Collecticats- A love of Cats and Antiques
Eiffion from Collectibulldogs.com asked if I would write a guest blog for him, and considering his passion for Man’s best friend ‘the Dog’, in particular Bulldogs, I thought I just had to write about the Dogs’ nemesis, namely Cats!
In homage to ‘Collectibulldogs,’ I have called this blog Collecticats- A love of Cats and Antiques
The Ancient Egyptian Goddess ‘Bastet’
Cats have been a long time favourite of ‘Man,’ dating back over several millennia, but never were they so venerated as they were by the ancient Egyptians. In fact, in the third millennium BC, they were worshipped as the deity ‘Bastet.’ She was the Goddess of warfare and represented as a lioness warrior. Cats were revered, not only due to their ability to control vermin in the grain stores, but for their nurturing and protection of children. Over the ensuing centuries the goddess transformed, eventually reaching the zenith of popular culture in ~1000-700BC as a major protector, and represented in imagery as a cat. The cat was also domesticated and often ate at the same table, and from the same plate (Yuk!), as the family!
Cats were greatly mourned on death, and were often mummified and buried in sanctified plots with supplies of mummified mice to feed them in the afterlife: considering the size of cats and mice, this must have been a fairly skilled job and pretty gross!
The penalty for killing a cat was death however, that didn’t stop some unscrupulous Ancient Egyptian business men, and possibly women, from breeding cats to maturity, battering them to death, and then trading in their mummified remains as offerings to Isis and Osiris!
Which leads me on to a wonderful story about mummified cats from the late 19th Century…
In 1888, an Egyptian farmer from Beni Hassan (about a hundred miles from Cairo) was digging in the desert and came across thousands of mummified cats, and some treasure too; including a life size bronze sarcophagus with a cat in (Osiris). He had hit upon a seam of ancient divine offerings to the deities. There were so many cats that, in a spark of entrepreneurial spirit in keeping with his illustrious ancient ancestors, the farmer and the villagers started to sell the cats as nitrogen fertiliser, with some making it as far as Liverpool, UK, via Alexandria!
On arrival at Liverpool they were sold at auction for £3, 13 s. 9d a ton and ground up and spread over English fields! Legend has it that the auctioneer used a Beni-Hasan cat skull as his auction hammer!
A Liverpool Newspaper Article
Here is an extract from a contemporary newspaper article:-
On Monday, at the saleroom of Msssrs. Gordon and Co., Rumford-street, Liverpool, a consignment of about nine tons of fragments of embalmed cats from the Beni-Hassan pit were offered for sale by Mr. J. Gordon. Owing to the announcement that had been made respecting the great antiquity of the mummy cats, which had been recently discovered in Egypt; a large number of merchants and brokers crowded the saleroom. There was very little amusement, the company being too much in the buying mood to allow time to be wasted. The auctioneers first disposed of the bones, which were eventually purchased By Messrs. Leventon and Co. at £5 17s. 6d. per ton. Messrs. Leventon, it will be remembered, are the holders of the first cargo that was imported from the same place.
Several of these mummified cats at least had a more illustrious end and made it to the World Museum in Liverpool, and as souvenirs in cat lovers’ homes around the area!
Another story has it that the linen bandages, used to wrap the cat mummies, were turned in to linen-based paper and, allegedly, used during the American Civil War (1861-65) : not sure if I believe this as the dates don’t quite add up…
Unfortunately, history hasn’t always been kind to the cat. In Mediaeval times, Pope Gregory IX (Papacy from 1227-1241) issued a church document ‘Vox in Rama’ that condemned the black cat as an incarnation of Satan.
People keeping cats as pets were suspected of being witches and burned at the stake along with their feline friends! Folklore had it that cats, particularly black cats, were witches familiars and could metamorphosise as a witch or other evil creatures. This almost led to domestic cats being wiped out in Europe. A hundred years later, seeing the cat as a devil started to slowly change with the advent of the Black Death (Bubonic plague) in Europe. Spread by an almost uncontrolled rat population, cats started to revive in numbers as they were seen as, perhaps, a necessary evil!
By the 1800’s the cat was firmly back as a domestic pet, and several breeds started to appear. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that my favourite breed of cat appeared, namely the Devon Rex. I’ll perhaps mention more about the ‘pixie-like’ Rex, with curly fur, in a follow-up blog but our Devon Rex, Var, is more like a dog; he walks on a lead and retrieves objects: that’s him in the main image!
Cat Antiques and Collectibles
The Human’s love of cats through the ages has ensured that there is a plethora of Cat related antiques, artwork, and collectibles available. Appearing from the Ancient Egyptian times in the form of statues, to drawings and paintings by renowned artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Renoir, and Dürer. They have been reproduced in a diverse range of objects from books to boxes, figurines, doorstops, home furnishings, jewellery, fabrics, and fabricated in porcelain, pottery, metal, glass, marble, stone, crystal, candle wax, soap, food, and other less savoury substances…. (earwax being one!).
My personal collection of cat collectibles is not quite in the same league as Ave’s Bulldog collection but….. I’m the ‘proud’ (if slightly embarrassed) owner of a cat draught excluder called ‘Mitzi’, several cat shopping and handbags (purses), and numerous china and crystal cat figurines, as well as a Hermann Teddy bear/ cat! I know, I need to get out more…
Fabryka Porcelany AS Ćmielów
The reproduction porcelain figurines I’m especially fond of are by a Polish company called AS Ćmielów Porcelain Manufacturer.
The company was founded in 1804 but it was in the late 1950’s-60’s that they produced their iconic Monochrome cat figurines, (amongst others), designed by the IWP Institute in Warsaw and influenced by the work of Picasso and Henry Moore. Folklore has it that the original factory burnt down. In 2000, the current owners recovered the original moulds and restored production. Much to my delight!
Well, I hope you have enjoyed my review of Collecticats- A love of Cats and Antiques collectibles through the ages as much as I have enjoyed writing it. Thank you to Eiffion for the invitation to write a guest blog!
We do have a few cat collectibles on our website if you’re interested: mullardantiques.co.uk.
Just click on the links below the images to take you to the relevant page.