Our Cats and All About Them


Yet nature is made better by no mean,
But nature makes that mean: so, o'er that art,
Which, you say, adds to nature, is an art
That nature makes.

Coriolanus, Act II. Scene I.

This requires much and careful consideration, and in this, as well as in many other things, experience and theory join hands, while the knowledge of the naturalist and fancier is of great and superlative value; yet, with all combined, anything like certainty can never be assured, although the possession of pedigree is added, and the different properties of food, health, quality, and breed understood and taken into account. Still, much may be gained by continued observation and close study of the peculiar properties of colour, besides that of form. If, for instance, a really, absolutely blue cat, without a shade of any other colour, were obtainable, and likewise a pure, clear, canary yellow, there is little doubt that at a distant period, a green would be the ultimate goal of success. But the yellow tabby is not a yellow, nor the blue a blue. There being, then, only a certain variety of colours in cats, the tints to be gained are limited entirely to a certain set of such colours, and the numerous shades and half-shades of these mixed, broken, or not, into tints, markings light or dark, as desired. To all colour arrangements, if I may so call them, by the mind, intellect, or hand of man, there is a limit, beyond which none can go. It is thus far and no further.

There is the black cat, and the white; and between these are intervening shades, from very light, or white-gray, to darker, blue, dark blue, blackish blue, gray and black. If a blue-black is used, the lighter colours are of one tint; if a brown-black, they are another.

Then in what are termed the sandies and browns, it commences with the yellow-white tint scarcely visible apart from white to the uninitiated eye; then darker and darker, until it culminates in deep brown, with the intervening yellows, reds, chestnuts, mahoganys, and such colours, which generally are striped with a darker colour of nearly their own shade, until growing denser, it ends in brown-black.

The gray tabby has a ground colour of gray. In this there are the various shades from little or no markings, leaving the colour a brown or gray, or the gray gradually disappearing before the advance of the black in broader and broader bands, until the first is excluded and black is the result.

The tortoiseshell is a mixture of colours in patches, and is certainly an exhibition of what may be done by careful selection, mating, and crossing of an animal while under the control of man, in a state of thorough domestication. What the almond tumbler is to the pigeon fancier, so is the tortoiseshell cat to the cat fancier, or the bizarre tulip to the florist. As regards colour, it is a triumph of art over nature, by the means of skilful, careful mating, continued with unwearying patience. We get the same combination of colour in the guinea-pig, both male and female, and therefore this is in part a proof that by proper mating, eventually a tortoiseshell male cat should soon be by no means a rarity. There are rules, which, if strictly followed under favourable conditions, ought to produce certain properties, such properties that may be desired, either by foolish (which generally it is) fashion, or the production of absolute beauty of form, markings in colours, or other brilliant effects, and which the true fanciers endeavour to obtain. It is to this latter I shall address my remarks, rather than to the reproduction of the curious, the inelegant, or the deformed, such as an undesirable number of toes, which are impediments to utility.

In the first place, the fancier must thoroughly make up his mind as to the variety of form, colour, association of colours or markings by which he wishes to produce, if possible, perfection; and, having done so, he must provide himself with such stock as, on being mated, are likely to bring such progeny as will enable him in due time to attain the end he has in view. This being gained, he must also prepare himself for many disappointments, which are the more likely to accrue from the reason that, in all probability, he starts without any knowledge of the ancestry or pedigree of the animals with which he begins his operations. Therefore, for this reason, he has to gain his knowledge of any aptitude for divergence from the ordinary or the common they may exhibit, or which his practical experience discovers, and thus, as it were, build up a family with certain points and qualities before he can actually embark in the real business of accurately matching and crossing so as to produce the results which, by a will, undeviating perseverance, and patience, he is hoping to gain eventually—the perfection he so long, ardently, and anxiously seeks to acquire; but he must bear in mind that that, on which he sets his mark, though high, must come within the limits and compass of that which is attainable, for it is not the slightest use to attempt that which is not within the charmed circle of possibilities.


I place these first on the list because, being an old pigeon fancier and somewhat of a florist, I deem these to be the breed wherein there is the most art and skill required to produce properly all the varied mottled beauty of bright colours that a cat of this breed should possess; and those who have bred tortoiseshells well know how difficult a task it is.

