TRADITIONAL SIAMESE

SIAMESE CATS AND KITTENS THE WAY THEY USED TO LOOK


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Introduction

Anyone in the market for a Siamese kitten will often have a similar experience. You want a Siamese just like the lovely one you had as a child, or who just passed away at a ripe old age. You go to local breeders, you look in magazines, you attend cats shows, but what you most often find is a cat that looks quite different from the large robust cat you remember. By comparison to the cat you remember, the modern version of the Siamese is emaciated, with large bat-like ears, an elongated head and pencil thin legs. You might ask yourself, "Is this really a Siamese?"The short answer is 'yes', but this is certainly not the same type as you remember. Chances are what you recall is a large robust cat with a round head, normal looking ears, and lovely blue eyes. What you remember is now called a 'Traditional Siamese, or 'applehead' Siamese, while the one that dominates the show ring now is known as the Modern Siamese. If you wonder out loud about what happened, different breeders may give you very different explanations, but the truth is clearly available in any history book.

Russia, Late 1700s:

The first cat of record with Siamese markings appeared on an old engraving discovered by a Mr. Pallas on his journey into Southern Russia between 1793 and 1794. Another is in the 'Cat-Book Poems' where drawings of cats of various colors and patterns (including Siamese, tabby, blue, etc) appeared.

Late 1800s:

In spite of these patterns, there is no clear record of Siamese cats as a breed until the 1800s. It is clearly recorded that, in 1884 the departing British Consul-General Gould was given a Siamese cat by the Siamese king as a farewell gift, and considered it as a great honor since the cat came from those bred in the palace by the royal family. Indeed, many stories exist (including the story explaining the characteristic kink in the tail of the early imported Siamese) indicating an intimate relationship between the royal family members and their cats.
The progeny of this cat given to Consul-General Gould was exhibited by his sister,Mrs. Lilian (Gould) Velvey at the 17th Crystal Palace Show in October 1885.
These cats were 'Duen Ngai', born March 1885 and 'Kalohom' and 'Khromata', born July 1885. Photographs of these cats are pictured in publications of that time and show them to be round-headed, solid and muscular, without exception.

 


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Duen Ngai, Kalohom and Khromata,
The first progeny in 1905.


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Tian O'Shian IV, circa 1900.
Seal Point Male
    These cats were so extraordinary that they captured immediate attention. A well-known quote from that time describes them as an "unnatural nightmare of a cat". However, whatever the initial reaction or impression, the dog-like intelligence and loyalty, mischievous sense of humor and special charm of these cats, made them a favorite of British cat fanciers. And in 1902 England founded its first Siamese cat fancier's club.
The first champion, 'Champion Wankee,' was born in Hong Kong in 1895 and was owned and shown by Mrs. Robinson in 1898, to much acclaim. Again, a large and robust 'appleheaded' cat, 'Champion Wankee' makes it clear again that the traditional cat looked nothing like the modern version shown today.

Early to Mid 1900s:

The precise time of arrival in the United States is uncertain. However, in April 1909, The Siamese Cat Society of America was founded and the first standard for the Siamese Cat was approved.
During the 1950s and 1960s the breed's popularity reached its peak and Siamese cats appeared in movies or animations such as 'Bell, Book and Candle', 'That Darn Cat', 'Incredible Journey', and 'Lady and the Tramp', making the Siamese breed ever more famous.
At the same time in Siam, now Thailand, breeding had dwindled to only a few breeders. A statement written by Mrs. Stephen Dobrenchuk to a diplomat in Thailand in the 1950s reports that purebred Siamese cats were bred only by a few wealthy matrons, and the cats were known for their physical toughness and dog-like intelligence.

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Three kittens, 1950s
Mrs. Dobrenchuk purchased three kittens from a Laotian Princess married to a Thai diplomat. These cats were large round-headed robust animals of wonderful intelligence and disposition. She writes that the cats regularly cleared their back yard in Thailand of cobras, the only difficulty being that they often dragged their 'trophies' indoors and sometimes they were not quite dead.
Upon returning to the states in the late 1950s, Mrs. Dobrenchuk bought 3 more kittens, this time registered with C.F.A.   She describes them as still being the same general body type as those being bred in Thailand.

1960 to 1985:

It is after this, in the early 60s, that the heavy traditional Siamese began to lose favor as various breeders and judges began to favor a longer, thinner body conformation and began to encourage the breed away from the original robust Siamese, down to its small, thin, modern body type so common today.
Reasons for this change vary. Some say that the Siamese had become so popular that kitten prices had dropped and many breeders were interested in making them more distinct and felt that a longer more exotic look would make the breed more popular and more valuable. Others say it was simply a widely held opinion in the fancy that smaller and more refined cats were more beautiful. Also, the development of various vaccinations for many of the diseases that had been the common cause of death among cats (distemper, for example) also allowed for the breeding of less robust individuals who, without these medical advantages, would not have survived to reproduce in earlier days.
It was probably a combination of all of these factors; but suffice it to say that the breed standard was rewritten to reflect changing tastes. Indeed, the original breed standard has regularly been rewritten and reinterpreted to support the constant shift of the breed to smaller, thinner and more elongated bodies, even though these cats typically live shorter and less healthy lives than their traditional ancestors.
Dismayed with the trend, many breeders with cats that had more robust, yet less popular conformation, were left with the choice of dropping out of the show ring or selecting their cats for these often more problematic traits that the judges now preferred. Some breeders simply decided to walk away from the show ring, choosing to retain the larger, more robust Siamese and continuing to quietly breed for the companion-cat market.

