has been written about Siamese cats that is in the category of
mythology and personal opinions. The best way to uncover the truth is
to look for all the primary sources you can find (e.g., original
historical photos). Also, a good historian will apply what is known
about technology and science that might clear up questions of
plausibility. In this case, an understanding of photography and feline
genetics is helpful. Finally, it never hurts to ask other cat lovers
and breeders their opinions, but make sure you know how they arrived at
those opinions. - C. Bird
Although Siamese cats appear to
have been bred in Ancient Siam for at least several hundred years, very
little is now known about the appearance of the native Siamese cats and
how the Siamese people went about breeding them. If the Thais ever had
a formal Siamese breeding program, it appears to have ended before the
mid-20th century (see Baker, 1951). That doesn't mean that later
residents of Thailand did not sometimes own cats of the
Siamese pattern, but it does mean that Siamese cats from documented,
Thai lineages dating back several hundred years do not longer exist.
they never did. Instead, randomly bred cats carrying the Siamese
may have been for a few centuries merely more common in Thailand than
elsewhere. Cats of many different colors and body types can be found on
the streets of modern Thailand. Some have the kinked tails that were
seen in the first Siamese cats imported into the West, but usually in
combination with very UN-Siamese coloring.
cat fancy as we know it today was born in England, and the early
English cat breeders imported Siamese cats during the 19th century.
According to legend, the Thais were still breeding them back then,
though all the
lovely stories about cats given to British citizens by the king of Siam
to be unsubstantiated. For instance, there is a widely quoted tale
the king of Siam giving a pair of Siamese to a British vice-consul, who
turn brought them back to England and gave them to his sister Mrs.
True enough Mrs. Veley was among the first Western Siamese breeders and
ample documentation shows she owned a pair of Siamese brought back from
Siam by her brother in 1884. But Mrs. Veley later wrote that her
brother had bought at least one of her two cats for a trifling price
from someone in Siam—apparently a street vendor, not the king of Siam.
One thing is for certain: cats of Siamese "pointed" coloring could
readily be found in 19th century Siam and were described in ancient
Siamese cat poems, but they were rare outside of the Orient.
earliest known Siamese imports were during the 1870s, but were
apparently not used for breeding. All pedigreed Siamese cats today are
descended from roughly about eleven cats that were imported into
England from Siam (Thailand) beginning in the 1880s. Some new blood was
introduced later in the 20th century, particularly after the world wars
when Siamese cats were in danger of extinction, but the original eleven
were the true foundation of the pedigreed Siamese we know today.
details about the ancestors of our pedigreed Siamese cats, we have to
examine written records, photographs, and eye-witness testimony
describing the original English Siamese. There exist today only a few
photographs of the original cats and their first generation
descendants. Many of the cats were not photographed, or their photos
did not survive to the present. Some of the few that did survive show
robust, round-cheeked cats that some people
call "appleheads." For example, take a look at this photo of Tiam O'Shian IV who
was imported from the Orient in 1886 by Mrs. Vyvyan. Bear in mind that
a single photo only shows a cat from one angle and photography can
telescope certain features, make them
flatter than they are, which makes it difficult to know exactly what
length and shape of Tiam's head and body might have been in the living
Also, Tiam was an unneutered male and therefore had stud jowls. See the
about appleheads for more
about stud jowls
and head shape. We only know for sure that Tiam O'Shian IV was much
more substantial, and less extreme in type than modern show-style
from the photos, there was a lot of variability in the early cats. Here
is a photo of Champion Wankee,
was the first Siamese anywhere to become a show champion. Wankee was a
very big robust boy, yet he clearly had a long body and a broadly
wedge-shaped head with a longish muzzle. Champion Wankee was imported
from Hong Kong in
1895 by Mrs. Robinson. Now if you want to see how much the camera angle
telescope a cat's features, compare two
Wankee, one taken close up at side view and another photo of
was taken head on. Notice the little notch in the cat's ear in each
It is the same cat.
is one of the earliest American Siamese champions, Siam de Paris. In the photo,
Siam was a mature stud and, like Tiam O'Shian IV above, had stud jowls.
Note that he nonetheless had a distinct muzzle and therefore an
underlying modified wedge head. He also had a slightly elongated body.
But again like Tiam, he was a much bigger, more substantial, more
moderate-looking cat than are the modern show-style Siamese.
yet another look, examine this photo of Ah
Choo. Ah Choo was the daughter of Tiam O'Shian III
(imported). You can see that Ah Choo was a substantially built cat with
cheeks. She did not look ultra-slender or extremely elongated like
modern Siamese. However, note that her head was slightly long and was
a modified wedge head. To get some idea what Ah Choo might have looked
in a color photo, take a look at this photo of Sarsenstone
Teddy next to Ah Choo. Teddy was born almost 100 years later
Choo, but he is an Old-Style Siamese and the resemblance is uncanny.
here's what Teddy looks like in a clear close-up
Possibly Ah Choo would have looked a bit different than Teddy in a
photo or possibly not. It looks like she may have had a slightly longer
than Teddy, though the width of head and bone structure of the body
is Champion Lady Sonia, who
was one of the earliest American Siamese champions. Sonia was born in
1909, the offspring of one of Lady Beresford's Siamese, and was
probably within two generations of an original import. You can see that
Sonia had a rounded look, but if
you have a good eye for type you can see that Sonia was much more
than the likes of Wankee or Tiam O'Shian IV and she did seem to have a
rounded modified wedge head. She was also very cross-eyed, a trait that
common back then than it is now.
breeder Mrs. Veley, who owned two of the original Siamese cats, wrote
that there were actually two body "types" of Siamese among the imports.
