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Cheshire Cat Challenge (and Pallas Cat Follow-up)

 Travels through the southern provinces of the Russian Empire in the years 1793 and 1794

Pallas Cat


Calling all cat and heraldry fans out there: here's a chance to help the Libraries solve a mystery from one of its books. You can also win an 8 x 11" reproduction of this attractive cat engraving, if you are among the first ten to supply reliable evidence identifying the coat of arms shown in the picture (see contest rules below). For everyone who loves this cat picture and can't wait, a high-resolution version is available now on the Libraries' Flickr site for you to download for yourself.

The background to the mystery: back in January, 2009, the Libraries published my blog entry,
Peter S. Pallas and His Curious Cats
, featuring a handsome picture of a cat from the 1812 London edition of Pallas's Travels Through the Southern Provinces of the Russian Empire in the Years 1793 and 1794. Many people commented about how much they liked the picture.

One of those who commented, Zara, remarked, "According to the description it was an old-style Siamese cat. Why is it
associated with Felis manul?" Indeed, the short-haired cat in the picture does look like a Siamese, with its
darkened muzzle and paws. It certainly doesn't look like a Pallas
(also known as the Felis manul, or by its current scientific
name, Otocolobus manul), which has long, dense fur suitable for cold climates,
a tail like a bristle-brush, and eyes with round pupils (instead of the elongated
oval pupils found in many cat breeds).

My initial reaction to Zara's comment was to think that the
illustrator of the 1812 edition might have been a London artist working from a verbal description
who had never seen an actual specimen of a Pallas Cat. Or maybe
to save money the publisher had decided to re-use a cat picture
already on hand from another unidentified publication. Since this particular edition was intended more as a travelogue than an official scientific work (Pallas first published his description of the Felis manul in 1776), it might not have mattered to the publisher if the picture didn't resemble a real Pallas Cat.

However, after doing more research, I learned that "G. Geissler," the artist and engraver whose name appears in the lower left
corner of the print, was Christian Gottfried Heinrich Geissler
(1770-1844), a German artist who had actually accompanied Pallas on his travels
through Russia, according to art historian S.T. Prideaux, author of the 1909 book, Aquatint Engraving: A Chapter in the History of Book Illustration.

Intrigued, I followed up with the comment-writer Zara by email, who turned out to be Zarine
L. Arushanyan, a researcher of Russian cat and dog
breeds who lives in Yerevan, Armenia. Zara's question sent me looking through other editions of Pallas in the Libraries collections. I found a more accurate illustration of the Pallas Cat in his Zoographia Rosso-Asiatica, published in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1831, as shown above, center.

In this Latin language publication, Pallas describes seven species of cats. The account of the mother cat and her hybrid kittens mentioned in my original blog entry appears in the section on Felis catus (the domestic cat). The 1831 description of the Felis manul also notes that the Manul can breed with domestic cats, possibly leading (Pallas speculated) to the development of the Angora cat. However, I was unable to find another illustration showing the Siamese-looking cat from the 1812 edition.

Then I started wondering about the shield design in the upper left corner of the picture. Whose coat of arms was it? Could that help to explain why a seemingly unrelated cat picture had appeared in this book by Pallas? A close-up image appears above.

This coat of arms has three stacks of wheat (also known as "garbs"), each tied around the middle, above two crossed axes or halberds. Apparently this is not the crest of the Shedrinskoi family mentioned by Pallas as the owner of the estate where the hybrid cats lived. So I searched through various heraldry guides to see if I could find anything like it. The wheat-stack is a symbol used in some coats of arms for the county of Cheshire in England (as shown in online guides to Cheshire Heraldry). The arms of the Grosvenor family (including the Dukes of Westminster), whose ancestral home is in Cheshire, also have a wheat-stack. But why would there be a Cheshire connection to the Pallas book? Was it for a patron of Pallas? Can this specific coat of arms be identified, to shed more light on the mystery?

Encyclopedia of Life Pallas Cat image, copyright by David Blank

Again, I'd like to give a tip of the hat to blog commenter Zarine L. Arushanyan, with a link to her English language article on the Van Cat breed: What Does a True Van Cat Look Like?

And now I'd like to throw out a challenge to the readers of this blog: can anyone figure out which family or place is associated with this coat of arms? Could the 1812 cat picture be an early image of the legendary Cheshire Cat, later immortalized in Lewis Carroll's novel, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865), and more recently in the movie Alice in Wonderland (directed by Tim Burton, 2010)?  Please help identify this coat of arms! The first ten who come up with a verifiable authentication for this coat of arms will receive a spiffy reproduction print of the image, suitable for framing.

Feel free to post your comment, here, on this blog, on the Libraries' Facebook page, or on the Libraries' twitter page.