In breeding for this splendid, gorgeous, and diversified arrangement of colouring, a black, or even a blue, may be used with a yellow or red tabby female, or a white male, supposing either or both were the offspring of a tortoiseshell mother. The same males might be used with advantage with a tortoiseshell female. This is on the theory of whole colours, and patches or portions of whole colours, without bars or markings when possible. In the same way some of the best almond tumbler pigeons are bred from an almond cock mated to a yellow hen. The difficulty here, until lately, has been to breed hens of the varied mottling on almond colour, the hen almost invariably coming nearly, if not quite yellow—so much so that forty to fifty years ago a yellow hen was considered as a pair to an almond cock, in the same way as the red tabby male is now regarded in respect to the tortoiseshell female; and it was not until at Birmingham, many years ago, when acting as judge, I refused to award prizes to them as such, that the effort was made, and a successful one, to breed almond-coloured hens with the same plumage as the cock—that is, the three colours. With cats the matter is entirely different, it being the male at present that is the difficulty, if a real difficulty it may be called.

Mr. Herbert Young, a most excellent cat fancier and authority on the subject, is of opinion that if a tortoiseshell male cat could be found, it would not prove fertile with a tortoiseshell female. But of this I am very doubtful, because, if the red and the yellow tabby is so, which is decidedly a weaker colour, I do not see how it can possess more vitality than a cat marked with the three colours; in fact the latter ought, in reality, to be more prolific, having black as one of the colours, which is a strong colour, blue being only the weak substitute, or with white combined. A whole black is one of the strongest colours and most powerful of cats.

Reverting once again to the pigeon fancier by way of analogy, take, as an instance, what is termed the silver-coloured pigeon, or the yellow. These two, and duns, are, by loss of certain pigments, differently coloured and constituted (like the tortoiseshell among cats) from other varieties of pigeons of harder colours, such as blues, and blacks, or even reds. For a long time silver turbit cock pigeons were so scarce that, until I bred some myself, I had never seen such a thing; yet hens were common enough, and got from silver and blues. In the nestling before the feathers come, the young of these colours are without down, and are thus thought to be, and doubtless are, a weakly breed; yet there is no absolute diminution of strength, beyond that of colour, when silver is matched to silver; but dun with dun, these last go lower in the scale, losing the black tint, and not unfrequently the colour is yellow; or, matched with black, breed true blacks. I am, therefore, of opinion that a tortoiseshell male and female would, and should, produce the best of tortoiseshells, both male and female.

It not unfrequently happens that from a tortoiseshell mother, in the litter of kittens there are male blacks and clear whites, and I have known of one case when a good blue and one where the mixed colours were blue, light red, and light yellow were produced, while the sisters in the litter were of the usual pure tortoiseshell markings. In such cases, generally, the latter only are kept, unless it is the blue, the others being too often destroyed. My own plan would be to breed from such black or white males, and if not successful in the first attempt, to breed again in the same way with the young obtained with such cross; and I have but little doubt that, by so doing, the result so long sought after would be achieved. At least, I deem it far more likely to be so than the present plan of using the red tabby as the male, which are easily produced, though very few are of high excellence in richness of ground tints.


If tortoiseshell-and-white are desired, then a black-and-white male may be selected, being bred in the same way as those recommended for the pure tortoiseshell, or one without white if the female has white; but on no account should an ordinary tabby be tolerated, but a red tabby female of deep colour, or having white, may be held in request, though I would prefer patches of colour not in any way barred. The gray tabby will throw barred, spotted, or banded kittens, mixed with tortoiseshell, which is the very worst form of mottling, and is very difficult to eradicate. A gray "ticking" will most likely appear between the dark colour, as it does between the black bars of the tabby.


The best black, undoubtedly, are those bred from tortoiseshell mothers or females. The black is generally more dense, and less liable to show any signs of spots, bands, or bars, when the animal is in the sun or a bright light; when this is so, it is fatal to a black as regards its chance of a prize, or even notice, and it comes under the denomination of a black tabby.

If a black and a white cat are mated, let the black be the male, blacks having more stamina, the issue will probably be either white or black; and also when you wish the black to be perpetuated, the black male must be younger. In 1884, a black female cat was exhibited with five white kittens. I have just seen a beautiful black Persian whose mother was a clear white; this, and the foregoing example, prove either colour represents the same for the purpose of breeding to colour.

For breeding black with white, take care that the white is the gray-white, and not the yellow-white; the first generally has orange or yellow eyes, and this is one of the required qualities in the black cat. If a yellow-white with blue eyes, this type of eye would be detrimental, and most likely the eyes of the offspring would have a green stain, or possibly be of odd colours.

It should be borne in mind, that black kittens are seldom or ever so rich in colour when newly born, as they afterwards become; therefore, if without spots or bars, and of a deep self brown-black, they will in all possibility be fine in colour when they gain their adult coat. This the experienced fancier well knows, though the tyro often destroys that which will ultimately prove of value, simply from ignorance. An instance of the brown-black kitten is before me as I write, in a beautiful Persian, which is now changing from the dull kitten self brown-black on to a brilliant glossy, jetty beauty.


