The Siamese cat originated from Thailand, formerly known as Siam. These cats were held in such high esteem in their native country that no one except the King and members of the royal family were permitted to own them. They were originally known as Royal points.
Written records reveal that Siamese cats, in their country of origin, were venerated as guardians of the temples. When a person of high rank died, it was usual to select one of these cats to receive the dead person's soul. The cat was then removed from the royal household and sent to one of the temples to spend the rest of its days living a ceremonial life of great luxury, with monks and priests as its servants. These cats were reputed to eat the finest foods from gold plate and to recline on cushions made of the most opulent materials, which had been provided by the departed one's relatives in an attempt to receive good fortune and blessings. Once they became temple cats, they were supposed to have special powers and could intercede for the soul of the dead person.
Years ago features such as crossed eyes and kinked tail were looked on as characteristics of the breed and many legends exist as to their origin.
It was said that a Princess of the Royal House of Siam used her cat's tail as a ring-stand while she was bathing. The kink in the tail prevented the rings from falling off and being lost. Another legend accounts for both the cross-eyed feature as well as the development of the kink. Once, when all the men of Siam left their homes to defend their kingdom, just two cats - one male Siamese, Tien, and one female Siamese, Chula - remained in order to guard Buddha's golden goblet in the sacred temple. The male cat became pretty restless and, after mating the female Siamese, left her in order to find another priest to look after the temple. The female, apparently, was so overwhelmed by the responsibility of guarding the Buddha's treasure that she never once glanced away from the goblet, wrapping her long tail around its stem to prevent theft in case she should fall asleep. As time passed waiting for Tien to return with a new master, she could no longer forstall the birth of her kittens, who all arrived with the physical characteristics that she herself had acquired during her period as watchguard - a kinked tail and crossed eyes. Just occasionally, even today, kittens are born with these features - so the legends are kept alive.
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 cat 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 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 colours and patterns (including Siamese, tabby, blue, etc) appeared.
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 honour 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.
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 humour and special charm of these cats, made them a favourite of British cat fanciers. And in 1902 England rounded 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 1950's 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.
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 1950's, 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 60's, that the heavy traditional Siamese began to lose favour as various breeders and judges began to favour 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.
Reason 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 the 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 Present:
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 and held the opinion that the Siamese had always looked like the mode 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 record of the Siamese they had been breeding. It was this situation that prompted the formation of the Traditional Cat Association. Originally named the Traditional Siamese Association and dedicated to bringing back from near extinction the Traditional Siamese, it was later opened up to include other traditional breeds suffering from a similar fate to the Siamese such as the Burmese, Persian, Balinese, Bengal and Himalayan. The T.C.A. also sponsors its own shows where traditional breeds compete for recognise just as in the shows' that recognise only the modern version of the same breeds.
Today, a growing number of organisations recognise the traditional Siamese, and other traditional breeds, as a new appreciation develops for the health and longevity of the original bloodlines. Recent publications such as Your Purebred Kitten by Michelle Lowell (Henry Holt) have similarly recognised the true origin of the Siamese cat. The public in general is also beginning to recognise the need to avoid breeding for an extreme 'look' that, while attractive to some, has a negative impact on the animal's health. Already, most of Europe has again recognised the traditional cat and openly encourages its development, while critizing the American practice of breeding to extremes.
In the future, while there is still a powerful and vocal opposition, it is likely that American breeders will at some point follow suit, and both modern and traditional types will be recognised and shown. Though it may take time the traditional Siamese will once again find its place again in the main show ring because, as many know, it has never lost its place in the hearts of millions who remember the charm and intelligence of the traditional Siamese.
Body: even pale fawn to cream, warm in tone, shading gradually into a lighter colour on the stomach and chest.
Points: deep seal brown.
Nose leather and paw pads: same colour as the points, deep seal brown.
Eye colour: deep vivid blue.
Body: ivory with no shading.
Points: chocolate milk in colour, warm in tone nose leather.
Paw pads: cinnamon-pink.
Eye colour: deep vivid blue.
Body: bluish white, cold in tone, shading gradually to white on stomach and chest.
Points: deep blue.
Nose leather and paw pads: slate coloured.
Eye colour: deep vivid blue.
Body: glacial white with no shading.
Points: frosty grey with pinkish tone.
Nose leather and paw pads: lavender-pink.
Eye colour: deep vivid blue.
Source courtesy: Cat Fanciers Association (Siamese Breed Profile)