History of Abyssinians
This History of Abyssinians Article is Listed in Abyssinian Cat Breed Information
The Abyssinian breed has grown and prospered over the years, but the refined cats one sees in the show ring today still resemble their forbearers. These days, many of us no longer have to deal with the very distinct necklaces, leg bars and lockets that were fairly common in the breed 30 years ago.
Abyssinians are a special type of tabby cat; they are distinguished from all other tabbies by their beautiful ticked, resilient coats. All tabbies, in fact, have this ticked or agouti background in their coats (whereby each individual hair shaft is banded with different colors); however, superimposed on this ticked background is a particular dark pattern such as mackerel, spotted, or blotched.
Through more than 85 years of selective breeding, these dark patterns have been nearly eliminated from the Abyssinian breed, and this is what makes them so unique. Although other tabbies are bred in different colors, Abyssinians are bred and recognized for championship by CFA only in the ruddy and red varieties.(In CFA, the color blue was recognized in 1984 and fawn in 1989).
Some breeders prefer to believe that Abyssinians are the most ancient of breeds and that they were both companions and gods of the Egyptians. The history of the Abyssinian breed could begin wherever a ticked tabby walked, because similar cats existed in all countries. The notion that ticked cats were imported here, there, and everywhere is a rather provincial idea. There is little or no doubt that Abyssinian cats developed in England, for there is no record of any Abyssinian cat imported there.
Like so many other breeds, the Abyssinian is not without its legends, but the truth of the matter is that the Abyssinian is more at home on the Thames than on the Nile. The British really hand-tailored a group of cats that they called Abyssinians. They began with what was at hand, the British Short hairs; many of these cats were of unknown parentage. That is not to say that a ticked cat did not come upon the scene to be used in the program; the earliest records indicate that the main requirement for the breed was a ticked coat.
In the beginning, there was a great range of colors, extending from the wild silver agouti ticking to an intense yellow ticking. The silver color seems to predominate in the early Abyssinians if one notices the names of the cats. Such names as Aluminium, Quicksilver, Silver Memelik, and Silver Fairy hardly could have been given to ruddy-colored cats. Today, breeders are concerned about a silver “mutation”, and such concern takes on another perspective in light of the early colored Abyssinians.
Mr. H.C. Brooke (one of the early British breeders) opposed the silver color and, in order “to get back the warmth of body color,” used a cat he described as a “self red” in breeding his cats (Denham and Denham, 1951). In the beginning, Abyssinians were, thus, silver cats accompanied by remnants of tabby markings. At a time when silver and brown tabbies were truly popular in England, breeders tried to produce a totally distinctive cat. They introduced a little red to warm up the coat as Mr. Brooke did, and they bred out the tabby markings. This kind of work took a long time and required great effort.
When any breed is established, there are certain breeders names and cats that dominate the early registrations. Among those very early Abyssinian breeders were Mrs. Constance Carew-Cox, Miss E.A. Clarke, Mrs. Frederick, Mrs. Patman, Lady Edith Douglas-Pennant, and Lady Decies. Two other important names were Mr. Sam Woodiwiss and Mr. H.C. Brooke. All of these people were significant breeders of their time and they are responsible for establishing the Abyssinian as a recognized breed.
The first Abyssinian registrations occurred in 1896, and the stud book of the National Cat Club reveals that Sedgemere Bottle, born in 1892, and Sedgemere Peaty, born in 1894, were registered by Mr. Sam Woodiwiss. Peaty had been previously owned by a Mr. Swinyard and later was acquired by Mr. Brooke (Denham and Denham, 1951).
In the 1900-1905 stud books, 12 Abyssinians, each of which had one or both parents listed as unknown, were registered. In 1903, a particularly fine female named Fancy Free was born. There was also a male born July 13, 1905 that was named Aluminum. These cats were bred and owned by Mrs. Carew-Cox, and they appear in many of the early pedigrees.
Mr. and Mrs. Denham’s book, Child of The Gods, indicates Fancy Free was silver and won the Abyssinian championship cup at the Westminster Show of 1909. Fancy Free and Aluminum produced a fine male kitten named Aluminum II. He was born on September 2, 1907, and was acquired by Miss J.R. Cathcart of the United States.Miss Cathcart also obtained another cat, a female named Salt. According to Mrs. Zanetti (Zanetti, Dennis, and Hantzmon, 1906) Aluminum II and Salt were the first imports to the United States.
