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The Traditional Maine Coon FAQs June 2000

Traditional Maine Coon Breeders

Diana Fineran

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GR.CH Pedropurrs Alexander the Great

Pictures Courtesy of 
Helen Johns

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GR.CH Pedropurrs Top Cat

Q: What is the History of the Maine Coon?

A: The Maine Coon Cat is our native American longhaired breed of large size. Some can weigh upwards of 30 pounds. It is a mixture of elegance and ruggedness, a wild look yet gentleness personified.

First mention of the Maine Coon is made in Francis Simpson's, "The Book of the Cat" in 1902. In fact a whole section is dedicated to this very old breed, written by F.R. Pierce. Here he asserts, "From my earliest recollection I have had from one to several long-haired cats of that variety often called Maine cats. As to how and when they came, I would say, like Topsy, they just "growed", for their advent reaches far back beyond the memory of the oldest inhabitant. As early as 1861 my younger brother and myself owned jointly a beautiful long-haired black, pointed with white; be bore up for several years under the remarkable name of "Captain Jenks of the Horse Marines". I have no recollection of his earlier history or advent. I fancy, however, that these cats came into Maine much in the same way and about the same time that they did in England."

"The Maine people having had them so long, it is difficult to arouse any great enthusiasm about them there. They are much like other people, they go into heroics over things they know less about."

"Not until the craze for long-haired cats struck the West did they think much about selling cats. Their very best would be given to their dearest friends. When I think of the number of beauties that I have had given me on my return visits because I would be good to them, it makes me wish for the good old times when the little dear were beyond price in "filthy lucre".

"I have a photograph of "Richelieu", owned by Mr. Robinson, of Bangor, Maine, who had won first in his class at Boston, New York and Philadelphia previous to 1884, when he was shown at Bangor, Maine, in a limited show of the one hundred best cats. He was a silver or bluish tabby, very lightly marked, about seven years old at the time, weight about twenty pounds. He was, as his picture shows, rather a coarse-grained variety, a drug store cat. I know nothing of his early history, but his owner had the cat fad, a well developed case, and traveled from city to city to show his cat, much as we are all doing now twenty years later.

"At that time Maine, near the coast, was rich in fine specimens of the long haired cats. That was before they began to sell. I have in mind their brown tabbies."

"We often hear it said by people who know them not that the Maine cats are unhealthy, but that they have worms. And I have to admit it, and that they sometimes die like other cats. But here is one that didn't until he had rounded out his full seventeen years. Leo is a brown tabby, born 1884, died 1901, presented to Mrs. Persis Bodwell Martin, of Augusta, Maine, by Mrs. E. R. Pierce, when he was six months old. He lived a life of luxury and ease, having his meals served by his mistress's own hand in the upper hall, where he chose to spend his time for the later years of his life. His hair was so extremely long his tabby marking became somewhat confused. "

     

"They had some extremely fine brown tabbies in Maine. In the summer of 1900 I bought "Maxine" there...the mother of "Young Hamlet", who won over his sire "Prince Rupert" the first year he was shown. She was, or is, very much the type of the "King Humbert" stock, though she has not pedigree whatever."

"It is one of Nature's own secrets how they keep bringing forth..now and then, not always, these fine types."

"I have before me a most interesting letter from a Maine Lady, one of my contemporaries."

"I will first explain that Maine at that time was one of the largest ship building States in the Union, residents of the seaport towns and cities being often master of their own floating palaces, taking their families with them to foreign countries, and having in many towns quite social sets, like the army set or official set in other sections."

"Mrs. Thomas, to whose letter I refer, was the daughter of the late Captain Stackpole, who commanded his own ship for many years, taking his wife and little daughter with him. That was before our Civil War. She says, "I was always very fond of cats before they had to have a pedigree." In writing of her own cat the mother of "Swampscott she says, "I cannot tell you much about my cat's pedigree...only that her great grandfather was brought to Rockport, Maine form France. He was a blue eyed white." She then describes acquiring a Persian from France, and a Manx from the Isle of Man, who went aboard ship until they arrived back home to Maine. "This is proof how different varieties of cats got root in Maine. Pets of every variety were bought in foreign ports to amuse the children on shipboard and found their way to nearly all the coast towns...many more in the past than at this time. When sailing vessels have passed their usefulness as money making institutions, and those that do go out are not commanded by their owners...paid captains as a rule, cannot take their families with them, and the supply of cats from that source has been cut off for many years, so those we find there now can safely be called natives."