One type was round and robust - obviously the "applehead." The
other type, said Mrs. Veley, was "slim-line" in build and had a
"marten-face." Was she talking about cats such as Ah Choo or was she
referring to some
modern-type Siamese of which there are no surviving photographs? Body
is polygenically inherited. That means that it ranges along a
just like height in humans. There really aren't just two types of
Tall and Short, and probably there weren't exactly two types of Siamese
There was probably a lot of variation in build, with lots of overlap.
Siamese cats probably fell somewhere in between very chunky and very
also somewhere between very large and very small-boned, and between
large and very small in overall size. Mrs. Veley just happened to have
Siamese that were relatively far apart from each other in the Old-Style
continuum. Mrs. Veley said that her cat Pho was a "slim-line" kind of
and her cat Mia was a robust kind. We don't have photos of Pho and Mia,
we do have photos of three of their
kittens seem to be moderate-looking, round-cheeked Siamese, but they do
modified wedge heads. That's why the mask, or dark area, on their faces
a rounded triangle. The face is wide at the cheeks and narrows toward
continued to be imported during the early 20th century. In 1919, Greta
Hindley and her husband shipped a female Siamese named Puteh from
Malaya to England. Puteh was the foundation queen of Prestwick Cattery,
a cattery that lasted for decades and had a strong influence on the
Siamese breed. Puteh was described as having a very white body and a
narrow head. Presumably her head was merely relatively narrow - as
compared to some
of the other early 20th century Siamese. We don't have any photos of
Puteh, but we do have lots of photos of other Prestwick cats, including
daughter, Champion Prestwick Perak.
can see, Perak was a medium-sized, medium-boned Siamese with a modified
head. The earliest Siamese breed standards described the wedge-shaped
as an ideal or epitomal feature of the Siamese breed. Greta wrote that
had the perfect Siamese head, at least as it was envisioned at the
The modern Siamese now seen in show rings have much narrower, much
much more triangular heads than little Perak had. Every photo of the
Prestwick cats shows cats that were medium in bone structure and had
type of modified wedge head. The historical records describe the
cats as having unusually deep blue eyes and tails that were either long
shortened and bent by kinks. Tail kinks, like crossed eyes, were
common flaw in early Siamese cats.
first imports into the United States occurred at least several years
prior to 1900. Some early imports may not have been recorded. Those
used for breeding appear to have come from the offspring of the English
Siamese, not directly from Siam. We know that the first American
Siamese breeder's club to survive long was the Beresford Club. This
club attempted to begin a registry and published a stud book in 1900.
The registry was subsequently inherited by the American Cat
Association, the oldest pedigreed cat registry in the United States
today. The Beresford Club Stud-book and Register
of 1900 provides the first clear record of Siamese cats
the United States and definitely used in a breeding program. The first
Siamese cats recorded were Lockhaven Siam and Sally Ward, owned by Mrs.
Locke. The Beresford stud book also contains photographs of Lockhaven
and his son Lockhaven Chom. Author and well known Siamese fancier
Gray Baker saw those photographs and wrote in 1951 that Siam was a
and broadly built cat, but that Chom resembled the finest quality
of Hettie's time (1930s-1950s). By that Hettie probably meant that Chom
a moderate but more lightly built Siamese similar to her own cat Mikado
Fleet (see Baker, 1951). Mrs. Robert Locke, not to be confused with
Clinton Locke, obtained three Siamese: Calif,
Bangkok. You can see that the cats on Mrs. Robert Locke's
in her arms were lighter built Siamese, whereas the cat lowest in the
had a much more robust build. But all three were of moderate Oriental
are no modern, ultra-Oriental, ultra-slender, ultra-slim Siamese to be
found in any 19th century or early 20th century photograph. The first
photographs of the extreme modern Siamese do not occur until after
World War II and they do not become frequent until the 1950s and 1960s.
Numerous books were published about Siamese cats from the 1950s onward.
