Our Cats and All About Them


The tabby cat is doubtless one of, if not the most common of colours, and numbers many almost endless varieties of both tint and markings. Of these those with very broad bands of black, or narrow bands of black, on nearly a black ground, are usually called black tabby, and if the bands are divided into spots instead of being in continuous lines, then it is a spotted black tabby; but I purpose in this paper to deal mostly with the brown tabby—that is to say, a tabby, whose ground colour is of a very rich, orangey, dark brown ground, without any white, and that is evenly, proportionably, and not too broadly but elegantly marked on the face, head, breast, sides, back, belly, legs, and tail with bands of solid, deep, shining black. The front part of the head or face and legs, breast, and belly should have a more rich red orange tint than the back, but which should be nearly if not equal in depth of colour, though somewhat browner; the markings should be graceful in curve, sharply, well, and clearly defined, with fine deep black edges, so that the brown and black are clear and distinct the one from the other, not blurred in any way. The banded tabby should not be spotted in any way, excepting those few that nearly always occur on the face and sometimes on the fore-legs. The clearer, redder, and brighter the brown the better. The nose should be deep red, bordered with black; the eyes an orange colour, slightly diffused with green; in form the head should not be large, nor too wide, being rather longer than broad, so as not to give too round or clumsy an appearance; ears not large nor small, but of moderate size, and of good form; legs medium length, rather long than short, so as not to lose grace of action; body long, narrow, and deep towards the fore part. Tail long, and gradually tapering towards the point; feet round, with black claws, and black pads; yellowish-white around the black lips and brown whiskers are allowable, but orange-tinted are far preferable, and pure white should disqualify. A cat of this description is now somewhat rare. What are generally shown as brown tabbies are not sufficiently orange-brown, but mostly of a dark, brownish-gray. This is simply the ordinary tabby, and not the brown tabby proper.


As I stated in my notes on the Tortoiseshell cat, the best parents to obtain a good brown tabby from is to have a strongly marked, not too broad-banded tabby he-cat and a tortoiseshell she-cat with little black, or red tabby she-cat, the produce being, when tabby, generally of a rich brown, or sometimes what is termed black tabby, and also red tabby. The picture illustrating these notes is from one so bred, and is a particularly handsome specimen. There were two he-cats in the litter, one the dark-brown tabby just mentioned, which I named Aaron, and the other, a very fine red tabby, Moses. This last was even a finer animal than Aaron, being very beautiful in colour and very large in size; but he, alas! like many others, was caught in wires set by poachers, and was found dead. His handsome brother still survives, though no longer my property. The banded red tabby should be marked precisely the same as the brown tabby, only the bands should be of deep red on an orange ground, the deeper in colour the better; almost a chocolate on orange is very fine. The nose deep pink, as also the pads of the feet. The ordinary dark tabby the same way as the brown, and so also the blue or silver, only the ground colour should be of a pale, soft, blue colour—not the slightest tint of brown in it. The clearer, the lighter, and brighter the blue the better, bearing in mind always that the bands should be of a jet black, sharply and very clearly defined.


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. But it might also, one would suppose, with as much justice, be called a taffety cat, unless the calendering of "taffety" caused it to become "tabby." Certain it is that the word tabby only referred to the marking or stripes, not to the absolute colour, for in "Wit and Drollery" (1682), p. 343, 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 brinded cat, or the brindled cat, also tiger cat, with some the gray cat, graymalkin; but I was rather unprepared to learn that in Norfolk and Suffolk it is called a Cyprus cat. "Why Cyprus cat?" quoth I. "I do not know," said my informant. "All I know is, that such is the case."

