WHAT IS AN ‘OLD-STYLE’ SIAMESE?
original article © Julia Craig-McFeely June 2003
updates/additions by the OSSC
There is no definition of what makes old-style Siamese or what doesn't. Mostly people refer to a cat as old-style if it is not 'showy', but even so, every Siamese should meet the standard of points that has remained almost unchanged for over half a century. An old-style cat does not mean a pet quality cat.
All Siamese breeding should strive to meet the standard of points, but as all breeders find, only some of the cats bred will be 'perfect' examples of the breed as described in that standard.
The ears should not be horizontal, nor should they be upright, but should be placed on the head with the lower edge continuing the diagonal line of the jaw. The eyes should not be slitted, but should have the correct oriental almond shape that displays their beautiful eye-colour. Early standards described the cat as having 'large ears', but how large is large? The standard does not say, and sometimes that is taken to mean 'the larger the better'.
The original description was a comparison to contemporary domestic and show cats, which around 1900 was basically any long-haired cat -- all these had small neat ears. In comparison to domestic cats the Siamese also had very lithe and svelte bodies: they came from a hot country and had much shorter, flatter coats than other breeds in this country, and carried considerably less body fat, not requiring it to keep warm.
Only recently has the show style begun to favour ears placed horizontally, a change that is only part of a general alteration in look that has completely altered the appearance of the Siamese in the show world in the USA.
The UK standard requires 'good width between the ears': originally this meant a broad skull, but with the narrowing of the skull the only way to gain width between the ears is to push them lower on the head. The eyes are now slitted rather than almond-shaped, with the haws sometimes covering part of the eye. The body has become long and thin and the tail extremely whippy. Most noticeable is that the size of the ears in proportion to the skull has changed dramatically. Everyone has a different idea of beauty in their cats (look at the difference between the Persian and the show Siamese, each considered the ultimate in feline beauty by their owners): there is no wrong or right.
Although the four base colours, Seal, Blue, Chocolate and Lilac are considered the true old colours of the Siamese, the red point was actually recognised and known long before the Lilac was accepted in the 1960s. The 'style' of a cat is a matter of type (i.e. body and head shape and definition) not colour, so you can get Siamese of all types in all the colours available.
The best way to judge a Siamese is to keep in mind the standard, but also to look at cats that were considered the most beautiful Siamese of their day by the top breeders and judges of the time, since they obviously met that standard. Here you can see two such cats.
INWOOD SHADOW, born 1947, was widely considered to be the most beautiful Siamese ever bred.
This is the cat on which the club logo is based.
CLONLOST YO YO, born 1949, is probably the most famous stud from the 1950s, appearing in almost all Siamese lines
The gentle but aristocratic look of these cats was the model for the two kittens below, who were born in 2002. This look was easily achieved, without the need to outcross to other breeds, or even to select heavily for type.The picture below shows two Siamese imported in the early 1920s directly from Thailand (then Siam). As you can see they are not round - or 'apple'-headed.This is the original look of the Siamese and is what many breeders of Siamese in the UK aim for, though there is a range of type to be found.
However, all avoid the excessive type that led to health problems in extreme show type Siamese in the USA, where in a few cases kittens were born with heads so narrow that their eyes were on the sides of the head. Since their brains weren't adapted to see in two directions at once, these cats could not survive.
All OSSC breeders are encouraged to breed for health and temperament first, and worry about type later: an obsession with type has led to the perpetuation of serious genetic defects in many breeds, because those with show-winning type are used for breeding when they are not producing healthy offspring.
Among breeders who do not show, the pressure to breed for type has always been subordinate to breeding for health. Even so, some unscrupulous breeders are using the current anxiety of some people about losing the less showy look in Siamese to charge inflated prices and breed a cobbier cat to the detriment of their health, claiming that the cats are rare or difficult to breed, and sometimes outcrossing to other breeds.