The great efforts of Mrs. Metcalfe of Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania and Ms. Hantzmon of Washington, D.C. brought about the final establishment of the Abyssinian as a recognized breed in the United States. (It should be noted that cattery names can be confusing to the novice, as the practices and rules of cattery names have changed over the years. As has been indicated, the breeder of the above kittens, Melikot and Yeshe Imabet, was Virginia Cobb of Newton Cattery; however, Mrs. Metcalfe and Ms. Hantzmon of Djer-Mer Cattery consistently use Djer-Mer as a prefix, even on imported cats). The next cat that Djer-Mer obtained was a male, Ras Seyum. These two women continued to import Abys from England; the next two imports were females, Djer-Mer’s Croham Isana and her litter sister, Djer-Mer’s Croham Justina, born on April 3, 1938.
They were bred by Mrs. C. Basnett.Of course, World War I caused considerable delay in the establishment of the Abyssinian cat as a recognized breed in the United States. The nucleus of the new breed was small, not only in the United States, but also in Britain. There is no record of later imports until Virginia Cobb of Newton Cattery registered Woodroofe Ena of Newton, a female, born in December, 1933. Ena had been bred by Major Sydney Woodiwiss. Virginia Cobb also acquired Woodroofe Anthony from Major Woodiwiss. From this pair of cats came Djer-Mer’s Melikot of Newton and Djer-Mer’s Yeshe Imabet of Newton. This male and female were born on June 23, 1936 and bred by Virginia Cobb. Mrs. Martin Metcalfe and Mary Hantzmon later obtained these kittens.
Ten Djer-Mer Abyssinian kittens were registered in volume 19 of the Stud Book Register of the Cat Fanciers? Association. Interestingly, each of these cats was sired by Ras Seyum and the dam was Yeshe Imabet in seven of the ten registrations. That year Mrs. Metcalfe and Ms. Hantzmon also registered a cat bred by Mrs. Gardner Fiske named Djer-Mer’s Zelasse.
This female kitten was born in July, 1935, and was the product of the early imports Woodroofe Anthony and Woodroofe Ena of Newton. Zelasse was the dam of three kittens. At that time the women decided to share their good stock with other breeders, and five kittens went to breeders in Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan, and, Ohio.
Just when the period of intensive breeding began in the United States in 1938 to 1939, the great tragedy of World War II occurred. By the end of the war, only 12 or so Abyssinians were left in England, and this certainly hampered breeding efforts here in the United States.
Between 1945 and 1946, Helen Fairchild, Robert Richardson, and Mildred Alexander were breeding Abyssinians in the United States. The popularity of the breed was furthered here by a lovely book called Cats and All About Them written by Dr. and Mrs. Fairchild. In it there are several pictures of the imports jer-Mer’s Woodroofe Myoa and Woodroofe’s Mira.
Two female kittens bred by Lady Barnard and born on May 21, 1948, were acquired by Blanche Warren of California. These were Raby Nefertari and Raby Aida. Their sire was Raby Ashanto and their dam Wagphur Cleopatra. Raby Ramphis of Disston was the litter brother and went to Mrs. T.A. Kloos. This cat was later transferred to Mrs. Gaston Comhaire of Texas. Next, Mrs. Kloos imported Merkland Sheba of Disston who had been born on May 29, 1948.
This cat was sired by Kreeoro Kaffa and had been bred by Lord and Lady Liverpool. From 1947 to 1949, the principal breeders of Abyssinians in this country were Alice Archibald, Gaston Comhaire, and Robert Richardson. In 1949, Frances Schuler Taft began her extraordinary career with Abyssinians. Mrs. Taft acquired her first Abyssinian when she bought a male from Blanche Warren. Later on she obtained Caper Cat Trinket and Caper Cat Idyllwild from Judy Smith of New York.
Judy Smith imported Pussner Pride and Pussner Paragon to improve the stock in her Caper Cat Cattery. Pride had been bred by Lady Hedlam and had been born on June 18, 1949. The sire was Raby Ashanto. The dam of this kitten was Pussner Cat. Pussner Paragon, born a month earlier, on May 21, 1949, had been sired by Kreeoro Kaffa. Ist dam was Straw.
Blanche Warren imported another male sired by Kreeoro Kaffa. The cat, Merkland Habesh De Casa Gatos, had been bred by Lord and Lady Liverpool and had been born on March 26, 1949. The dam of Habesh was Merkland Telari, sired by Raby Ashanto. In addition, Blanche Warren also acquired the litter sister named Merkland Magdala.
The Hoeller Cattery had been established by Kathleen and Paul Hoeller, and they imported a male and female of the same litter that had been born August 7, 1949. This litter had been bred by Lord and Lady Liverpool. The cats were named Hoeller’s Merkland Dembea, a female, and Hoeller’s Merkland Takazza, a male.
