AND OF SIAMESE AT CAT SHOWS
The first ever cat show was organised by an American, Mr Harrison Weir and took place at the Crystal Palace in 1871. Fortunately, Harrison Weir’s arrival in Britain coincided with the birth of the Cat Fancy. Only two World Wars caused breaks in their continuity.
Harrison Weir was elated at the success of his first cat show and in his book, “Our Cats and All About Them” he enthusiastically described the event.
The first cat show was held in London, Crystal Palace, 1871
The newly inaugurated Cat Fancy set about identifying the various breeds of cat that until this point had no names or classification. Persian cats were already lauded for their beauty and elegance and were singled out for special breed numbers. Blue Persians especially had many admirers and breeders could separate them from other breeds. Many of the leisured wealthy adopted the Blue Persian, also known as the Archangel Cat, and commenced breeding programmes.
Harrison Weir set out his standards of points under the heading “Points of Excellence” for all the various colours. The White Persian was a great favourite of his.
Standards of Points were set up for all the cats that had come up for approval. Ruffs, fur, frill, tail, size, shape and condition were all considered and points were allocated for each. After the long hairs, the short haired cats were then given attention. The tabby cat received great prominence and Harrison Weir set a very high standard for the distribution of their markings and the explanation was highly detailed.
To someone who was not into cats, a “non-fancier,” the highly descriptive details about tabby markings could have appeared ludicrous but not to a serious breeder. Harrison Weir was very thorough and took his new task extremely seriously. He was dedicated to organising the cat shows and the pedigree cat was especially welcomed particularly if he came with a title. Included in this category were the Abyssinians and Manx.
Then as mentioned above, to the long-term benefit of the Siamese cat, he arrived in Britain to attend to the management of the first show(s).
He carefully studied the “Royal Cat of Siam” and under his “Points of Excellence”, his standards were set out as follows:
Small, broad across and between the eyes, tapering upwards and somewhat narrow between the ears; forehead flat and receding, nose long, and somewhat broad, cheeks narrowing towards the mouth, lips full and rounded, ears rather large and wide at base, with very little hair inside. (10 points)
Very short and somewhat woolly, yet soft and silky to the touch, and glossy, with much lustre on the face, legs and tail. (10 points)
The ground or body colour to be of an even tint, slightly darker on the back, but not in any way clouded or patched with any darker colour; light rich dun is the preferable colour, but a light fawn, light silver grey, or light orange is allowable: deeper and richer browns, almost chocolate are admissible if even and not clouded, but the first is the true type, the last merely a variety of much beauty and excellence: but the dun and light take preference. (20 points)
Ears black, the colour not extending beyond them, but ending in a clear and well-defined outline: around the eyes, and all the lower part of the head, black: legs and tail black, the colour not extending into or staining the body, but having a clear line of demarcation. (20 points)
Rather of almond shape, slanting towards the nose, full and a very beautiful blue opalesque in colour, luminous and of a reddish tint in the dusk of evening or artificial light. (15 points)
Short by comparison with the English cat, thin throughout, a little thicker towards the base, without any break or kink. (5 points)
Size and Form:
Rather small, lithe, elegant in outline; legs thin and a little short than otherwise; feet long, not so round as the ordinary cat, neck long and small. (10 points)
In full health, not too fat, hair smooth, clear, bright, full of lustre, lying close to the body, which should be hard and firm in the muscles. (10 points) All points adding to a total sum of 100 points.Great thought, time and effort was expended by Harrison Weir on the above standard of the Siamese. However, after the Siamese Cat Club was established in 1902 the standards were modified to be more easily applied to the popular cat of the day. Body colour described “as light and even as possible, cream being the most desirable”. Seal brown was decided to be a better description of the points, than black and the “marten” look was inserted into the standard. This was a difficult interpretative point for many as few breeders at that time had actually seen a marten but it obviously appealed as it remained for almost seven decades.
Despite Harrison Weir’s dictate “without any break or kink” in the tail, the “kink” persisted in those early litters. However, the first British champion, “Wankee”, owned by Mrs Robinson of the Siamese Cat Club and a well-known judge, had a pronounced kink.
In their early days in Britain, all cats coming out of Thailand were called “Siamese”, regardless of colour. Two types of those cats were the most prominent. The cream coloured body with sharp defined points and notable blue eyes was called “Royal Cat of Siam” or “Palace cat”, reflecting the legend that they were kept only in royal palace. The other type was called “Temple Cat”, also known as “Chocolate Cat of Siam”, with deep brown body and hardly visible points.
The Siamese Cat Club encouraged breeders to distinguish between the breeding of the Royal cat and the Chocolate cat of Siam. The chocolate cat was in fact a Tonkinese. Genetics in those early days was, of course, an unknown science to breeders.
In 1892 the first standard for this breed was decided for the Royal Cat of Siam in the U.K. Wankee, born 1895 in Hong Kong, became the first UK Siamese champion in 1898. (We now know that Wankee was a Tonkinese!)
At that time the Siamese Cat Club ignored the question of kinks.
“The Royal Cat of Siam” or the Siamese cat as it became commonly known, enjoyed great popularity as a pet and at the shows over the decades. The Siamese Classes were some of the largest ever witnessed at past cat shows, rivalling the ever-popular Persians.
Gradually, the style of the Siamese was altered for the show bench by deliberate selective breeding and the modern style was born. The face became elongated and the ears became extremely enlarged. The ears beg the question, how large was large? Harrison Weir’s standard was “ears rather large and wide at base”.
Problem is that the standard called for good width between the ears – the original cat had a broad head. With the elongated face – the good width between the ears meant that they ended up on the sides of the head.
But is large so large the ears became almost horizontal in some cases? “Rather small, lithe, elegant in outline” turned into elongated and “skinny”, everything exaggerated. This meant that eventually the old-style disappeared from the shows because the original look basically went out of fashion with the old-style being said to be “pet quality”.
Through all the changes, fortunately, there were pockets of breeders, who did not show, therefore maintaining the ‘old-style’ look.
Although World War II and the “designer” Siamese proved quite large threats to the continuation of the old-style, the dedication of their advocates has ensured that they have survived. Today, old-style breeders are doing their best to see that they continue to do so into the 21st century, currently nearly 150 years on since their arrival in Britain.
Unfortunately, the old-style still has no place in the current GCCF show halls despite the standard of points for Siamese being the old-style’s standard of points. They remain summarily dismissed as “pet quality” and, of course, many are as they have poor eye colour or ear set. Despite this when a Siamese kitten or Siamese cat is sought for decoration purposes or illustrations, more often than not it is the old-style that is portrayed unless a caricature is required and then it tends to be the modern style.
The modern style Siamese reigns supreme in the modern show halls, but not in the great numbers it once did. However, the more moderate of the modern style breeders acknowledge that the old-style have something to offer for those who wish to draw back somewhat from the exaggerated features of the modern style. Old-style breeders insist the current Siamese standard of points is relevant to the old-style cat. The mating of a more moderate modern to old-style is Siamese to Siamese and is on the pedigrees as such, a boon for the gene pool. Hopefully, breeders can help each other with health as well as type. See Selecting a stud or Selecting a Queen on web site.
Whatever one breeds, whatever you favour, modern style or old-style, not every cat in your litter is going to be a champion but that being said, the Siamese old-style or modern is an elegant, beautiful cat and still carries the mystery and allure of the Royal Cat of Siam.
Some information gathered from May Eustace’s 100 Years of Siamese Cats.
You may find the folowing websites of interest.