"I really know nothing of the cats that are said to be found on the islands, but no doubt they are much the same as those found all along the New England coast."

"For a long time the long haired cats seemed to be confined mostly to the coast towns and cities, but the giving their best to "their sisters and their cousins and their aunts" have spread them inland, as well as scattered them over nearly every State in the Union. They thrive as well as any other long haired cat. No doubt they do still better in Maine, but the difference comes from the fact that they have the freedom of living a natural life, without dopes or over coddling. Their offspring are beautiful, because they are form their own choosing, and not from compulsory mating, often distasteful, no doubt."

"A few people who had never seen a cat show in their native land "go across" (the Atlantic), attend a cat show, or pick up a cat at a bargain on the streets of London. The "fetch" it home, and lo! Their neighbor has seen something very like it while at their summer home on the coast of Maine."

"In the meantime, the demand for the home grown article is increasing, and prices are getting much inflated. The dealers in large cities keep their buyers busy in the New England field during the fall and winter months. But the stock of kittens has been looked over by the summer residents or visitors. The real cream disappeared with the first frost to some winter homes in the big cities. The dealers get what is left at almost any price they please to pay, many of the specimens being indifferent, and some, no doubt, mongrels."

"In the last few years I have known less of the Maine cats, except through the shows and a few that I have owned myself, which have not been shown much or proved remarkable in any way. But among the gems that have shown out with more or less brilliance when on the bench we find "Cosie" (also spelled "Cosey"), a brown tabby, taking first and special for best cat in show in New Yorks Madison Square Garden, 1895. Cosie was owned by Mrs. E.N. Baker and bred by R.R. Pierce. Mrs. Lambert brings out "Patrique" in New York in 1896...blue, and a nice one."

"King Max", bred by F.R. Pierce, first brought out by Mrs. Taylor, won the Boston first in 1897-1898-1899, only to be beaten by his sire "Donald" in 1900."
"Mrs. Mix has shown a fine Persian type from Maine called the 'Dairy Maid". I believe she has also "Imogene", from the same place...a tortoiseshell."

"Mrs. Julius Copperberg's, "Petronius", of whom we all expected great things, was from a line of creams coming well down from a fine cream brought from some Mediterranean port by one Captain Condon about fifteen years ago. I have secured for friends several kittens from his cat's descendants, which are now somewhat scattered, but all showing great strength, form, bone, and sinew."
'Mrs. Chapman's, "Cusie Maxine", a fine type of brown tabby, dam of "Young Hamlet", who won over his sire, "Prince Rupert", was also a Maine Cat."

"Mr. Jones, of "The Cat Journal" has from time to time had some fine brown tabbies of the Maine stock, winners at some of the larger shows."

A fair representative of the whites, who has acquitted himself well at the various shows in competition with large classes, is, "Swampscott", owned by Mrs. F.E. Smith, of Chicago. He comes from Mrs. Georgia Thomas's white cats at Camden, Maine, his maternal great, grandsire coming from France."

"Midnight", a younger black cat, winning second at Cincinnati to a cat from New Hampshire in better coat, and second in Chicago in 1901 in large classes, has since become a gelding and pet of Mrs. J.J. Hooker of Cincinnati. He comes from a line of black owned by a retired sea captian named, Ryan, who had at one time four generations of black cats. They loved their cats like babies, and for years looked for people "suitable" to give their kittens to. I have been the flattered recipient three times in the last dozen years of these beautiful black diamonds."

