Although cat shows as such are not much more than a century old, people influenced feline appearance before that, by deciding which cats were loved and cherished and which surplus kittens were disposed of. Since they were working animals, dogs had been bred and shown for centuries before cats got in on the act. But when they did, cat shows were basically beauty pageants from the start, since cats did not work, and unlike dogs they usually refused to perform in obedience classes, for instance.
The name 'Cat Fancy' refers to the organisations worldwide which began to organise and regulate the registration of pedigree cats. This led to a growth in solid coloured cats, a new range of patterns, and long haired cats. The earliest breeds were simply recognitions of local variations that had evolved as a result of these choices. These breeds were basically geographical and historical types. But in the 20th century the Cat Fancy became more creative, with an explosion of new breeds.
Cat shows of a sort have been going on at country fairs for centuries. The earliest recorded one took place at ST Giles Fair in Winchester in 1598. However, the first modern official cat show was held at Crystal Palace in London in July 1871. The cats appearing at this show were not ordinary moggies as had happened in earlier shows, but the elite pets of the leisured classes, although there was one class for 'cats owned by working men'. The event was organised by writer and artist Harrison Weir, who wrote all the breed standards and also judged the competitions. Queen Victoria purchased two blue Persians at the show, thereby giving a royal seal of approval both to cats and cat shows. Weir went on to found the National Cat Club, which is the oldest surviving club today, with its own annual cat show in London.
By the turn of the twentieth century breeding and showing of cats was well established in Britain. S would be expected, there were classes for native breeds like the British Shorthair and Manx, but also some for exotic imports like the Siamese and Abyssinian. In 1910, the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF) was founded, and it became the largest association for pedigree cats in Britain.
The start of cat shows in the USA began slightly later than in Britain, although informal cat shows had also existed there for a long time. The first official show had 176 entries, and was held at Madison Square Garden in New York in May 1895. It was organised by a Mr James T Hyde. The Best Cat crown was won by a Maine Coon, a traditional American breed of cat.
After several false starts, the American Cat Association (ACA) was formed in 1904, making it the oldest American registry surviving today. However, the cat fancy in America had a quarrelsome start. A splinter group from the ACA formed the Cat Fanciers Association (CFA) in 1906, and this registry is the one which has come to dominate. Yet another splinter in 1919 led to the formation of the At Fanciers' Federation (CFF), which still survives.
The number of recognised cat breeds was fairly small at first, and they were types which were already known. Breeders simply tried to perpetuate the best characteristics of each breed and eliminate flaws. Although breeds changed over the years, these changes were very gradual. Then later in the 20th century there was a surge of new breeds and new registries. When this happened, those who wished to create something new came into conflict with those who merely wished to preserve the old. Schisms developed. Many of the older registries were slow to accept change, while some of the newer ones were eager for innovation.
All of the above led to a group of American members of their associations forming The International Cat Association in 1979. It was instantly popular, and came to be the second largest association in North America, with affiliates internationally. TICA has always been open to innovation, and has many newer breeds on its books. And once a breed has achieved full recognition with TICA, it becomes easier for it to win it elsewhere.
In the second half of the 20th century cat fancy organisations began to proliferate around the world. In 1949 the Federation Internationale Feline (FIFe) was founded. Based in Europe, it has members in 36 countries. The World Cat Federation (WCF) was founded in 1988 in Brazil. This now has clubs in several countries, with extremely strong support in Russia and Eastern Europe, and a particular interest in emerging local breeds. The Canadian Cat Association was formed in 1960, although Canadian breeders also exhibit at TICA and CFA shows. The Australian Cat Federation (ACF) was formed in 1972, and the Co-ordination Cat Council of Australia came along in 1980. There is also a New Zealand Cat Fancy (MZCF), and a Southern Africa Cat Council (SACC).
The nearest thing the cat-showing world has to the United Nations is the World Cat Congress, founded in 2001. This has a large number of major organisations as members. The aim is for showing categories, standards, and names to be less confused internationally. The move to co-operation between organisations which often bickered and competed for members is obviously a good thing.
From the start, cat shows have not just been for exhibitors. They are very popular among the general public, both cat lovers and those who just want a good day out and to see some beautiful cats. Shows run by the different organisations vary in the way the cats are presented and judged, and the whole format of the show. So whether you want to show a cat or just visit a show, it is worth going to those run by different registries to see which you prefer.