Blue in cats is one of the most extraordinary colours of any, for the reason that it is the mixture of black which is no colour, and white which is no colour, and this is the more curious because black mated with white generally produces either one colour or the other, or breaks black and white, or white and black. The blue being, as it were, a weakened black, or a withdrawal by white of some, if not all, of the brown or red, varying in tint according to the colour of the black from which it was bred, dark-gray, or from weakness in the stamina of the litter. In the human species an alliance of the Negro, or African race, and the European, produces the mulatto, and some other shades of coloured skin, though the hair generally retains the black hue; but seldom or ever are the colours broken up as in animal life, the only instance that has come to my knowledge, and I believe on record, being that of the spotted Negro boy, exhibited at fairs in England by Richardson, the famous showman; but in this case both the parents were black, and natives of South Africa. The boy arrived in England in September, 1809, and died February, 1813. His skin and hair were everywhere parti-coloured, transparent brown and white; on the crown of his head several triangles, one within the other, were formed by alternations of the colour of the hair.

In other domestic animals blue colour is not uncommon. Blue-tinted dogs, rabbits, horses of a blue-gray, or spotted with blue on a pink flesh colour, as in the naked horse shown at the Crystal Palace some years ago, also pigs; and all these have likewise broken colours of blue, or black, and white. I do not remember having seen any blue cattle, nor any blue guinea-pigs, but no doubt these latter will soon exist. When once the colour or break from the black is acquired, it is then easy to go on multiplying the different shades and varieties of tint and tone, from the dark blue-black to the very light, almost white-gray. In some places in Russia, I am told, blue cats are exceedingly common; I have seen several shown under the names of Archangel, and others as Chartreuse and Maltese cats. Persians are imported sometimes of this colour, both dark and light. Next kin to it is the very light-gray tabby, with almost the same hue, if not quite so light-gray markings. Two such mated have been known to produce very light self grays, and of a lovely hue, a sort of "morning gray"; these matched with black should breed blues. Old male black, and young female white cats, have been known to produce kittens this colour. There is a colony of farm cats at Rodmell, Sussex, from which very fine blues are bred. Light silver tabby males, and white females, are also apt to have one or so in a litter of kittens; but these generally are not such good blues, the colour being a gray-white, or nearly so, should the hair or coat be parted or divided, the skin being light. The very dark, if from brown-black, are not so blue, but come under the denomination of "smokies," or blue "smokies," with scarcely a tint of blue in them; some "smokies" are white, or nearly so, with dark tips to the hair; these more often occur among Persian than English cats, though I once had a smoky tabby bred from a black and a silver tabby. Importations of some of the former are often extremely light, scarcely showing any markings. These, and such as these, are very valuable where a self blue is desired. If these light colours are females, a smoke-coloured male is an excellent cross, as it already shows a weakened colour. For a very light, tender, delicate, light-gray long-haired self, I should try a white male, and either a rich blue, or a soft gray, extremely lightly-marked tabby.

As a rule, all broken whites, such as black and white, should be avoided; because, as I explained at the commencement of these notes on blues, the blue is black and white amalgamated, or the brown withdrawn from the colouring, or, if not, with the colours breaking, or becoming black and white. If whole coloured blues are in request, then parti-colours, such as white and black, or black and white, are best excluded. Blue and white are easily attainable by mating a blue male with a white and black female.

The best and deepest coloured of the blue short-haired cats are from Archangel. Those I have seen were very fine in colour, the pelage being the same colour to the skin, which was also dark and of a uniform lilac-tinted blue. Some come by chance. I knew of a blue English cat, winner of several prizes, whose parents were a black and white male mated with a "light-gray tabby" and white; but this was an exception to the rule, for strongly-marked tabbies are not a good cross.


For the purpose of breeding rich brown black-striped tabbies, a male of a rich dark rufous or red tabby should be selected, the bands being regular and not too broad, the lighter or ground colour showing well between the lines; if the black lines are very broad, it is then a black, striped with brown, instead of a brown with black, which is wrong. With this match a female of a good brown ground colour, marked with dense, not broad, black bands, having clear, sharply defined edges. Note also that the centre line of the back is a distinct line, with the brown ground colour on which it is placed being in no way interspersed with black, and at least as broad as the black line; by this cross finely-marked kittens of a brilliant colour may be expected. But if the progeny are not so bright as required, and the ground colour not glowing enough, then, when the young arrive at maturity, mate with a dark-yellow red tabby either male or female.

Very beautiful brown tabbies are also to be found among the litters of the female tortoiseshell, allied with a dark-brown tabby with narrow black bars. It is a cross that may be tried with advantage for both variety and richness of colour, among which it will not be found difficult to find something worthy of notice.