Unless a cat is pure Siamese in its breeding IT IS NOT SIAMESE, no matter what title is added to its name. Siamese breeding by non-show breeders in the UK has never gone away: it's still out there in the homes of many breeders nationwide, many of them people who also show their cats. Siamese like those above are not rare; they shouldn't be more expensive than any other pedigree cat; and it doesn't require any special skill to breed them. The Old-style Siamese Club was founded to put those seeking kittens in touch with breeders, and we succeed in this every day.
There have never been appleheads in Britain - the applehead is something invented in America, often by outcrossing to other breeds such as the American Shorthair. The applehead has a completely rounded head with a short nose that has in many cases has gone as far from the original imported Siamese as the modern show cat, just in the opposite direction. Originally the term was used in the USA as a criticism, but many breeders took it up for their type of cats, and the breed now has its own standard.
None of the earliest pictures of the Siamese show appleheads, though some of the cats were cobbier than today's cats. A very few early pictures of Siamese from the late 1800s show a round-headed cat, but actually this is simply a male cat with a narrower head who has developed heavy jowls -- some present-day studs look like this. These very cobby cats were also not Siamese as we know them: they were 'hybrids' of the existing types of cats in Thailand corresponding most closely to the modern-day Tonkinese. Some of the imported cats from Thailand in recent years, 'Thai Siamese', are clearly hybrids as they have pale blue eyes and fluffier coats. Some barely resemble Siamese at all, their head shape, eye colour and the fact they have white spots indicate that they are hybrids of the many cats that wander the streets of Thailand.
I've been told I would have to import to get the look of cat I want...
That's possible, but actually it's not necessary. Many of the European-bred old-style Siamese, called 'Thai Siamese' are not actually pure Siamese. Many of them can still have 'parents unknown’ on fourth or fifth generation on their pedigrees. This is because most of the first European breeders to try to breed old-style Siamese outcrossed to other breeds to obtain the cobbier look.
The European 'Thai Siamese' was created by mating a Siamese to a shorthaired cat. The resulting progeny mated back to Siamese, the offspring of that cat with Siamese coat pattern mated back to Siamese again. By the third generation (F3) these ‘Thai Siamese’ were then mated to each other. The result was a cat with a fluffier coat and very poor eye colour; this is not a Siamese irrespective of its coat pattern, many look like the colourpoint shorthair. European breeders have been importing cats from the UK as our cats originate from old Siamese breeding lines.
The standard for 'Thai Siamese' specifies paler blue eyes than the original deep blue, and a somewhat fluffy coat. Outcrossing is unnecessary, it just takes patience in breeding to get the look you want, and many breeders in the UK have already achieved it or have never lost it in the first place.
ALL UK-bred Siamese are pure Siamese and can be traced back to the earliest imports in the late 1800s. None have been outcrossed, or they would not be registered as Siamese by the Governing Council. OLD-STYLE SIAMESE ARE STILL REGISTERED AS PURE-BRED SIAMESE IN THE UK, AND THERE IS NO QUESTION OF REGISTERING THEM AS A DIFFERENT BREED.
NOTE: For those breeders importing Siamese/Siamese type cats the GCCF has the following rule.
If the cat is from another registry it must show five full generations of pure Siamese to qualify for the Full GCCF Register. (That is a five generation pedigree.)
Anything else in the pedigree, such as a 'Thai Siamese', then the cat goes on to the Reference Register. After three generations mating to pure Siamese the progeny go onto the Supplementary Register.
Three further generations of mating to pure Siamese qualifies the progeny for the Full Register. The register that the cat is placed on is indicated on the registration certificate.
Mixed Siamese/Orientals in five generations qualifies a Siamese cat to be on the Supplementary Register. Siamese which are the result of outcrossing to orientals, although on the Supplementary register, must be mated out to pure Siamese for six generations before they can be placed on the Full Register. (This outcrossing may be responsible for the 'new coat colours' of cinnamon, caramel, fawn and apricot.)
All cats on the Supplementary Register are treated the same as the Full register for purposes of showing in GCCF shows.
Although much of the information relates to American breed standards, a website containing many historic photographs as well as other information which may be of interest can be found at:
Find out more about the early Siamese in many club facsimile publications.
The history of the Siamese Standard of Points is laid out with illustrations in another club publication.