Origin: United States
Colour: Solids, tabbies, shadeds and smokes, bicolours and particolours
One of the first truly American breeds, a big, tough, outdoor, cold-country cat, similar to the Norwegian Forest Cat and the Siberian Forest Cat from the Old World.
Domestic Breed: One of the first truly American breeds, a big, tough, outdoor, cold-country cat, similar to the Norwegian Forest Cat and the Siberian Forest Cat from the Old World. It has also been called the Maine Cat, the Maine Trick Cat, the American Longhair, the American Forest Cat, the American Shag and the American Snughead. It has been described as a 'gentle giant with the face of a lynx'. A powerful working cat with physical beauty as a bonus.
Appearance: One of the largest of all domestic breeds. Long-bodied but with a relatively small head. Well-muscled and strong-boned. The protective coat is long, heavy and silky, with a large ruff and bib and, above all, a magnificently luxuriant tail.
History: As with all early breeds, there are several alternative explanations concerning its origin:
(1) It is a cross between a house-cat (or a wildcat) and a racoon. Although this is zoologically impossible, the legend could least have given the breed its distinctive name. The idea first arose because the original Maine Coons were tabbies with ringed tails that were fond of climbing trees. This made them look raccoon-like and sparked imaginative speculations concerning their unlikely parentage.
(2) It is a cross between a house-cat and an American Bobcat or Canadian Lynx. This is another preposterous theory which was seriously considered by some authors. Although it is true that a variety of feline hybrids have occurred in the past, there is nothing about the anatomy or behaviour of the Maine Coon that suggests any non-domestic genetic elements.
(3) It is descended from six Angora cats that belonged to the Queen of France, Marie Antoinette. A Captain Samuel Clough of Wiscasset, Maine, is said to have brought the cats to Maine on board his ship The Sally, along with other precious belongings of the beleaguered Queen. It is claimed that she was planning an escape from the dangers of the French Revolution and had sent all her most treasured possessions on ahead of her, including furniture, cloth, wallpaper, china, silver, ornaments and her six beloved long-haired cats. She herself never followed because she was beheaded before she could leave. Her cats broke free, or were turned loose in Maine, and began to fend for themselves in the New England countryside. Her other belongings were disposed of, and it is claimed that some of the furniture is still to be seen in Wiscassett. Without more detailed, documented evidence, all one can say in favour of this story is that a cross between Angoras and local tabby cats would probably result in something approaching a Maine Coon in appearance.
(4) It is descended from Norwegian Forest Cats that were sent to America by Marie Antoinette during the French Revolution, when she hoped to escape to the new World. The reason the French Queen might have owned Norwegian Skogkatts is that one of her most devoted admirers at the French court was the Swedish diplomat Count Axel von Fersten, who would have had access to Scandinavian felines and might have offered here some as an exotic gift. Sadly, there is no hard evidence to support this.
(5) It is descended from Angora Cats sent to America by Marie Antoinette during the American War of Independence. She is said to have made a gift of some to the Marquis de Lafayette on one of his voyages.
(6) It is descended from Persians and Angoras brought to New England by an English sea captain by the name of Coon. In his trading vessel, he is reputed to have been a regular visitor to the ports up and down the coast and was always accompanied by his feline 'army'. Whenever he went ashore, some of his cats managed to follow suit and fraternize with the local cats. In this way, they founded the long-haired cat population of North America - a population that was named after him.(In some versions of this story, Captain Coon is identified as Chinese.)
(7) It is descended from Norwegian Skogkatts (= Norwegian Forest Cats) brought to North America as ships' cats at a very early date by the Vikings. To believe this, you have to accept the controversial view that Vikings were regularly visiting North America in the 500 years before Columbus 'discovered' the new World. (It is claimed that Columbus was only able to make his voyage successfully because he had set eyes on some of the early Viking maps of North America.) In support of this theory it has been pointed out that the Norwegian Forest Cat and the Maine Coon are remarkably similar in appearance. One expert cat judge, seeing both breeds together at a show in Berlin remarked that in her opinion they belonged to the same breed.(It could, however, be argued that it has been similar climatic conditions that has made them look the same - both breeds being well protected from the cold.)
(8) It is a descendent of Russian Steppe Cats (= Russian Long-haired Cats) that were brought to Maine by sailors on trading ships.
(9) It is a descendent of a French breed from the mountains of the Pyrenees known as the 'French Domestic', which looks very similar to the Maine Coon. It is thought that early French explorers first brought these long-haired cats to the New World to trade with the local Indian tribes as valuable rodent-destroyers. (The North American Indian tribes had no domestic cats available to them before the arrival of Europeans.)
