All The Vintage Books About Cats You Could Possibly Need

Monday, April 24, 2017

Textured book cover with several playing cats. Title is "Cats and All About Them"

It is generally accepted that cats rule the internet. And possibly the world. I knew this, but never thought to search among Hagley’s library holdings for books about cats—it’s just not our thing.

So I was surprised when I stumbled upon Cats and All About Them by Frances Simpson (1902). This book became part of Hagley’s collection thanks to Pierre Samuel du Pont, by way of his Longwood Library.

Miss Simpson writes in her preface that “the object…of this little book is to assist cat lovers to become cat fanciers.” With careful attention and much practice, the reader can learn how to breed and exhibit cat champions.

Tips for proper grooming and medical attention are shared. Exhibit rules for the National Cat Club are provided, as well as detailed lists of the traits looked for by contest judges. Finally, twenty-four photographs of adorable show winners are provided, such as my favorite…Royal Bobs.

A dark haired cat is held by his owner, a brunette woman in a fancy ruffled dress.

A subsequent search of our online catalog showed that Hagley holds no less than four books about cats!

Next is The Book of Cats, a Chit-Chat Chronicle of Feline Facts and Fancies, Legendary, Lyrical, Medical, Mirthful, and Miscellaneous written by Charles H. Ross in 1868. The title describes this book perfectly, for the author seemingly tracks down and reports every literary and cultural reference to cats in the English language.

Mr. Ross takes exception to previous books published about cats: “nine out of ten among my authorities were prejudiced against the animal about which they wrote, and furthermore...they knew very little indeed upon the subject.” This may be true, but unlike Miss Simpson, Mr. Ross was apparently interested in cats only in the abstract.

Interestingly, our copy of this book also came to Hagley via Longwood Library. Based on this circumstantial evidence, I now like to imagine that P.S. du Pont fancied cats.

A red book with intricate patterns in black and gold. The center has a circle with the title "The Book of Cats"

Our third book is Les Chats: Histoire-moeurs-observations-anecdotes written by Champfleury in 1870. The author notes in the preface that there is a certain affinity between cats and writers, since both have many detractors. Moreover, cats are sedentary and therefore easy to study. I like this book.

As the title suggests, the book goes on to survey the history and manners of cats, along with humorous observations and anecdotes. Our copy contains the bookplate of the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum and is inscribed with the signature of Henry A. du Pont.

Doodles and drawings are known to be found in the margins among several of Henry A.’s books here at Hagley, but unfortunately he did not see fit to add any drawings of cats in this volume.

An illustration of a cat

What remains are the many professional illustrations by famous artists of the day, including Eugene Delacroix and Edouard Manet.

What of the fourth book, you ask? I cannot say much for certain.

Hagley’s copy of Helen Winslow’s book, Concerning cats: my own and some others, is on long-term loan to Longwood Gardens for display in Pierre Samuel du Pont’s den. Which seems to confirm my theory that P.S. du Pont fancied cats, at any rate.

But all four of these books can be read in their entirety via Google Books, so you can enjoy them from the comfort of your home. Digitized books are only a pale substitute for holding the real deal, however. So take your cat off your lap and visit Hagley Library to learn more!

Max Moeller is the Curator of Feline Collections (and Published Collections) at Hagley Museum and Library.