Of English, or short-haired cats, the best white are those from a tortoiseshell mother, and as often some of the best blacks. These whites are generally of soft yellow, or sandy tint of white. Although they have pink noses, as also are the cushions of their feet, they are not Albinos, not having the peculiar pink or red eyes, nor are they deficient in sight. I have seen and examined with much care some hundreds of white cats, but have never yet seen one with pink eyes, though it has been asserted that such exist, and there is no reason why they should not. Still, I am inclined to think they do not, and the pale blue eyes, or the red tinted blue, like those of the Siamese, take the place of it in the feline race; neither have I ever seen a white horse with pink eyes, but I find it mentioned in one of the daily papers that among other presents to the Emperor of Russia, the Bokhara Embassy took with them ten thoroughbred saddle-horses of different breeds, one of them being a magnificent animal—a pure white stallion with blue eyes.

The cold gray-white is the opposite of the black, and this knowledge should not be lost sight of in mating. It generally has yellow or light orange eyes. This colour, in a male, may be crossed with the yellow-white with advantage, when more strength of constitution is required; but otherwise I deem the best matching is that of two yellow-white, both with blue eyes, for soft hair, elegance, and beauty; but even a black male and a white female produce whites, and sometimes blacks, but the former are generally of a coarse description, and harsh in coat by comparison. I think the blue-eyed white are a distinct breed from the common ordinary white cat, nor do I remember any such being bred from those with eyes of yellow colour.


To breed these true, it is well to procure imported or pedigree stock, for many cats are bred in England from ordinary tabbies, that so nearly resemble Abyssinian in colour as scarcely to be distinguished from the much-prized foreigners. The males are generally of a darker colour than the females, and are mostly marked with dark-brown bands on the forehead, a black band along the back which ends at the tip of the tail, with which it is annulated. The ticking should be of the truest kind, each hair being of three distinct colours, blue, yellow, or red, and black at the points, the cushions of the feet black, and back of the hind-legs. Choose a female, with either more red or yellow, the markings being the same, and, with care in the selection, there will be some very brilliant specimens. Eyes bright orange-yellow.


Curiously coloured as the Abyssinian cat is, and being a true breed, no doubt of long far back ancestry, it is most useful in crossing with other varieties, even with the Persian, Russian, Angora, or the Archangel, the ticking hues being easy of transmission, and is then capable of charming and delightful tints, with breadths of beautiful mottled or grizzled colouring, if judiciously mated. The light tabby Persian, matched with a female Abyssinian, would give unexpected surprises, so with the dark blue Archangel; a well-ticked blue would not only be a novelty, but an elegant colour hitherto unseen. A deep red tabby might result in a whole colour, bright red, or a yellow tint. I have seen a cat nearly black ticked with white, which had yellow eyes. It was truly a splendid and very beautiful animal, of a most recherch´┐Ż colour. Matched with a silver-gray tabby, a silver-gray tick is generally the sequence. A yellow-white will possibly prove excellent. Try it!


For white and black choose evenly marked animals, in which white predominates. I have seen three differently bred cats, white, with black ears and tails, all else being white, and been informed of others. I failed to notice the colour of the eyes which came under my own observation, for which I am sorry, for much depends on the colour of the eyes in selection; for though the parents are white and black, many gray and white, tabby and white, even yellow and white will appear among the kittens, gray being the original colour, and black the sport.


A deep brown, dense black ground, with a blaze up the face, white nose and lips, should be chosen—white chest and white feet. Get a female as nearly as possible so marked, and being a dense blue-black, both with orange eyes, when satisfactorily marked, and sable and white kittens may be expected.


A slate colour, or a blue male cat, mated with a strongly black-marked, though narrow-banded blue or gray tabby, is the best for dark blue tabbies, or a light-gray, evenly-marked female may be used. What a lovely thing a white cat, marked with black stripes, would be! It may be got.


For spotted tabby the best brown are those got by mating a spotted red tabby, the darker the better, and a brown and black spotted female. These should be carefully selected, not only for their ground colour, but also for the roundness, distinctness, blackness, and arrangements of their spots.

For grays, blues, and light ash-coloured tabbies, the same care should be exercised, the only difference being the choice of ground colours.


By other odd and fanciful combinations, many beautiful mottles and stripes may be secured, and strange, quaint, harmonious arrangements of lines and spots produced according to "fancy's dictates;" but the foregoing are the chief colours in request for exhibition purposes, and most of the colour marking. In any other colour classes, the beauties, whatever they may be, are chiefly the result of accident or sports, selected for such beauty, or in other ways equally interesting.

1 of 2
2 of 2