Fancy Cats Come From Moggies

A fancy-cat is one of those fur-baby champions on display at a cat show.

Moggies are all the other domestic cats. This UK term for cats has spread throughout the English-speaking world partly because of the British Commonwealth and partly over the Internet.

It’s a cute word, much easier on modern ears than “malkin” or “grimalkin,” the really old English words for “cat.”

Back in the day, there weren’t any fancy-cats, just some pets that belonged to royalty, aristocratics, or religious recluses.

There were lots of short-haired tabby cats and long-haired forest cats living off rodents and food scraps around farms and settlements.

Other moggies were status symbols or commodities. For example, traders brought long-haired, stocky white cats out of what are now Turkey and Iran to both Europe and China. White was a very fashionable color for these cats in France, but Chinese high society considered it inauspicious and gave their highest affection to yellow long-hairs.

East or West, cat lovers also admired the full variety of long-haired cat coat colors and patterns.

To the north, from Siberia through Scandinavia to, eventually, New England, local residents – all of them hardy people – liked the strength and resilience of their local long-hairs, as well as the powerfully built moggies’ dense and waterproof fur.

And tailless cats, from different mutations were famous both in Japan and on Britain’s Isle of Man.

Meanwhile, in southeastern Asia, you had to be buddies with the King of Siam if you wanted one of his elegant, light-colored cats with their very dark faces, ears, feet, and tails. But on Siam’s Korat plateau, all you needed to do was get married or earn someone’s high esteem. Then you might be given (never sold) one of the shimmering blue cats from Phimai Temple.

Today such cats are called Korats.

Shimmer? You want me to shimmer?

Things began to change in the Victorian era. For one thing, Louis Pasteur and others established that many diseases are caused by microscopic organisms that are carried by rodents and other barnyard animals.

People gave more respect to moggies after that because of the cat’s obsessive personal cleanliness, as well as its mousing and ratting skills.

Also around this time, British dog lovers began to show their pets in hunting trials and at conformation events. But it was Harrison Weir and other cat enthusiasts who first held a pet show at one of London’s most popular venues – the Crystal Palace.

That event, held in July 1871, is now considered as the start of the cat fancy, though only a few, very loosely defined “breeds” were shown, including a Siamese which shocked Victorian journalists called “a nightmare kind of cat.”

They found the round-faced British shorthair that served as a model for this illustration of Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat much more soothing.

Weir – the “father of the cat fancy” – was a well-known nature artist and bred pigeons as well as cats. Among other things, he developed fancy-cat standards, wrote books about cats, and founded the National Cat Club, which has since morphed into the UK’s present Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF).

This organization and other cat registries, including but not limited to The International Cat Association (TICA) and the Cat Fanciers Association (CFA), recognize new breeds. They also store individual feline pedigrees, sponsor cat shows, help out cat breeders, and maintain written fancy-cat breed standards.

It’s impossible to say exactly how many cat breeds exist today because each registry has its own standards.

What matters to us now is that moggies came first, then the fancy-cats. It’s the other way around with dogs.

Purebred canine lines were developed first, each with its own specific purpose. Then mongrel mutts showed up.

But perhaps you’re still wondering where all the different moggies came from.

Geneticists say that, after cats left Egypt thousands of years ago, they were isolated in at least seven other geographical regions where they developed, not into different species, but into different races.

Down through the centuries, each race developed as cats adapted to different local conditions. Natural selection played a role – long hair, for instance, helped cats survive in chilly climates.

Artificial selection, a/k/a/ human interference, mattered, too. People in various places supported cats whose looks they liked. Tastes varied from region to region, and therefore so did the cats, since favored cats went on to have the most kittens (which is what evolution is basically all about).

The Victorians then began to codify these different looks as breeds, starting out simply enough with such things as hair length or some obvious feature like the “nightmarish” dark points on the Royal Cat of Siam, which is what the Siamese cat was first called.

Today’s fancy-cat breeds are much more complex, of course, but it all began with those first “natural breeds” – the moggies.

Featured image: European Shorthair, ISROK cat show, Kuopio, 2009-11-14, by Heikki Siltala, CC BY-SA 3.0.
Korat: Milivanily at Pixabay. Public domain.
Cheshire Cat: Public domain.


Kurushima, J. D.; Lipinski, M. J.; Gandolfi, B.; Froenicke, J. C.; Grahn, J. C.; Grahn, R. A.; and Lyons, L. A. 2012. Variation of cats under domestication: genetic assignment of domestic cats to breeds and worldwide random-bred populations. Animal Genetics. 44:311-324.

Lipinski, M. J.; Froenicke, L.; Baysac, K. C.; Billings, N. C.; and others. 2008. The ascent of cat breeds: genetic evaluation of breeds and worldwide random bred populations. Genomics. 91(1):12-21.

Menotti-Raymond, M.; David, V.; Pflueger, S.; Lindblad-Toh, K.; and others. 2008. Patterns of molecular genetic variation among cat breeds. Genomics. 91:1-11.

Poemas del Río Wang. 2010. Chinese cats. Last accessed November 25, 2017.

Weir, H. 1889. Our Cats and All About Them. Their Varieties, Habits, and Management; and for Show. Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company.

Wright, M., and Walters, S. 1980. The Book of the Cat New York: Summit Books.


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