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In general terms the 'Brownies', as Brown Tabbies were referred to, were often overlooked in the race to obtain what was perceived to be a more glamorous cat. Hence the white, and blue, and in tabbies the silver tabby, in particular, became a favourite. But a good Brown Tabby, with its warm rufous undercoat and dark brown markings was also a striking cat to the fancier of warmer colours.
As to the origin of the name 'tabby' for a cat with stripes or bars, Harrison Weir provides us with a historical reference:
"The word 'tabby' was derived from a kind of taffeta, or ribbed silk, which when calendered, or what is now termed 'watered', is by that process covered with wavy lines. This stuff in bygone times was often called 'tabby,' hence the cat with lines or markings on its fur was called a tabby cat. Certain it is that the word 'tabby,' only referred to the markings or stripes, not to the absolute colour, for in 'Wit and Drollery' is the following: - Her petticoat of satin, Her gown of crimson tabby. Be that as it may, I think there is little doubt that the foregoing was the origin of the term. Yet it was also called the brindled cat, or the tiger cat, and with some, the grey cat - 'graymalkin'"10 (Ed: also known as Grymalkin).
Frances Simpson adds to the above:
"We are told also by the same authority, that tabby cats in Norfolk and Suffolk were called Cyprus cats, cypress being a reddish-yellow colour, so that the term may have applied to orange as well as brown tabbies. The term 'tiger cat' is, I believe, often used in America, and it well describes the true type of a brown tabby. The groundwork should be of a bright tawny shade, with a dash of burnt sienna, the markings a dark seal brown, almost black."1
In fact, the term 'Cyprus' cat, was widely used throughout Europe to describe a 'tabby' patterned cat. In evidence of this we have the below image of a tabby cat, captioned as a 'Cypress Cat' in an engraved plate of cat breeds, drawn by German artist and naturalist, Jean Bungartz, published in 1897.
One of the most famous of the early 'Brownies' was Miss Southam's 'Birkdale Ruffie' (NCC:1778) who was born 22nd March 1890, and registered as a 'Sable' Tabby. He was bred by Mr. J.W. Townsend, and first exhibited by Miss Southey as a kitten, but his early forays into shows were without success. It was not until 1894 that his obvious qualities were noticed by judge Mr. Fred Gresham, at the West of England Cat Show, where he gained two first prizes in the open and novice classes and two specials. Miss Southam's sister writes:
"Here at last his beautiful sable colouring, his dense black markings, and wonderfully expressive face were appreciated.
"The year 1896 was the occasion of his sensational win at the Crystal Palace Show. He simply swept the board, carrying everything before him - first prize, championship, several specials, and the special given by the King (then Prince of Wales) - for the best rough-coated cat in the Show, the prize being a handsomely framed portrait of the King with his autograph attached. Mrs. Vallance was judge. Again, in 1897, he was shown with great success at the Crystal Palace, winning first prize, championship and special."1
It was against this combined backdrop of both breed neglect and success that Miss Simpson's favourite 'Persimmon' was born.
Brown Prince, Brown Tabby Billy | Unknown Persimmon, Jun-5-1897, Brown Tabby, M | Unknown Flirt Unknown
'Persimmon' was born 5th June, 1897. He was bred by Mr. Charles Heslop, sired by 'Billy' and out of 'Flirt'. He was duly purchased as a kitten by Frances Simpson at the Brighton Cat Show. In her Our Cats and All About Them, published in 1902, she describes him as an adult as: "perfect in shape, with an immense head, short snub nose, and tiny well-placed ears".2
This is a wonderful description of a Persian cats' head, and it is interesting to note that these are terms which are still used and applied by judges today, in describing a cat which fits the 'standard', however the interpretation of what is 'snub' has changed significantly!
But of course, 'Persimmon' was not the first Brown Tabby owned by Miss Simpson. In fact, her first success on the show bench came with a 'Brownie' as she relates herewith:
"My first prize-winning kitten was a brown tabby, exhibited many years ago at the Crystal Palace. He became my stud cat 'Rajah,' called after an Indian prince who was visiting us at that time. 'Rajah' was wholly and devotedly attached to the lady of his choice, namely my blue Persian, 'Mater'. These two names occur in the pedigree of many a prize-winner of the present day, and very numerous were the lovely litters I reared from this eminently respectable pair of Persians. I never knew either 'Rajah' or 'Mater' troubled with a day's illness, and if one of their kittens had died such an event would have caused as much astonishment as grief. But I must return to my tabbies.1
"I cannot explain it, but certain it is that of all the feline race (blues not excepted) the warmest corner in my heart has always been kept for the brown tabbies. There is something so comfortable and homely about these dear brownies - they seem to have more intelligent and expressive countenances than any other cats, and I am firmly of opinion that no Persian cats are so healthy and strong as brown tabbies. They are a hardy race, and as such I have frequently recommended novices in the fancy to start with a good brown queen, and with ordinary care they may reasonably expect to rear litter after litter without the difficulties and disasters that one hears of in connection with the bringing up of Persian kittens in general."1
Miss Simpson elaborates on the Brown Tabbies of the era:
"Very few and far between have been good brown tabbies in the history of the fancy. Amongst the males two names may be said to stand out conspicuously - Miss Southam's 'Birkdale Ruffie' and my own 'Persimmon'. Both these cats, or quite different types, have gone to their rest."1
Miss Southam adds:
"'Birkdale Ruffie' was noted for the extreme beauty of his expression; he had certainly one of the most characteristic faces ever seen in a cat, and his son (Ed: 'Master Ruffie'), inherits the same. The former was constantly the subject of sketches in the illustrated papers, those by Mr. Louis Wain being especially life-like. Some of 'Master Ruffie's' descendants are, I believe, in the possession of Miss Whitney, and have met with great success in the show pen."1
Miss Simpson then gives us an account of the acquisition of 'Persimmon' and his notable qualities:
"Here let me give a few details of my dear departed puss. 'Persimmon' was a well-known character in the fancy, and had the distinction of being a Champion in both the National Cat Club and The Cat Club. It was in 1899, when judging at Brighton, I was greatly taken with a wonderful headed brown tabby that came under my awards. I gave him first in his class, and when later I obtained a catalogue and saw his price was a very reasonable one, I purchased him, and I may say I never made a better bargain, in or out of the cat fancy. 'Persimmon' (as I afterwards called him, in memory of the Derby winner) was bred by Mr. Heslop of Darlington, that astute and clever cat fancier; and his grandsire was 'Brown Prince,' a noted northern prize-winning tabby. I have never seen such a wonderful head as that which made 'Persimmon's' chief glory.
