A brief history of Old Style Siamese from 1970’s to the present day

(Written by J. Craig Mc Feeley, “Rameses Cats” 2002).

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 unchanged for over half a century. Cats who are not shown are not necessarily ‘poor-quality’ (or ‘pet-quality’).

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. In some Siamese, the eyes are now becoming 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. However, 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.

 

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Above left: Champion Inwood Shadow, (Seal point female, born 1947)

The best way to judge a Siamese is to keep in mind the standard, but also to look at cats who were considered the most beautiful Siamese of their day by the top breeders and judges of the time, since they obviously met that standard. In the black and white photos above and below, you can see two such cats: Inwood Shadow was widely considered to be the most beautiful Siamese ever bred, and Clonlost Yo Yo is probably the most famous stud from the 1950s, appearing in almost all Siamese lines. The gentle but aristocratic look of these cats is what we are striving for (as seen with the two kitten photos in colour placed next to them, both born in 2002). This look can be achieved, without the need to outcross to other breeds, or even to select heavily for type.

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Above left: Champion Clonlost Yo Yo (Seal point male born 1949).

The picture below shows two Siamese imported in the early 1930s 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 also aim for, although you will find that there is a range of type to be found.

All OSS breeders try to avoid the excessive type that has, for example, 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 sometimes used for breeding when they are not producing healthy offspring.

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Above: Early Siamese imports. Seal female on left (pregnant) and seal male on right.

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 trying to breed a cobbier cat to the detriment of their health and character, claiming that the cats are rare or difficult to breed, and sometimes outcrossing to other breeds*, so the resulting cats are not true Siamese. [Always check the pedigree].

Siamese breeding by non-show breeders in the UK has never gone away: it’s still out there in the homes of Siamese breeders nationwide. Old Style Siamese are not rare; they shouldn’t be more expensive than any  other pedigree cat breed. The Old-Style Siamese club was founded to put those seeking kittens in touch with breeders, and we succeed in this every day.

A note on “Applehead” Siamese: there have never been “appleheads” in Britain. The applehead is something invented in America, in many cases originally by outcrossing to other breeds such as the *British or 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.

ALL GCCF registered UK-bred Siamese can be traced back to the earliest imports in the late 1800s. None have been outcrossed to breeds like the British Shorthair, or they would not be registered as Siamese by the Governing Cat Council. Although many show Siamese in the UK  have Orientals in their pedigrees (an outcross allowed in the UK by the GCCF, and registered with a ‘CSSR’ prefix to their registration number until after x generations the prefix returns to ‘CS’), almost none of the old-style lines have outcrossed in this way. Many Old-style Siamese are still registered as pure-bred (CS) Siamese in the UK, and there is no question of registering them as a different breed since they descend in an unbroken long line of Siamese cats dating from the very first imports. There are many breeders on the OSSC list who can help you to find a cat who looks the way you want.

You can 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.

(Article written for the OSS Club by Julia Craig McFeeley of Rameses Cats. © 2002.)