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by Valerie Anne Edwards

The exact origin of the American Shorthair is unknown. The first cat to resemble him, the European, is believed to be derived from the European wildcat and the early Egyptian cat.[1] The original color was therefore presumed to be the brown tabby in both the mackerel and classic patterns. Many of the color varieties, attributed to mutation and natural selection, were developed before the breed set foot in England.


The American Shorthair phenotype most closely resembles the nearly extinct Scottish variant of the European wildcat, known as The Scottish Wildcat.. A small captive breeding program,conducted by several Scottish zoos, is actively working to preserve and extend genetic diversity among captive purebred wildcats, so that a wider gene pool can eventually be released to prevent extinction of this endangered species. Meanwhile, enjoy the similar appearance and hunting talent of its domestic relative, the American Shorthair cat.


In the early tenth century, the Romans brought the European Shorthair into the British Isles, where he was received with admiration as the protector of the scarce British grain supply. Hywel Dda, Prince of South Wales, put several laws into effect in 948 A.D. for the protection of these rodent hunters. One of these laws fixed the value of newborn kittens, young adults, and proven hunters. The penalty for stealing or wounding a cat was one ewe and her lamb. The penalty for killing a cat was enough grain to cover the tip of the cat's tail when the cat was suspended by his tail with his nose touching the ground.[ 3][4]


Interest in cats died out in the eleventh century as the belief in witchcraft spread. Cats were burned and tortured along with the poor old women with whom they took refuge. It wasn't until the fifteenth century that people again recognized the inherent value of cats. [6]


As more short haired cats were bred in England, giving more choice of color and type, people began to favor larger cats with rounder faces and sweeter expressions. Through the years, a large full-chested, sturdy cat with a strong set of well proportioned legs and a somewhat rounded head became the ideal. [5]


Early paintings displaying cats comparable to American Shorthairs show up in the art of the Spanish painter Francesco Goya's "Don Manuel Orsorio de Zuniga" displaying a calico female, a solid black and a blue (or silver) mackerel tabby, all with brilliant gold eye color and type similar to the modern American Shorthair, in a painting from the 1700's. Another painting of note is the English painter Hogarth's 1742 painting "The Hogarth Children" which shows a gold-eyed silver tabby climbing over the back of a chair. Both of these paintings exhibit the eye shape, square muzzle, ear shape and set that came to belong to the breed initially called simply "Shorthair" an all-inclusive name that covered British, American and European Shorthairs of pure breeding.


Since Persians and other Longhairs were not imported to England until the 1860's, the Hogarth painting proves that the silver tabby color existed in purebred English Shorthairs well before Longhairs arrived.

 Certain early cat fancy books instead mention that Persians and other Longhairs came in one pattern only (lined tabby) that easily was blurred into shaded silvers (like the Abyssinian) and made solid colors more uniform than solids produced from classic tabby Shorthairs.

Until these early solid and shaded :Longhairs were crossbred with early registered silver classic tabby Shorthair studs, silver classic tabby Longhairs do not appear in the early stud books. Crosses of black female Persians with Eng. Ch. Ballochymyle Perfection and Eng.Ch. Fulmer Xenophon I, introduced red and brown classic tabbies, and tortoiseshell Longhairs, with continued crossing back to Longhairs to quickly eliminate the shorthair gene that accompanied the desirable classic tabby pattern, while giving larger eyes and broader heads to the Longhair crossbred individuals.[11][12].

The first domesticated cats in America came over with the early European explorers and settlers. There is definite proof that several Shorthair cats were brought to America on the Mayflower.[7] CFA All breed judge and American Shorthair breeder, Mrs. Kay Thoma McQuillen informed the author that her family bible shows an entry by her great-great-grandmother, Mrs. Heaney, that a e-colored Shorthair female" (calico) accompanied her on the Mayflower and produced a litter of kittens soon after arriving at Plymouth Rock, so someone must have brought a male Shorthair aboard the ship for this to happen. [8]


As more settlements were started, more cats were imported to keep the rodent population in check. At first, the early American cats were selected more for ruggedness and natural hunting talent than for beauty. Without excellent hunting cats to control the thieving, plague carrying rats that managed to sneak aboard early ships, the United States might never have been successfully settled.


The Dell Encyclopedia of Cats reports that Shorthair cats were brought to Pennsylvania in 1749 to control a severe rat plague.[9A]


During the San Francisco Gold Rush of 1849, miners paid approximately $50. each for top quality proven rodent hunting cats from the ship S. S. Ohio.[9] Shorthairs sold from $50 to $100 apiece during the San Francisco rat plague of 1884.[10].


As American cats became more plentiful, farmers and miners began to select the kittens that appealed to them based on flashy colors, particularly bold patterns, and general conformation, in addition to the previously required hunting talent and pleasing personality. Nature lent a hand by weeding out the unhealthy, unintelligent and untalented.


A broad genetic base for the American Shorthair was provided by cats of the same breed with different countries of origin. Therefore, the later inbreedings of these lines did not encounter the usual problems associated with inbreeding. Pedigrees were unnecessary until other breeds were imported in the last twenty years of the nineteenth century. The breed was purebred by default, except in New England where Siberians and Norwegian Forest Cats may have been brought over to cross with the pre-existing populations of Shorthair cats, producing the Maine Coon, whose longhair coat proved so durable that the Coon competitively excluded the American Shorthair from northern Canada and New England. In the rest of the country, the pure American Shorthair reigned supreme with farmers.


When this breed was first recognized in the United States, there were so few recognized short haired breeds that the name Shorthair was considered sufficient identification for the breed now known as American Shorthair, just as Longhair was considered a suitable name for a breed that included Persians, Angoras and Maine Coons for many decades.

 Additional history 2

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