What is an Old Style Siamese?

(Written by Emrys Siamese.© 2014.)

Many of you ask us either what is an Old Style Siamese, or why have Siamese changed so much in the last generation?

Perhaps first of all we should say that Siamese are a very old breed – much older than their name!  In Thailand – the birth place of our first imported Siamese – they are known as the “Wichienmatt” (which means “Moon Diamond” or “Diamonds and Gold). In Thai literature we can see pictures of these beautiful pointed cats going back thousands of years. We have known and loved them in the UK for over 120 years. When we first brought them over, we called them “Siamese” after their native country of Siam – renamed Thailand in 1939.

Most of the pedigreed Siamese that you see in the UK today – both Old-Style and Modern can trace their genealogy back to the first cats brought back from Thailand – and as such are genetically identical.

Ah Choo b.1900. (A seal point female bred by Lady Vyvyan).

Ah Choo b.1900. (A seal point female bred by Lady Vyvyan).

Breeders of Show Siamese, or breeders who prefer what is now being called the “Modern” look, select kittens, queens and studs in their breeding to perpetuate the current show style popular within the GCCF registry; breeders of Old-Style Siamese tend to try and select and breed their cats according to how many of them looked in the UK until the late 1960s and early 70s.

Afka-Khan. Seal point male b.1947.

Afka-Khan. Seal point male b.1947.

All good Siamese breeders are aware of and breed to the Siamese standard. This is a description of the Siamese that was first written by the GCCF and the Siamese Cat Club in the early 1900s to describe and protect the Siamese breed. It is a very old standard and, although it has been gradually tweaked and changed a little over the decades, largely it has remained the same – thus protecting this historic and beautiful cat which first captured our hearts at the turn of the last century.

For example, the GCCF standard asks for ‘width between the ears’ ….and for the ears to be ‘pricked’… this has been in the standard describing Siamese since the early 1900s and is part of what gives the Siamese its’ characteristic “quizzical and inquiring” appearance.

Ch. Clonlost YoYo. Born 1949.

Ch. Clonlost YoYo. Born 1949.

It has become a question of levels of interpretation and personal choice between breeders and judges as to how they select their cats for breeding and which type they wish to breed. For example with eye colour the standard has always described a seal points eyes’ as “clear and vivid”… in the 1902 standard they were described as “bright and decidedly blue”, in 1952 “clear, bright and decidedly blue”, in 1952 ” a clear, brilliant deep blue”, in 1976 again “a clear, brilliant deep blue”..and it is still the same. However you will find the interpretation varies from a paler more vivid periwinkle blue with the Old Style Seal Siamese (which is truer to how they used to be, and still are in Thailand), to a deep navy blue with the show seal Siamese. Both are of course equally stunning! There are even more variations of blue amongst the different colour points, too many to go into detail with here, but please look at the section on the GCCF Siamese standard if you wish to learn more.

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A Lintama kitten bred by Lesley Green.

Some of our most inspiring GCCF champions and examples of Old-Style ‘type’ date from the 40s and 50s (see our historic library) and you will find a number of breeders in the UK working towards that particular look. You may also find breeders in the UK who will, occasionally, show their Old Style Siamese with the International Cat Register called TICA – this is so the public can have the opportunity to see these well loved and remembered cats – and know that they are still very much alive today!

Sandypoints Sir Alexi of Wicca Cats. Triple Grand Champion with TICA in the Thai (Old Style Siamese) class.

Sandypoints Sir Alexi of Wicca Cats. Triple Grand Champion with TICA in the Thai (Old Style Siamese) class.

(Showing the public Old Style Siamese became possible again when TICA recognised Old Style Siamese as now “visually” different to Modern Siamese. In their breed standard they have called them “Thai – also known as Old Style Siamese”, and indeed the TICA standard does closely reflect, and refer to, the first Siamese brought over from Thailand a hundred or so years ago. (http://www.tica.org/public/breeds/th/intro.php).

Example of old type from “The Book of the Siamese Cat” by Rose Tenent (blue point kitten and a seal point queen).

In terms of ‘type’ or visual appearance, Old-Style Siamese in the UK tend to historically have more ‘bone’. This means the skeleton is heavier but with the same foreign ‘svelte’ body shape. Visually, the head shape or ‘wedge’ (resembling a triangular prism) tends to be pointed – when compared to a domestic cat –  but shorter than (or not as narrow) as a Modern Siamese – the muzzle of an OSS is slightly ‘spade’ shaped (or not as acute), but still follows the lines of a triangle from the muzzle up to the tip of the ears. Eyes, as laid down by the Siamese standard, should be a brilliant blue, the oriental shape of the eyes is not overly narrowed, but remains almond shaped, slanting towards the nose.

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An Old-Style Siamese today – Ch Sandaig Bluebelle of Emrys (TICA Best of Breed 2012)

Old style breeders select for ‘type’ in their breeding in just the same way as do breeders of Modern, or show bench, Siamese, but tend to focus on the more moderate build that is also so beautiful…..indeed this ‘type’ are the forefathers of all Siamese and were winning in the show halls for most of the last century.

Ch. Prestwick Perak. born 1924.

(Article written for the OSS club by E. Keeling-Look of Emrys Siamese. © 2014)