A True Story by Bobara Pendergrast
My link to that first National show came with a bit of luck. Since I began showing bi-color and calico Persians over 20 years ago and because of my love of antiques, I've always collected cat items, especially old ones. But years ago, when I began making Victorian jewelry that features cats, I intensified my search for unusual items.
In 1990, I got a tip from a friend about several unique pieces at an antique shop in Central New Jersey. When I got there I found three stunning items: a silver medal marked "National Cat Show, 1895," with a cat face in the middle, a silver cat collar with "National Cat Show, 1895, Won By Cosey," and a picture of a cat wearing a collar ribbon marked "National Cat Show."
Unbelievably, all of them were in perfect, mint condition. The antique dealer said that they had been found packed safely away in the attic of a house near Lambertville, New Jersey where they were discovered during an estate sale. Because the collar was dated 1895, the antique dealer knew she had rare piece. In the end, she drove a very hard bargain, but I had to have them - there had to be a story here!
Upon closer examination, I saw that the silver collar and medal had been made by Whiting Mfg. Co., and this immediately made me feel better about the purchase price. Whiting was a contemporary of Tiffany's that first opened in 1840. After a fire destroyed its store in Massachusetts in 1866, it moved to Newark and opened stores in New York. They started as makers of ladies silver combs before moving into fine jewelry. They were known for their craftsmanship and were eventually bought out by Gorham in 1926.
I began displaying the items at my jewelry booth at cat shows and they drew a lot of attention. We have been able to make reproductions of the medal, which has proven to be very popular. Everybody had theories about them and their significance, but it was a friend of mine, Donna Wiley, that made the initial discovery. She found a reference to a "Cosie" (not "Cosey" as it says on the medal) in a chapter of a book titled That Yankee Cat. So far, we knew we had an early award at an early cat show, but didn't know if the "Won By Cosey" inscription meant that Cosey was Best in Show. But That Yankee Cat, based on "lengthy documents" by early cat breeder and historian "Mrs. Pierce," gave us the good news:
"In May of 1895, when the most famous and largest of the early shows was held at Madison Square Garden in New York. The show was won hands down, first place and best of show by a brown tabby female Maine Cat named Cosie. It must have been a spectacular show, numbering 176 animals in all and including two ocelots, two wildcats, and three civet cats."
This sent us off to the New York Public Library where a New York Times article confirmed that Mrs. Fred Brown's Cosey had been named Best in Show. We were very excited, not only had we found an early cat show award, but in fact had discovered the prize for the Best Cat in the first major show in the United States. It is truly a part of history in the cat world.
No other show records have been found to indicate that Cosey was ever shown again. Mrs. Brown must have been very proud of Cosey's victory as seen in the care she took to preserve her awards and picture. We owe her a debt of gratitude for that, and I intend to show equal respect for them. It's satisfying to me that the discovery of the awards can bring Cosey's name to the forefront once again. Mrs. Brown would be pleased.
Reprinted with permission of the CFA Maine Coon Breed Counci
- 1992: We are pleased to announce that the CFA Foundation has become the proud owner of this wonderful set of historical artifacts. These important pieces of cat fancy history were purchased by the Foundation for its cat museum. This was made possible thanks to a generous donation from the National Capital Cat Show. The collar, medal and photo are now on display at the Feline Historical Museum in Alliance, Ohio. If you are ever in the area of Northweast Ohio, please feel free to drop by to see this collar and the other interesting artifacts on display in the cat museum.
- Reference to Cosey being shown at a later New York City show has been found in a newspaper article in the Samuel C. Perkins' scrapbook.
- 2017: The CFA Foundation has purchased an original copy of the 1895 catalog from the National Cat Show, originally sourced by John Smithson.