"Antonio", a gelding, now owned by Mrs. A.B. Thrasher, of Cincinnati, Ohio, is also a fine representative of this. In the last few years, since cats there are at cush a premium and old age getting nearer every day, these good people have hardened their hearts, and now sell like others to the highest bidder."

"I can also think of "Peter the Great", a neuter cream and white, owned by Mrs. Carl Schmidt, shown at Detroit, Michigan, 1901. Also "Black Patti", originally owned by Miss Ives, and "Rufus", both Maine cats, now owned in Detroit, and winners in some of the Middle West shows. And many, many other winners whose place of nativity is a sacred secret with their owners, which we will not willfully expose to public gaze until our native cats have been accorded the place that is due to them."

"I would like to tell you of some of the handsome geldings in Maine. No cat is too good for a pet with them. They may be seen on nearly every lawn or stoop, but as that is a little out of the province of this story I will only describe one...a beautiful smoke owned by Dr. And Mrs. E.A. Wilson at their beautiful home in Belfast, Maine. He is now ten years old. His mask and feet are black, or nearly so. His hair is very dark, rather brownish at the tip, but as white as snow at the skin. I have begged them to show him at Boston or New York. The answer is always the same, "Not for any amount of money or prizes. "Tags" wouldn't like it. He would be unhappy. Wouldn't you, "Tagsie"?"

"The smokes have not been well developed there yet. In a letter lately received in regard to that variety, I am told that one of the regular agents said that he found only about one in 200. The silvers and chinchillas are not common. The strong colors predominate, white, black, blues, orange, and creams, tabbies also being well divided and distributed along the coast, and for quite a distance back, perhaps sixty miles or more. But I have not known of their appearing to any extent in the northern portion of the State, which is less thickly settled."

:Having had this fancy from my infancy and before it became a fashion, I took kindly to all the new developments. I have since had some experience with imported and kennel bred cats, and from time to time had opportunities of seeing the best we have in our shows, and I fully believe that cats that have their freedom, as most of the Maine cats have for the greater part of their lives, are healthier than kennel cats can be. The cool climate and long winters, with clean air full of ozone, is what is needed to develop their best qualities, and, with a few year of careful breeding for types, they would be able to compete quite successfully in an international cat show." This is the conclusion of the Maine Coon section in Francis Simpson's book. Hints are given of Persians or possibly Turkish Angoras crossing the Atlantic with Sea Captions to the North East Coast of the U.S., but the true origins of the breed are obscure and the subject of legend.

Q: What are some of the Legends and Myths about these cats? 

A: Dubbed the "Gentle Giants" of the cat kingdom, it is a puzzle why some people once believed the Maine Coon was the result of breeding American Bobcats with the domestic cats brought to the Northeastern seaboard. Perhaps the long hair and the tufted ears, similar to the bobcat's, caused this legend. Another myth is that raccoons bred with domestic cats, since the bushy, ringed tail of the brown tabby. Both of these are impossible to have happened because neither Bobcats or raccoons can interbreed with domestic cats.

An additional account exerts that the ancestors of the Main Coon were rooted in Norwegian Skogkatts brought here by Vikings.

Even more imaginative of the lore handed down over the decades is the tale involving a Captain Samuel Clough and Marie Antoinette. As the story goes Captain Clough was a major player in a plan to secretly remove the French Queen from France to Wiscasset, Maine. Captain Clough loaded aboard his ship, the Sally, some of the Queen's personal, luxurious and priceless possessions, including six of her favorite pet cats. A sudden outburst of violence resulted in the seizure and eventual beheading of Queen Marie Antoinette! Like any other principal who's benefactor just lost her head, Captain Clough quickly boarded his ship and set sail with all haste to escape any repercussions for his part in the attempted rescue. With him went the Queen's personal property and six long haired cats still on board. This story assumes the Queen's cats bred with the local American cats to create the Maine Coon.

Another twist of this story is one that is based on this narrative. Queen Marie Antoinette's Angora Cats were gifts to the Marquis de Lafayette from the Queen on one of his trips to the New World during the American War of Independence (1775-1783. Once here the Queen's Angoras mated with local cats.

