And now, something to delight the heart of any cat-lover, or indeed cat-liker; catalogues for the Grand National Cat Show. There are two in Birmingham Archives & Heritage; for the first in Birmingham in 1873, and for the third, in 1875. (If you are a dog-lover please look at the end of this blog).
The colour on the 1873 exhibition catalogue (to the left) is misleading. Victorian cats were the same sort of colour as now, with classes for: tortoiseshell, tabby, black and white – although admittedly Class 11 was for cats of an ‘Unusual Colour – Colour to be any remarkable hue not otherwise specified’. There were short-haired cats, long-haired cats, Angoraor Persian cats. In 1873 there were ‘Cats of no Sex’ however this had changed by 1875 to ‘Gelded Cats’. In all there were 51 classes in 1873, and in 1875, 48 classes.
The show was held at the Old Wharf – in the area of Gas Street Basin now – off Broad Street. There was an entrance fee of three shillings and sixpence, not much in modern money (17.5p), but a considerable amount at that time. The fee paid for feline food and accommodation ‘Suitable pens and Cushions’. Many of the exhibitors were from Birmingham but some came from much further afield; a Miss Boville from Portsmouth, a Captain Nicholson from Denbigh, a Mrs Nicholls from London, a Mr Horner from Leeds, for example. From Regulation 4 in the 1875 catalogue, it appears that cats could be sent unaccompanied by train – ‘All Cats from the country must be forwarded on Friday… Each Cat must be in a separate basket…’ An exception was made for the two classes including kittens.
There were several classes specifically for cats owned by working men. The entrance fee was only one shilling – 5p. The reason for this was explained by Rule 14: ‘To encourage the kind treatment of domestic Cats, the Committee offer a series of prizes to be competed for by Working Men..’ Cats might be for sale – ‘Exhibitors must state on the Certificates the price at which they are prepared to sell their Cats… A prohibitory price may however, be stated’. In 1873, Master G. Tansley chose this option, asking £1,000 for his ‘heaviest long-haired cat’ clearly neither expecting nor hoping to sell it. Some owners put ‘Not for sale’, as did Mr and Mrs Helden in 1875 for their long-haired tabby cat. A footnote enlarged on this: ‘At the Siege of Paris  the owner of this Cat repeatedly refused 30 francs for it to be killed for food’.
We hope you have enjoyed this article about cats, cat-owners and cat-shows more than a century ago. However, if you have a strong preference for dogs, please leave a comment… and we’ll do a blog about dog shows!
Maggie Burns, librarian, Birmingham Archives & Heritage