Good luck!

—Diane Shaw

Below are some more intersting Pallas Cat links:

Felis manul page from the Encyclopedia
of Life

Felis manul page from the Animal Diversity Web site (University of
Michigan Museum of Zoology)

Pallas Cat Study and Conservation Program (Siberian Environmental Center in Novosibirsk, Russia)

Wild Cat Conservation Foundation Partner Projects

Manulomania (a Russian website featuring Pallas Cat photos: some serious, some silly)

Le Manul Facebook page for Pallas Cat fans

Contest rules:

The contest is open to United States residents eighteen (18) years of age and older. Entries from outside the United States are welcome, but because of legal restrictions, prizes can only be awarded to United States residents.

Entries will be accepted through April 30, 2010. Entries may be submitted via comments on this blog post, the Libraries' Twitter, or Facebook. Links to supporting evidence will be appreciated.

Smithsonian Libraries staff will determine the best answers. One prize will be awarded to a maximum of ten winners. The winners will be notified and receive his/her prize by mail. All decisions of the Smithsonian Libraries are final.

By accepting the prize, winners consent to use of their name by the Libraries for promotional purposes without further consideration, except where prohibited by law.

Prize: An 8" x 10" unframed photographic reproduction print of the Pallas Cat, from the Libraries collections.


  1. Ducky

    My guess is that the coat of arms represents a family in Penza, Russia, where Pallas and CGH Geissler visited on their travel. The sheaves of wheat is the coat of arms for Penza (see I found the reference to Penza in William Fordyce Mayor’s book “A General collection of voyages and travels..” Vol XX (via Google Books). Mayor spelled Penza as Pensa and there was a reference to a hybrid cat on pages 15-16. Mayor reported that Pallas saw the cats in two separate households, a “Martynof” and the unnamed household of the Lord Lieutenant. The coat of arms could represent the household where Pallas and Geissler first saw the cat?

  2. Three bind sheaves standing in the field were and are the coat of arms of the city of Penza. The city that is the administrative center of the corresponding territory. The village, where Pallas have seen the strange cat, is located in Penza territory. Please follow the links:
    I hope it may be helpful to find the further answers. Best wishes,
    Zarine L. Arushanyan

  3. I have read previous posts. The emblem is the coat-of-arms of Mokshan, a small town in Penza territory/province.
    Mokshan was founded as the fortress in 1679 to protect the frontiers of Russia from the raids of nomads. The coat of arms of Mokshan was confirmed by the Highest resolution on May 28, 1781. The upper part contained the coat-of-arms of Penza province. The lower part contained two crossed poleaxes as the evidence the the residents of the town were of the service class (persons bound by the obligations of esp military service, to the Muscovite Russian state). The three sheaves are of wheat, barley and millet and symbolize the fertility and crop-growing agriculture of Penza province.
    Best wishes,
    Zarine L. Arushanyan

  4. Dear Diane Show, I want to offer a new research, because I enjoyed our
    cooperation. I study now Persian cats and Viaggi di Pietro della Valle, a Roman nobleman, who was the first to bring to Europe cats from Horasan, Persia. They were actually the first documented long-haired cats in Europe. He traveled in Turkey, Egypt, Jerusalem, Syria, Persia, India, and his letters were published as a book after his death. He had a dramatic love-story, and is the author of poetry. He brought to Europe numerous extraordinary things unknown before in Europe. I guess it may be exciting what you will notice, and then, what others will reply and find out. Best wishes, Zarine L. Arushanyan

  5. Diane Shaw

    Good to hear from you again, Zara! The SI Libraries has a copy of the 1662-1664 French translation of Pietro della Valle’s Viaggi, see for the catalog record. I will look at our copy in the Cullman Library. Maybe we can do an SIL blog entry together about your research and this book and author! –Diane

  6. Zarine L. Arushanyan

    Hi, dear Diane Show, my article about Pietro della Valle, his Viaggi and the LH cats he brought with him to Italy was published in a Moscow cat fancy magazine. Here is the link to the magazine’s site page and the on-line variant of the article:
    So, we may go on with the research about della Valle. He was a great personality, really exciting!
    Best wishes,Zara

  7. Stasy Walker

    the cheshire cat is one of the more interesting characters in Lewis Carroll’s classic tales of his niece, Alice.

    i’m not certain if a cheshire cat is an actual breed or something like that, but in the story, the cheshire cat (a cat) magically appears (and disappears, usually very slowly, leaving only his mouth in a smile) and through often confusing and cryptic questions and discussion, aids Alice in her quest to find certain other locations in wonderland, and ultimately, the way back to her own world.

    i think he is truly one of the best characters in the book.

    good luck. i hope this helped some. more about ots qoutes you can find at this link

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