Cats are wonderful companions. Generally they are intelligent, affectionate and sensitive. The evolution of the cat began millions of years ago and today’s domestic cat may be a descendant of a wild African cat the Egyptians tamed perhaps as early as 3,500 B.C. By about 1500 B.C cats were sacred to the Egyptian goddess Pasht or Bastet – some sources think the name ‘puss’ is derived from the goddess’ name.
Figure 3: A Burmese cat is depicted on New Zealand 1998, Scott 1485; as shown on the maximum card.
During the Middle Ages, the cat was seen as a symbol of evil in Europe and was killed in great numbers. Wiping out so many cats is believed to have led to an increase in the rat population and contributed to the spread of the Black Death.
In the 1600s cats began to regain their popularity as their value again was recognised. In the following centuries cats moved to other parts of the world as people spread across the globe. In recent years many countries have issued “Endangered Species or Nature Conservation stamps” e.g. Japan issued a stamp in 1974 featuring the “Iromote Wild Cat”. The stamp (Japan 1974, Scott 1170), is shown in Figure 1 and the fast day commemorative cancel for the issue depicts the cat lying down.
The New Zealand Health stamps of 1983 (Scott B115-117) provide a good introduction into the difference breeds of cats. The issue depicts a Tabby, a Siamese and a Blue Persian. The name “Tabby” was probably derived from a type of silk originally made in Baghdad. Pedigree “tabbies” must conform to a particular pattern of stripes and bars. They usually have a ‘spectacles’ pattern around the eyes and a ‘M’ on the forehead. Figure 2 features a Tabby and a Siamese shown together on a stamp from the Great Britain 1995 set of 5 (Scott 1587).
Though associated with Thailand, Siamese have been known in Europe for centuries. It is well known this breed of cat has a character of its own. One of the most attractive set of cat stamps was that issued by Thailand in 1971, (Scott 572-575), showing various types of Siamese. Check also the miniature sheet issued by Thailand for Thaipex 95 (Scott 1617- 1620). that includes Burmese, Khoa Manee sad Korat breed as well as a seal point Siamese. A Burmese cat is depicted on New Zealand 1998 (Scott 1485) as shown on the maximum card illustrated in Figure 3. Burmese cats have soft and gentle voices and make loving pets.
Ginger cats are my favourite and the 30p of the Great Britain 1995 issue (Scott 1588) features an attractive ginger cat as does the Christmas gift pack of the 1985 Pantomime issues (Scott 1124-28). Scott 1128 features an actor as a pantomime cat. New Zealand issued a ‘Thinking of You” greetings booklet in 1991 that featured ginger cats (Scott 1033-1038). The booklet pane is shown in Figure 4.
Persian cats with their long silky coats and majestic expressions are one of the most decorative cats. On the continent and in the United States, they are known as long-hairs and have a placid, yet sociable nature. White Persian cats should be pure white-with no coloured hairs at all. Their eyes may be either blue or orange. Various types of this breed are depicted in the 1968 Hungarian issue (Scott 1880-87). Illustrated in Figure 5 is a “Blue Persian” cat.
Most breeds of cats have been depicted on stamps issued by world postal administrations over the years, including Romania 1965 (Scott 1710-1728) United States 1988 (Scott 2371-75) and others. The 1982 United States Christmas issue (featuring pets) depicted a kitten and puppy playing together. The 1972 U.S. mail order stamp also featured a cat. However, a close check of stamp catalogues is necessary as sometimes the cat features as a secondary part of the design.
Great Britain featured the Cheshire cat from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland in its 1979 “Year of the Child” issue, Scott 874. The “Nonsensical Drawings by Edward Leaf” issue of 1989, (Scott 29) featured two cat stamps: the 32p “C is for Cat” an alphabet book character and 19p “Owl and the Pussy Cat” – stamp and postmarked featured in Figure 6.
Cats in Fairy Tales have featured prominently on world stamps. Scenes from Puss in Boots appeared on the issues of Hungary 1960 (Scott 1341); Monaco 1978 (Scott 1116) and Poland 1968 (Scott 1569). A British pictorial slogan cancel Puss in Boots was issued in 1978 and a slogan featuring Dick Whittington and his Cat was issued at a later date. A scene from the Arabian Nights featuring cats is shown on Hungary 1965 (Scott 1716-1724). Bulgaria 1964 (Scott 1435) featured a cat in a scene from The Big Turnip and Czechoslovakia 1968, a cat from the Spellbound Castle. The 1980 Colombia Christmas issue featured The Seven Lives of a Cat. The airmail stamp of the issue (Scott C694). depicted a cute cat going to brush its teeth as illustrated in Figure 7. Great Britain featured The Tale of Tom Kitten in The Little Books section of The Story of Beatrix Potter stamp booklet issued about July 1993.
I used Compton’s Encyclopaedia 1995 version and the American Topical Association Handbook No. 73 Fairy Tales & Folk Tales on Stamps by Paul G. Partington as a research basis for this article.