1986 to 2003:

By 1986 there were no traditional or 'applehead' Siamese being shown and the modern Siamese was so entrenched that many modern breeders were actually unaware of the breed's history. Some breeders even held the opinion that the Siamese had always looked like the modern version, and that traditional Siamese were cats of inherently inferior quality.
Because the Traditional Siamese breeders could not win in the show ring, many had stopped breeding, switched to a different breed, or had stopped registering or keeping records on the Siamese they had been breeding. It was this situation that prompted the formation of cat organizations that recognized the traditional Siamese. These organizations set a goal of registering of all the remaining purebred Traditional Siamee and sponsoring shows where traditional breeds could compete for prizes just as in the shows that recognized only the modern version of the same breeds.
For a time, a growing number of organizations recognized the traditional Siamese, and other traditional breeds, as a new appreciation developed for the health and longevity of the original bloodlines. Publications such as Your Purebred Kitten by Michelle Lowell (Henry Holt) similarly recognized the true origin of the Siamese cat.
1986 to 2003:
There was great hope at this time as many breeders felt that the re-recording of those Traditional Siamese whose registrations had been neglected, would give the breed greater recognition as the original type and bring new bloodlines into breeding programs.
Unfortunately, just the opposite occurred. The Traditional Cat Association was taken over by an individual who was not a breeder and who insisted on opening up registration to any pointed cat (any cat having Siamese coloring). The more cats registered, the more profits for the organization, and the Traditional Cat Association insisted on allowing cats without any documentation of purity to be registered as breeding stock. In essence then, ‘registration papers’ were simply for sale.
As of the date of this writing, the web site of The Traditional Cat Association still advertises registrations for sale with no proof of parentage required.
While this practice continues to be very profitable for the TCA organization, naturally, many legitimate breeders with true purebred Traditional style Siamese, object. While legitimate breeders carefully select only the finest cats for breeding, they have felt that allowing so many ‘Siamese’ of unknown origin to be turned into breeding cats obviously diminishes the quality of the breed. It is also noted that such a ‘registry’ means that nearly anyone who could find a pointed cat could go into business breeding them. This not only diminished the quality of the breed but has opened the door to many more cats being breed and thus contributing to the problem of cat overpopulation. Worse, many breeders could see that such wholesale ‘registration-for-sale’ seems to admit that all Traditional style Siamese were likely not to be purebreds, thus undoing all the fine work that had been done to recognize them as the original type.
It is also noted that the public, who generally believes that the meaning of ‘registered cat’ is that it is a purebred cat, is often mislead into paying a purebred price for a kitten that is nothing of the sort.
With the profit motive in full swing, and controversary raging, a very ugly political battle ensued between the legitimate breeders and the associations registering kittens without documentation. Eventually however, the Traditional Cat Association was able to set up enough breeders who were profiting from this arrangement to overwhelm those who were against them. Many of the CFA Traditional style Siamese breeders were harassed out of business by a campaign of misinformation or various other tactics including a claim by the TCA that it actually owned the name Traditional Siamese and no one could use the name without permission.
This case was taken to court and The Traditional Cat Association was found not to have exclusive right to use this name. However the negative publicity had further diminished the reputation of the Traditional Siamese as knowledgeable people realized that the heritage of these kittens was questionable. Fortunately, a few very dedicated and reputable people with legitimate registrations continued to breed Traditional Siamese (registered with CFA or ACFA or other legitimate organizations) and many of those found themselves targeted as competition by the TCA and were forced to defend themselves against false statements and attacks.
In response to this situation, a number of Traditional Siamese lovers decided that the only option to keep the Traditional style Siamese alive might be to change the name. Hence, the Thai Cat was born, which is a Traditional Style cat renamed. Currently TICA recognizes this cat and accepts them in their show ring.

The Future:

In the future, it maybe that the Traditional Cat Association remains a dominate force and the term Traditional Siamese continues to evolve toward describing a cat that is of mixed breeding. However many legitimate breeders still call their cats Traditional cats and support the old purebred lines. The Thai Cat is also gaining momentum as a name and may become the new term for the breed.
How this conflict plays out will be seen over time. However, whatever we call these beautiful cats, the wonderful Siamese of old will hopefully always be carefully bred by enough people who continue guard the purity of the lines and ensure that this cat is available to loving households for generations to come.

Siamese Legends

While the Siamese 'Kinked Tail" has become a 'fault' it should be noted that in the early shows it was mandatory for a Siamese to have a kink in its tail to be considered a true Siamese. Over time this trait fell from favor and was bred out of the breed as much as possible. However it is so imbedded in the genetics that it still appears occasionally in some lines more than others. Since it does not affect the cat's health in any way, many breeders have become tolerant of this trait as long as the kink cannot be seen and can only be felt by running the fingers down the length of the tail. Whether desirable or not, the kinked tail is part of the history of the Siamese as indicated by the following legends:
  • It is said that there was once a Siamese Princess who was frightened of losing her rings while she bathed in a stream. Looking around for somewhere convenient to place her jewelry, she noticed that her favorite cat had crooked his tail for her benefit. Ever since that time all Siamese cats have been born with a tiny kink at the end of their tails to hold the Princess' rings.
  • A young cat took his wife into the jungle to search for a royal goblet that was missing from one of the Siamese temples. Upon finding the treasure, they decided that the female should remain in the jungle to guard it while the male went back to the city to inform the priest of their discovery. So the little cat took up her position among the leaves and tangled foliage, her tail twisted around the stem of the goblet to make quite sure that no one would try to take it away. Four nights later her husband returned to find he was the father of five sweet little kittens. But, in spite of her new responsibility, the loyal mother cat had not forgotten her earlier trust. Indeed, so conscientious had she been in her protection of the goblet that a permanent kink had developed in the end of her tail. What was more, all five kittens had a similar kink in their tails !

 

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Diane Kramer * San Diego * CA
858-484-8575 * email: WeLoveSiamese@aol.com

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