Abyssinian breeders increased in numbers; in 1950, the list of Aby breeders included Winifred Porter of New Orleans. Mrs. Porter acquired a cat from Ms. C. Basnett. This was The Farm’s Croham Zena. This female Abyssinian, born April 27, 1950, had been sired by Croham Abeba. Mrs. Porter also imported another female sired by Croham Abeba, The Farm’s Nigella Mimi, that had been born April 9, 1950, and had been bred by Ms. F.A. Bone. Kreeoro Kaffa had sired the dam of Mimi, and that cat was Merkland Adowa.By 1951, the group of Abyssinian breeders expanded even more. Joining them was Isabel Allen, Beth O’Donovan, and Van Estes. In 1952, Bob Forrest, LaVona Wright, Mrs. David Sayre, Price Cross, and Mrs. H.T. Beaver registered Aby kittens.
Price Cross of Texas imported Taishun Abigail that had been bred by E. Menezes. This female had been born on August 9, 1950. Ms. Menezes, incidentally, continues to be a devoted breeder of Abyssinians to this day. She is active in the British fancy and is a GCCF (Governing Council of the Cat Fancy) judge. At about the same time, Mr. Cross imported a male cat named Raby Romeo, born on April 10, 1950, and bred by Lady Barnard.
Judy Smith now acquired cats from the Nigella Cattery and imported Nigella Mischa. The cat had been bred by Ms. Bone, and had been born on September 4, 1950. Before he was imported to the United States, Mischa had sired Taishun Josie, a female that had been born on August 8, 1951. Josie was imported by Mrs. Howard Stackhouse of New Jersey.
In 1952, for the first time, no Fairchild cats were registered in CFA stud books. Ms. Menezes sent Nepeta Wendy Girl to Ann Sayre. The dam of the cat was Taishun Pixie, and the sire was Merkland Negus. Another female Abyssinian cat was imported by Mr. and Mrs. James McCrae of Texas. Again, Ms. Menezes was the breeder and the cat was Taishun Dawn of Benmost Bore. The dam of the cat was Taishun Jasmin, and the sire was Nigella Mischa.
The number of Ms. Menezes’ cats continued to increase in the United States. In 1952, Mrs. Waldo Schultz imported Taishun Zeta of Harmonie Acre. This cat had been born on April 27, 1952. Raby Chuffa, one of the most famous of all imports, was acquired by Frances Schuler Taft. The cat had been born on April 5, 1952, and had been bred by Lady Barnard. In 1953, Nigella Honey, bred by Ms. Bone, was imported by Mrs. Terry Vickers of California. The kitten had been born June 2, 1953.
Mrs. Lucas Combs of Kentucky imported a male named Abu of Knott Hall of Blue Grass. The kitten had been born April 20, 1953, and had been bred by Felix Tomilson. The sire was Albyn Jason, and the dam was Raby Ripple. From 1954 through 1959 there was an ever increasing group of Abyssinian breeders that included Virginia Daly, Lillian Magner, Mrs. C.W. Dixon, Mrs. Sol Talasnik, Mrs. William Fix, Harriet Wolfgang, Ruth Livingston, and Ruth McNaughton.
A most significant year in Abyssinian history was 1955, when Edna Field acquired her first Abyssinian. She then imported a pair from England named Chatwyn Taha and Deckham Penanon. Mrs. Field, who continued to breed Abyssinian cats and is a popular judge in CFA today, has contributed as much to the history of the breed in North America as anyone else. One interesting sidelight is that one of Mrs. Field’s kittens went to Sheila Burnford, author of The Incredible Journey. The Aby kitten was a companion to old Simon, the Siamese cat in that story. Mrs.
Field acquired stock from Christine Streetman and Harriet Zimmerman as well as from sources abroad, including German import Heidi of Chota-Li from John Koch. Some of Mrs. Field’s well-known cats are Grand Champion Chota-Li R.S.T., Grand Champion Chota-Li Russet, Grand Champion Chota-Li Flair, Grand Champion Chota-Li Fiesta of well known, Grand Champion Chota-Li Kahina of Phaulkon, and Grand Champion Chota-Li Mia. Russet was CFA Second Best Shorthair Female and Best Abyssinian in 1967-1968. In 1968-1969, Flair accomplished the same wins.
During the ensuing years, kittens were registered by Robin Brodie, Albert Hamling, Natalie Pyle, and Dorothy and Ernest Otten. In addition, Florence Kanoffe, Christine Streetman, Mrs. J.R. Ring, Neil Guild, and M. Harmer contributed to the Abyssinian breed in the United States. Louise Sample, past president of CFA, also bred many fine Abyssinians. Imports continued. Perhaps the most significant of these to the fancy was Rufus the Red of Selene and bred by Bonita Grauer from the dam Selene’s Lise. Frances Schuler Taft acquired the cat.
Martha Prescott imported Deckham Abydos and Tranby Hequet. The cat Blackthorn Prunellia went to Mrs. David Sayre, while Blackthorn Sweet Sauterne was imported by Harry Charles. ~ This history was compiled by Rosemonde S. Peltz and was published in “This is the ABYSSINIAN CAT” by Kate Faler, 1983.