The Way We Were:
Excerpts from the 1961 CFA Yearbook, Part 5

Ristokat Himalayans & Persians

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History of the Siamese Cat, Part 3
by Carlon Boren, with collaboration

But Siamese cats in the West were being bred or imported not only by the well known connoisseurs of the breed whose names we remember. They had also become a great fad with the novelty-seeking public, most of whom cared nothing for show standards, quality, or even purity of breed. They were evaluated by the general public, not according to their excellence as typical specimens, but too often by the fame of the personage who had owned them. Where once the Siamese had been in danger of dying out because of scarcity, it was now threatened with being adulterated out of its type by inundation of non-typical stock from the Orient. In those days it seemed as though every traveler to the Orient must bring home a pair of Siamese cats, no matter how totally innocent he might be of knowledge of the fine points of the breed.

Few bothered to take note of the fact that the cat that was being exported from the "Orient"-at-large in the thirties and following decades, was in too many instances, a virtually different breed of animal from the cat that had been brought out of Bangkok in the late nineteenth century and early part of the twentieth, where and when his purity of breed, and therefore his characteristic Siameseness had been protected by order of the king.

The non-royal cat had very little chance of being purebred, and he tended therefore to be non-typical in various of the aspects that characterize the breed, the weakest of all in those which had been emphasized by fifty years of selective breeding in the Occident, following two hundred years of supervision by the royal court of Bangkok. Strictly speaking it is scarcely possible to make descriptive generalizations about this motley cat population, since lack of conformity was perhaps their most consistently shared characteristic. However, they were easily distinguished from the typey and often fairly dark bodied, Eastern and English blooded cats of their time, by their courser bone, paler, larger, fuller eyes, and shorter heads which tended to be thicker, not only from side to side, but in the dimension running perpendicularly from the surface of the face to the underside of the chin. They also very often tended to have paler body color. This seems contradictory at first glance, because it is a desired characteristic and one that has since been patiently selected into purebred strains. The great difference lies in the divergent sources from which this paleness of body was obtained.

When we consider that one of the ways in which the Siamese cat differs most uniquely from other breeds is in his characteristic color metamorphosis - that is, in his capacity to transform gradually from the snow-white of the newborn kitten to a deeply saturated color in adulthood - it is not surprising that non-purebred specimens should have been weak in this capacity to darken. On the other hand, the pale coat frequently found in strictly purebred cats of the present day, was achieved by generation after generation of painstaking selection of the less dark-bodied specimens. The seal point descendants of cats carrying the dilute factor (chocolate or lilac) were, of course, a fruitful source for this paleness of body color within the breed.

The pastel gene, or "dilution factor" as geneticists call it, is another characteristic which, like color metamorphosis, is indigenous to the Siamese, that is, it comes strictly from within the breed. For instance: it is for lack of this factor that solid brown coloring did not occur in any breed of cat, until it was borrowed from the chocolate point Siamese. The dilute or pastel factor occurred relatively frequently, as rarities go at least, in the fine English and English-American strains of pure Bangkok origin, but it was exceedingly rare in the later, non-royal Siamese imports from the Orient, whose frequently found paleness of coat comes simply from being inadequately Siamese. It is therefore no inconsistency, no perverse jest of an unkind Fate that the non-royal Siamese often combined pale body color with poor type. The two belonged together, having come from the same hit-or-miss, non-Siamese sources.

It is unfortunate that in some cases breeders misguidedly tried to take short cuts to pale body color by mixing cats from such sources into their otherwise fine, purebred strains, so that in many instance, an excellent heredity is marred by the inclusion of some of these ancestors of doubtful purity of breed.

But not every cat which came to California direct form the Orient was non-typical. One cat comes to mind as being a particularly rare and brilliant exception, having had type that must have been nearly comparable to that of the best English cats. He was Tai Mau (born 1930), imported by Dr. Joseph Thompson of San Francisco, California. Tai Mau's superb type was still clearly discernable in his offspring and further descendants, in the early forties, and this is the more remarkable since his mate was the Burmese cat, Wong Mau - dome-headed, yellow-eyed, mackerel-shadowed, and sooty-toned. Tai Mau had earlier been given a Siamese mate, She Shan Mau, but she did not live long and was succeeded by the prolific Wong. It is one of the real tragedies of the breed that no descendants of this superb male remain that do not descend from Wong Mau.

It was Dr. Thompson's custom to present kittens to the many visitors who came to see his cats, which were a great curiosity at that time. His one requirement was that they must promise never to have the cat altered. There has probably never been a policy equal to this one for promoting the numerical increase of a strain. Present day Siamese descendants of these poetically typey, if muddy-eyed and grimey-coated, hybrids are now to be found in almost every state of the Union, and in Canada as well, so that only those who take the trouble to trace their cats' ancestries back to all their known sources can be sure of being free of out-cross blood.

Thus, Siamese in the West in the thirties and forties were from three distinct origins: (1) the eastern-English-European lines from royal Bangkok; (2) the strains from later direct imports from the Orient-at-large, including Siam; (3) the Siamese-Burmese hybrids emanating from San Francisco.

Some of the California breeders have carefully and successfully bred "up" from the group from the Orient, improving type by adding Eastern stock. Some have freely used all three sources, and out of this melting pot they have created many beautiful specimens which have attested to their breeders' skill. Still others have cleaved rigorously to the pure royal Bangkok stock, mainly of English or Eastern origin, and they too have achieved winning strains, as well as helping significantly assure that the purebred Siamese will not be lost to posterity.


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