"His face was very round, and his nose quite a snub, and he was blessed with tiny ears and short tail. His shape was perfect, but the markings on his back were rather too heavy, and alas! he had a white under-lip. But, taking him all round, he was a grand specimen, and a most lovable puss. He fretted himself to death when a change of residence from the country to London obliged me to board him out."1
There are no full or half-siblings of record for 'Persimmon'.
From The Cat Club Register and the National Cat Club Stud-book and Register we have the following official wins for 'Persimmon', which are likely to be incomplete:
1st and Special - Brighton, November 1898
It would certainly not be an exaggeration to state that 'Persimmon' was both a prolific and reliable stud cat, whose services were in considerable demand. One only has to review the lists of visitations published throughout the many editions of Our Cats in the first two years of the new century to find evidence in support of this.
At a guinea a time, Miss Simpson would have made a considerable and tidy profit from the timely purchase of this exceptional tabby male. Her marketing skills were 'par excellence' and consequently the list of his progeny is long. That some of his visiting queens returned for second litters shows that he consistently sired strong healthy kittens. Frances Simpson herself claims:
" 'Persimmon' sired some splendid kittens, which whenever shown proved themselves worthy of their sire's long prize-winning record. At the Crystal Palace show of 1902, Miss Whitney exhibited two of his progeny - a superb neuter, 'Persimmon Laddie' who covered himself with glory and his cage with cards, and a beautiful kitten that had previously won at Manchester and has since been purchased at a high figure by a lover of brownies. At the Specialist Show at Bath in 1903, 'Persimmon Laddie' was again to the fore, and won in the open and ring classes. 'Persimmon' was a great loss, for good brown tabbies are rare. I hope, however, to purchase a fine, well-grown son of my dear old 'Simmy' and as 'Persimmon II'. I trust it may be a case of 'like father like son', and that by-and-by, we may find quite a long list of brown tabby Persians 'at stud' in the columns of the catty papers."
Below, is provided a list of the queens and their respective noted progeny sired by 'Persimmon', that gives an overall view of the extent of his influence within this variety of the Persian breed. Images of some of the resultant progeny have been included where available.
In commenting on the brown tabby queens of the period, Miss Simpson had the following to say about some of the females listed above:
"Miss Eggett, of Manchester, has a grand tabby of the golden order named 'Cleopatra'. Mrs. Whittaker has some nice specimens, and Mrs. MacKenzies 'Cleo' was much admired at the Westminster Show in 1900, when she took first in her class. Mrs. Ricketts has always been partial to the breed, and Mrs. Stead's 'Timber' has done some winning. Miss Gray's 'Lady Babbie' was one of the finest brown queens that used to visit 'Persimmon,' and another was Miss Meeson's 'Jolie,' whom I used greatly to admire."
We get a little personal glimpse of 'Persimmon' at home, from an article that appeared in '=Our Cats in December 1900, written by a reporter who visited the home of Miss Simpson, Durdan's House, St. Margaret-on-Thames. In it, the visitor relates:
"'And what about Persimmon?' I asked. 'I purchased him Brighton three years ago - come and have a look at him?' We proceeded to the pretty garden, where, in a sheltered corner, stood one of Boulton and Paul's nice double houses. Here Persimmon's grand form was shown to perfection. He had every appearance of a tiger, and when his mistress opened the doors, he came rubbing his huge head up against her. He looked the picture of health, and his grand tawny colour showed to advantage in the sunshine."
Miss Simpson loved a great many cats in her lifetime, most of them being either Brown Tabbies, Blue Persians or Chinchillas, but she had a special bond with her beloved 'Brownies'. And in this variety, her 'Champion Persimmon' could lay claim to a particularly special, almost sanctified place in her heart. Although she was herself especially well-known as a 'Champion of Blue Persians', no-one could have done more to fly the flag for the Brown Tabby long-hair, or to provide education, maintenance and sustenance for it, both throughout England, the United States and beyond.
Her confidence in the hardiness of the variety was not misplaced. Even today, a Brown or Patched Tabby will appear to be a better built, heavier boned and healthier specimen that many of its Persian breed counterparts. Although the writer cannot personally recall any Brown Tabby Persian that has taken the highest honour in CFA, many have featured highly in the national rankings. In the modern era, an Exotic (Persian) Shorthair, in the form of Cheryl and Bob Lorditch's magnificent brown tabby 'GC, NW Jovan The Legend', took out CFA Cat of The Year for 1990-1991. One cannot help but wonder what Frances Simpson would have thought of such an incredible cat if only she had been able to be here to see it.
The journey from then to now has been a long and difficult one, but in every journey there are markers and milestones, and 'Ch. Persimmon' can certainly lay claim to being an early milestone in the development of the brown tabby; in a journey that has already lasted more than 130 years.
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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