Siamese were in the show rings by then, most of the show champion cats
in these books are still similar to the influential early 20th century
type of Old-Style Siamese. Some of the heavier-built Old-Style Siamese,
the ones similar to Wankee or Tiam O'Shian IV, are also consistently
A photograph of one of the first cats to possess concurrently the
elongation, fine bones, and narrow wedge head of the modern Siamese is
in a book by American Siamese breeder Marge Naples and published in
The cat is Fan-T-Cee's TC, a widely admired and much used stud.
photos showing modern Siamese are not common in cat books until about
Taken together, these data strongly suggest that the moderate looking
Siamese were predominant until the late 20th century - and that they
in build along a continuum from medium-sized, medium-boned, medium
and moderately elongated to large-sized, large-boned, meaty, and barely
Many cats were intermediate or "mix and match" with regard to these
Probably most, if not all, early Siamese had modified wedge heads with
rounding of the cheeks and some slight elongation of head, body, tail,
all three. But they do not seem to have been anywhere near as extremely
Oriental or as homogeneous in body type as the modern show-style
In conclusion, the Old-Style
Siamese is a pedigreed Siamese cat that resembles moderate-looking
Siamese in photos of the first Siamese imported from Siam into England,
as well as their earliest descendants, from the period
between 1880 and roughly 1945. The Old-Style Siamese varied in build,
were much more substantial than modern Siamese and seem to have had
Oriental traits, such as a modified wedgeshaped head and mild
elongation of body. The modern Siamese was gradually developed from the
lightest built, most elongated Old-Style Siamese by selective breeding,
a trend that first gained significant headway in the United States in
the 1950s. In 1966 Siamese breeder Jeanne Singer wrote a new preface to
the CFA breed standard for the
Siamese that favored the modern Siamese. The modern Siamese was
subsequently bred in ever-increasing numbers and became the most common
type of American Siamese in approximately 1980. But Old-Style Siamese
still exist and are bred by a few breeders.
encourage Siamese fans to read the books listed in this bibliography
and any other books they can find to form their own opinions. Even the
oldest books can still be found in libraries or purchased in used book
stores. We particularly recommend the following:
Franklin, Sally. The Complete Siamese. New York:
Howell Book House, 1995, pg. 54, pp. 86-88 (including photographs). At
this time, this is the most objective and scholarly book dealing with
the Siamese cat—many quotes from primary historical sources.
Lauder, Phyllis. Siamese Cats. London: Williams
Ltd., 1950. Examine the many photographs of early twentieth century
especially the "classic" Prestwick Cattery kittens immediately prior to
Denlinger, Milo G. The Complete Siamese Cat. New
York: Howell Book House Inc., 1952. See especially: pg. 27 (close up
head shot of mid-twentieth century double champion Siamese), pg. 32
(nineteenth century Siamese), pg. 49 (nineteenth century Siamese and
early English breeder), pg. 50 (champion Siamese showing emerging
modern Siamese head—but no other modern traits), pg. 57 (grand champion
Siamese born in 1941), pg. 67 (close up head shot of the regional
southern United States Siamese champion in 1950), pg. 82 (close up head
shot of mid-twentieth century champion Siamese).
Baker, Hettie Gray. Your Siamese Cat. New York:
Farrar, Straus & Young, Inc., 1951. See especially: pg. 10, pp.
12-13, and photographs just prior to page 85 (head and body type of the
young champion queen 0f 1945).
Naples, Marge. This is the Siamese Cat. Jersey
City, NJ: TFH Publications, Inc., 1964. See photographs on title page
and on page 12 (first fairly modern-looking Siamese in the old books),
pg. 11 (close up
head shot of grand and triple champion Siamese), pg. 13 (close up head
of double grand and quintuple champion Siamese), pg. 14 (grand and
triple champion Siamese, interestingly enough from same cattery as cat
page), pg. 33 (cats from author's cattery prior to 1964 - and see next
Naples, Marge. Siamese Cats. Neptune City, NJ: TFH
Publications, Inc. 1989. Compare photographs of the cats in this book
to those in the
author's 1964 book.
Van der Meid, Louise. Siamese Cats. Neptune City,
Publications, Inc., 1978. See the many photographs of Old-Style
Siamese, including show champions, in this book by a well known and
long-time photographer of Siamese cats. Only one or two of the
photographs show Siamese possessing modern features.
Burns, Barbara S. All About Siamese Cats. Neptune
City, NJ: TFH Publications, Inc., 1993. On pp. 136-43, the author talks
about the change in the Siamese breed standard to favor modern type in
1966, quoting the preface to the new standard. Also, see photographs of
Old-Style Siamese on pp. 25, 48, 61, 73, 76, 87, 99, 135, 138, 141,
Alderton, David. Cats. New York: Dorling
Kindersley, Inc., 1992. Page 18 briefly talks about the evolution of
the Siamese and Persian breeds during the twentieth century, including
10. Wade, Phyl.
Siamese Cat. London:
Methuen & Co., Ltd., 1934. Photo between pp. 14 and 15 shows
two cats imported into England by Miss Gold, Oriental Minoo Pinklepurr
(Old-Style Siamese female, pregnant) and Oriental Nai Tabhi (Old-Style
Siamese male). Between pp. 98 and 99
is a clear photograph of Champion Prestwick Perak, an Old-Style Siamese
born at the beginning of the 1920s. Between pp.
74 and 75 is a photo of
Hoveton Ruler (of Prestwick Cattery), a wonderful Old-Style Siamese
Prestwick Perak, Old-Style Siamese female,
She was said in her time to have the perfect
head. Source of
photo: Wade, 1934 (see refs above).
on photo to see larger image.