More on Cat Whisker Collecting 

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Lennie C. Hoover is rare in the world of collectors. Collecting cat whiskers is not a prevalent hobby, even on the internet, which caters to every fetish.

A Google search turned up very few other aficionados of this hobby.

One of them would "collect the whiskers you find around the house and every once in a while stick a whisker up the cat's nose while she was sleeping."

I wrote to his friend. Mr. Winters kindly answered and supplied further proof of the paucity of cat whisker collectors (my questions are in bold):

First off, I gather from the way that you worded the above statement about your friend that he collected cat whiskers in addition to poking them up his cat's nose.

No, he collected cat whiskers *to* poke them up his cat's nose. They had no other purpose. And once the cat was sufficiently chastised by a whisker up the nose I'm pretty sure he just discarded the whisker, confident that another would come along sooner or later.

So calling him a "collector" would be a stretch :-)

Has his cat ever bitten him for sticking her whiskers up her nose? Does he have any other bizarre quirks?

Not that I know of. He's just a normal guy who doesn't like whiskers up his nose.

Another cat whisker collector, Corie of Callalillie inaugurated The Whisker Project to collect whiskers just for the sake of collecting them. Her project began a month and a half ago.

I also wrote to Corie, and her response makes her the first authentic cat whisker collector:

How did you get the idea for the Whisker Project?

The idea for the Whisker Project evolved from a two-part conversation with my fiance about the internet and odd fascinations. I was curious about how the internet facilitated bringing groups of people together from similar, often secretive niches, as well as whether a simple request on a blog could both entertain and motivate people to respond-- and send me something in the process. Everyone has something small and strange in life that makes them smile. Knowing that there are others out there can make you grin (or, at the very least, make you laugh at the other person) is very satisfying.

You mentioned that your friends already give you their cats' whiskers. I gather this means you were already a collector before you posted the Whisker Project on Callalillie. How did you start in this hobby? How long have you been collecting?

A good friend of mine-- a neuroscientist-- starting collecting her cat's whiskers several years ago. She would find them and stick them into a piece of clay on her bedside. I thought that it was cute and hilarious and starting saving my cat's whiskers, as well, except I keep them in a little glass vial. That was about three years ago. Since then, friends sometimes find whiskers from their cats and save them for me.

How many whiskers did you have in your collection before you posted on the blog? Did you receive any from strangers who read your blog? How many cat whiskers do you have now?

I actually have no idea how many whiskers I have in my collection, though I would estimate around 20 or 30. About a year ago I got a newer, better vacuum cleaner and my yearly whisker yield dropped significantly. To date, I have recieved about 15 whiskers from various areas of the US and two or three from the UK.

How do you store your collection? When will the Project be completed, if ever? How do your friends and family react to your hobby?

I have been keeping my cats' whiskers in a small glass vial with a screw top. I have not begun to store the whiskers from the WProject, though I am considering sorting them and putting them in vials, as well. Before doing that, however, I need to develop an archival process for them.

I'm not sure when the project will end. Lately, I've become interested in the cards and letters that come with the whiskers. It's fascinating how people comment on their sending whiskers to me. I enjoy the mail almost as much as the whiskers :)

My friends and family derive general humor from the project, mainly because this type of thing is expected of me. I've always been a little quirky and this type of project makes me smile. I have a friend or two who think that whisker collecting is disgusting (on par with something like toenail collecting), however that doesn't stop them from asking about the progress of the collection, etc. Curiosity always wins out.

Ah ha! Corie has a friend who collects cat whiskers - if neuroscientists are doing it, it must be ok.

Meanwhile a commenter on Callalillie also admitted she is a legitimate cat whisker collector. She replied to my queries:

I only collect my cats whiskers and I started because I would find them all over my house and think they were the weirdest little things - I had never known they had the ability to fall out, so I found it really weird and bizarre, which just made me like it all the more. I started collecting them maybe 7 years ago and I don't hunt for them, but my cat seems to lose a lot of them all the time so I find them all over the place. I like to think that he leaves me them as little presents because he knows I keep them (yes, I am a weirdo). I use to keep them in an envelope but now I keep them in a ziploc bag and I have a lot - too many to count.

Actually my mother, my boyfriend and a few friends know that I keep them - they think I am crazy and I cannot think of a good reason for keeping them, but I do. But it's definitely not something I broadcast to the world but what is funny is that I work with a woman who is a total cat lover and she told me she keeps her cats whiskers too, so I guess it is a common hobby!

Yes, Kim, it is more common than I initially thought.

Another commenter inserts collected cat whiskers into a toy mouse. A weirder twist to the hobby, yet this Dominocat has not responded to my email at the time of publishing.

Then I hit the motherlode of cat whisker collectors: an entire website devoted to the hobby.

According to the site, "One of the basic tenets of cat whisker collecting is that the cat whiskers may not be taken from a cat, they must be given by the cat." Cat whisker collections thrive in cool and dry locations.

There is even a registry of Cat Whisker Collectors, with four other collectors in addition to the authors of the website, with membership cards and certificates.

Again, my pleas for more information on this unique hobby went unanswered. I am not giving up hope.

While conducting my research for this blog post, I took a break to meet a friend to whom I confided the nature of my work.

"Why, didn't you know that cats shed whiskers?" said Cheryl the Red. "I am not a cat lover, but I once had a cat and I would find the things all over the place and I would pick them up and keep them."

"I even had a friend who used cat whiskers in an art installation. Whiskers and glass shards."

I guess it's like tuna casserole and sex in airplane toilets. Everyone else has tried it except me.

I have collected cat whiskers for 20 yrs..LOL..I just could never bring myself to throw them away. They are cool little things...
This is amazing - I have been cat-sitting for six months now and I have yet to discover a cat whisker lying around!
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