Still one more legend expounds about an English sea captain, who was to have the most unlikely name of "Coon". His fondness of cats enabled him to sail up and down the New England coast taking his cats with him on board. With him were the Persians and angoras popular in England. Each time the Captain went ashore his cats went with him. Soon long haired litters began appearing in local litters, so the owners called them, "One of Coon's cats." Whether or not these whimsical, yet charming stories is true is entirely lost in the mists of time.

More believable is the inevitable consequence of the mixture of the cats brought with the original settlers in about 1640 with long haired Angora or Persian cats who came later aboard sailing ships. Sea voyages in the 1600's were long and dangerous, and rat were stowaways. Cats were brought along to protect the food on board. Many female cats became pregnant on these voyages and delivered their kittens at sea. Upon arrival in the upper North East, many of the kittens boan on board would be put ashore to find their way in the New World. The harshness of the New England winters played a part in forming the survivors of this process. They were free roaming in the rugged Maine country for years, developing the rugged coats and constitution able to withstand of the climate. It was in the 1860's that farmers extended their bragging about their intelligent, beloved mousers into their own Maine Coon show at the Skowhegan Fair, where their cats competed for the title "Maine State Champion Coon Cat". Discontinued in the 1960's, this cat show was the arena in which the breed was given its early recognition. Thus the Maine Coon was chosen as the best Cat at the first major cat show ever held in the U.S.

Founded in 1908, CFA began Registering "Maine Cats", which required a signed statement saying the sire and dam were "of the same breed, long hair and that neither is a shorthaired". Cat #5 in the CFA Registry is a tortoiseshell female Maine Cat named Molly Bond. The first volume of CFA's Registry included twenty-eight cats identified as Maine Coons.

Once Persians came to the fore front of the cat show scene, the Maine Coon diminished in popularity. The last big victory for the Maine Coon came in 1911 at the Portland, Oregon show. Out of 170 cats entered a "longhaired, blue Maine Cat" received first place in his class and best of show.

Then they went into the shadows for decades beginning in 1904, and were declared "extinct" in the late 1950's. That, of course, was not true.

Early in the 1950's clubs once again began to force notice of the Maine Coon until they were once again in the winners circle at major cat shows across the country. The first Breed Standard for the breed was written in 1967.

The Maine Coon was named the official Maine State cat in 1985 by the then Governor.

Q: What type of personality do they have ?

A:  The Maine Coon is a vocal breed, which talks with an endearing variety of meows, chirps or thrills. Extremely loyal, gentle, with a loving nature, great intelligence, a kindly disposition, a sweet temperament and sociable, they get along with children and dogs, making a wonderful family pet. They are alert and very friendly. They enjoy helping and being involved with any project going on in the household. They love to sleep in strange and awkward places and positions. They use their paws to do tricks and to play with water, which they will cup in their paws or cause to swirl in their water dish so they can watch it move. Their front feet are also used to pick at food, taking a small piece and dropping it on the floor to eat. There is a look in their eyes that says they like people and love fun. These are mellow cats, amiable and easy to get along with when they know you. Following "their person" from room to room, quietly co-existing is a definite plus for this breed. They are not overly dependent and do not constantly pester their owners for attention. Maine Coons will drape their tails over and across a variety of items, including their humans' faces. These cats also enjoy butting heads with their humans. Both genders are dignified in carriage and are adept at avoiding vases, figurines and plants... a real blessing considering their size. For all around adaptability, personality and ease of grooming, plus tops in amusement and affection, the Maine Coon is a perfect pet. Owners say they are perpetual kittens, playing well into their old age. In the show ring it is a unique stand out, not only for its type but also in color and color pattern, all making for a cat that reflects its natural heritage.

Historical Record March 2002
Diana Fineran

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These 1902 photos of Traditional Maine Coons are of great interest, because they present the breed as it originally became known, and as TCA, INC. recognizes them now.

The TRADITIONAL MAINE COON (MC) (c)
Copyright, Diana Fineran, June 12, 2000

 

 
   
 
 
                

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