(10) It is a cross between local house cats that were running wild in the New England forests and escaped Angora Cats that had been imported as exotic novelties by New England sailors. It was the custom in the early days of sea travel for sailors to bring back unusual 'curios' from faraway places for sale in their home ports. Angora Cats could have been acquired on voyages to Turkey anytime from the 17th century onwards.
(11) It is a result of British sailors bringing Angoras over as ships' cats in the 1850s. When these cats escaped and mated with the local cats, the outcome was the Maine Coon. The weakness of this idea is that ships' cats would almost certainly have been the tough, local British shorthairs, rather than the then highly valued longhaired imports from Turkey.
(12) It is the descendent of local house-cats that became semi-wild and, living in the cold forests, gradually developed a heavier body and a thicker coat as a natural protection against the cold.
Of all these various explanations the last one is the simplest, but there may well have been occasional injections of long-haired cats from abroad, by one or other of the routes mentioned above.
Whichever origin is the true one, we do know that Maine Coons have the remarkable distinction of being the very first cats ever to be exhibited in competitive cat shows. The first official cat show in the world is usually dated at 1871, in London. The first in North America is usually given as 1895, in New York. But Maine Coon shows had been taking place regularly before either of these. From the early 1860s, New England farmers had been holding an annual cat show at the Skowhegan Fair. Maine Coons were brought there from all over the region to compete for the title of 'Maine State Champion Coon Cat'.
When the bigger shows began at the end of the century, the Maine Coons had a considerable advantage, having already been exposed to over thirty years of competitive showing. As a result they were extremely popular and highly successful in those first days of major, national pedigree competition. But it was not to last. As cat shows became more and more popular, the exotic Persians and Siamese began to appear and gradually took over the show scene, as they had done in Europe. The Maine Coons were eclipsed and gradually vanished.
The problem was familiarity. As one Maine Coon enthusiast put it, early in the twentieth century: 'The Maine people having had them so long, it is difficult to arouse any great enthusiasm about them'. The farmers may have taken pride in them, but these new cat exhibitions were city affairs. The recently arrived breeds from overseas were rare novelties and therefore much more appealing to the sophisticated urbanites who were flocking to the big shows..
Interest in the New England breed did, however, return in the 1950s and a Maine Coon Cat Club was formed in 1953. In 1968 the Maine Coon Breeders and Fanciers Association was established and in 1976 this was joined by the International Society for the Preservation of the Maine Coon. From this point onwards, the breed began a full revival and in the 1980s its fame started to spread abroad. It arrived in Britain in 1983/4.(Although the first Maine Coon in Europe was a pregnant female sent to Austria in 1953/4.)
(See also Rexed Maine Coon)
Personality: Terms used to describe the breed include: Hardy, rugged, dignified, reserved, amiable, gentle, elegant, loving, faithful, self-confident, responsive, durable, affectionate, playful, intelligent, resourceful, shy, good-tempered, soft-voiced, active and healthy.
Colour forms: Traditionally, this is a tabby cat, but today almost any colour is allowed, including all solids, tabbies, shadeds and smokes, bicolours and particolours. The British Maine Coon Cat Club lists no fewer than 64 colour forms. Specifically excluded are: Chocolate, Lilac and Siamese Points; blue or odd eyes in cats of a colour other than white; and Bicolour or Particolour cats with more than one third of the fur white.
1981. Hornridge, M. 1981. That Yankee Cat: The Maine Coon. Harpswell Press, Gardinar, Maine.
1983. Bass, S.P. This is the Maine Coon Cat. TFH, New Jersey.
British Maine Coon Cat Club was founded in 1985. In 1995 it published a guide to the breed: Introducing the Maine Coon. Address: 12, St Joseph's Road, Handsworth, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, S13 8AU, England.
Internationaler Maine Coon Cat Club (IMCCC). Address: Ziegelleiweg 18, 51149 Köln, Germany.
Maine Coon Fanciers of Great Britain. Address: Woodsview Cottage, Fowley Lane, High Hurstwood, East Sussex, TN22 4BG, England.
Maine Coon Breeders and Fanciers Association. Address: 4405 Karrol S.W., Alburquerque, NM 87121, USA. or 2669 Skeel Street, Brighton, CO 80601, USA.
Maine Coon Club. 59 Ninth Street, Wyoming, PA 18644, USA.
United Maine Coon Cat Association. 7 Mason Drive, Milford, MA 01757, USA.
Note: In 1994, the Maine Coon had the unique distinction of being the only breed to have its own glossy colour magazine: Maine Coon International has been published quarterly since then by MCI Group, PO Box 59, Uckfield, East Sussex, TN22 4ZY, England.
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