with two kittens, but all were exceedingly wild. Three weeks later, the cat went off into the woods, taking one of the kittens, leaving the other, a beautiful tabby, which was of such a timid nature it was quite unapproachable and always took shelter down large rate holes, the old mother only leaving after killing all the rats. Finding the kitten was starving, food was placed down the rat holes, which it took, though it was hardly ever seen.

"Growing older, it would sit on the perches at night, between the fowls, on most friendly terms. When they walked about, the kitten followed them, rubbing itself about the legs and body of my old Crystal Palace prize bird, as if it were another cat. All the year it has been with the poultry, but was still so timid it would allow no one but my daughter to approach it, and this only to feed it. As for myself, I never get a chance of seeing it but at a distance or walking about with the old game cock and his hens, on the most friendly and intimate terms. It is very handsome, but will allow no one but my daughter to stroke it."

Conclusion

Volumes such as this are invaluable, not only because they provide us with important historical details concerning the many cats and their owners featured in these pages, but their stories assist us to put that history, into its proper context. While facts themselves are important, the insights provided into the life, times and attitudes of our earliest cat fanciers is of equal importance. It is as much a valuable record about our social history, as it is about simple facts, dates and the heritage behind each and every individual cat.

Our Cats Volume One, No.1 - seen in situ.
Courtesy of The Harrison Weir Collection

This Volume, along with another five consecutive ones, are therefore considered to be among the most valuable historical references available, in the Harrison Weir Collection.

References:

  1. Our Cats Magazine, November 1st, 1899
  2. Our Cats Magazine, November 15th, 1899.
  3. Our Cats Magazine, December 13th, 1899.
  4. Our Cats Magazine, December 20th, 1899.
  5. Our Cats Magazine, February 22nd, 1900.
  6. Text John Smithson, 2018


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