Feline Studmuffins: Or, How to tell if your cat is H-O-T

This “studbook” from 1906 illustrates the focus on pedigrees and breeding that was extended, eventually, to cats—some years after the dog received such dubious attentions (Harriet Ritvo’s The Animal Estate is the classic starting point for this conversation).  The Tariff Law of 1897 “excluded the better class of cats from the United States” (quoting the studbook) in protection of home-grown felines by demanding a 20% customs tax on live animals “unless pure bred and imported for breeding purposes.” Produced as a countermeasure to this tax, the book compiles a thorough register of such feline studs so that any such cat could cross the border tax-free.

This is a photo of the first kitty to have that honor:


The book’s dedication suggests an interest in advancing the “ultimate superiority” of the American domestic cat, which seems to contradict the preface’s discussion of why this domestic cat is not, ultimately, claimed as American. While the dedication is warmly patriotic,


the preface goes to some lengths to justify why the short-haired domestic cat (felis domestica) is referred to only as “the Shorthaired Cat,” with no regional or national identification: “while every cat must of necessity be born somewhere, no breed of cat is today distinctly native anywhere; because no domestic cat existed in America until comparatively recent times and no one can state whether the first introduced were long- or short-haired, no particular breed can be authoritatively claimed to have ever been native to the United States; because nativity alone can not constitute breed….”

One could only guess at the heated debates that took place. It must have been galling to have one’s cats be classified as unfortunately derivative—no “pure” American, nothing more than “alley” or “stray” or “common” as a designation for the cat one could have claimed as one’s own. Yet this book’s project—to facilitate the importation of fancy cats from foreign parts, to be bred here—was in itself a project of American-identity making (via American-cat making) by calculated breeding (eugenics): an embrace of the sad fact that American(-cat) identity was, in itself, non-existent (it would, of course, be of little benefit to the American of European-ancestry to seek to establish the Native American as inherently more American than himself). 

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