So I referred to my Bailey's Dictionary of 1730, and there, "sure enough," was the elucidation; for I found that Cyprus was a kind of cloth made of silk and hair, showing wavy lines on it, and coming from Cyprus; therefore this somewhat strengthens the argument in favour of "taffeta," or "tabby," but it is still curious that the Norfolk and Suffolk people should have adopted a kind of cloth as that representing the markings and colour of the cat, and that of a different name from that in use for the cat—one or more counties calling it a "tabby cat," as regards colour, and the other naming the same as "Cyprus." I take this to be exceedingly interesting. How or when such naming took place I am at present unable to get the least clue, though I think from what I gather from one of the Crystal Palace Cat Show catalogues, that it must have been after 1597, as the excerpt shows that at that time the shape and colour was like a leopard's, which, of course, is spotted, and is always called the spotted leopard. (Since this I have learned that the domestic cat is said to have been brought from Cyprus by merchants, as also was the tortoiseshell. Cyprus is a colour, a sort of reddish-yellow, something like citron; so a Cyprus cat may mean a red or yellow tabby.)

However, I find Holloway, in his "Dictionary of Provincialisms" (1839), gives the following:—

"Calimanco Cat, s. (calimanco, a glossy stuff), a tortoiseshell cat, Norfolk."

Salmon, in "The Compleat English Physician," 1693, p. 326, writing of the cat, says: "It is a neat and cleanly creature, often licking itself to keep it fair and clean, and washing its face with its fore feet; the best are such as of a fair and large kind and of an exquisite tabby color called Cyprus cats."


I have thought it best to give two illustrations of the peculiar markings of the spotted tabby, or leopard cat of some, as showing its distinctness from the ordinary and banded Tabby, one of my reasons being that I have, when judging at cat shows, often found excellent specimens of both entered in the "wrong class," thereby losing all chance of a prize, though, if rightly entered, either might very possibly have taken honours. I therefore wish to direct particular attention to the spotted character of the markings of the variety called the "spotted tabby." It will be observed that there are no lines, but what are lines in other tabbies are broken up into a number of spots, and the more these spots prevail, to the exclusion of lines or bands, the better the specimen is considered to be. The varieties of the ground colour or tint on which these markings or spots are placed constitutes the name, such as black-spotted tabby, brown-spotted tabby, and so on, the red-spotted tabby or yellow-spotted tabby in she-cats being by far the most scarce. These should be marked with spots instead of bands, on the same ground colour as the red or yellow-banded tabby cat. In the former the ground colour should be a rich red, with spots of a deep, almost chocolate colour, while that of the yellow tabby may be a deep yellow cream, with yellowish-brown spots. Both are very scarce, and are extremely pretty. Any admixture of white is not allowable in the class for yellow or red tabbies; such exhibit must be put into the class (should there be one, which is usually the case at large shows) for red or yellow and white tabbies. This exhibitors will do well to make a note of.

There is a rich-coloured brown tabby hybrid to be seen at the Zoological Society Gardens in Regent's Park, between the wild cat of Bengal and a tabby she-cat. It is handsome, but very wild. These hybrids, I am told, will breed again with tame variety, or with others.

In the brown-spotted tabby, the dark gray-spotted tabby, the black-spotted tabby, the gray or the blue-spotted tabby, the eyes are best yellow or orange tinted, with the less of the green the better. The nose should be of a dark red, edged with black or dark brown, in the dark colours, or somewhat lighter colour in the gray or blue tabbies. The pads of the feet in all instances must be black. In the yellow and the red tabby the nose and the pads of the feet are to be pink. As regards the tail, that should have large spots on the upper and lower sides instead of being annulated, but this is difficult to obtain. It has always occurred to me that the spotted tabby is a much nearer approach to the wild English cat and some other wild cats in the way of colour than the ordinary broad-banded tabby. Those specimens of the crosses, said to be between the wild and domestic cat, that I have seen, have had a tendency to be spotted tabbies. And these crosses were not infrequent in bygone times when the wild cats were more numerous than at present, as is stated to be the case by that reliable authority, Thomas Bewick. In the year 1873, there was a specimen shown at the Crystal Palace Cat Show, and also the last year or two there has been exhibited at the same place a most beautiful hybrid between the East Indian wild cat and the domestic cat. It was shown in the spotted tabby class, and won the first prize. The ground colour was a deep blackish-brown, with well-defined black spots, black pads to the feet, rich in colour, and very strong and powerfully made, and not by any means a sweet temper. It was a he-cat, and though I have made inquiry, I have not been able to ascertain that any progeny has been reared from it, yet I have been informed that such hybrids between the Indian wild cat and the domestic cat breed freely.

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