This is an attempt to explain the different types of Siamese cat with the help of illustrations that show the subtle differences. What do I mean by ‘type’ of Siamese cat? I am referring to the body conformation, the shape of the cat’s body, head, ears, tail etc. For the purposes of this article, I am not referring to the different types of pointing color or patterns etc. This article is about the shape of the Siamese cat. This is the area that causes the most controversy.
I believe that you cannot compare the different types of Siamese solely by reference to the various breed standards because the language is rather imprecise and technical. Also, there are no pictures illustrating breed standards and there is leeway built into breed standards. Through language alone (and breed standards are just words) the cat fancy has not created enough precision in describing a cat’s appearance.
Unfortunately, for me, whereas once upon a time there was one sort of Siamese cat – the Siamese cat that wandered around Siam (Thailand) in the 1800s and before that – today (2012) there are probably five types (excluding the original), one of which is not, in fact, even called a Siamese cat. The truth, though, is that there is a continuous spectrum of types of Siamese built around the five distinct types.
Although there are five types, or if you disagree with me, several types or an endless range of types, only one is true to the original and the breeders of each type think their cat is true to the original. Or perhaps they don’t really think that. They just like to create a pointed cat that they like the look of.
A surprising aspect of the story of the creation of five different types of Siamese cat is that there are photographs and drawings of Siamese cats from the time they were first imported from Siam as it was then (late 1800s). So we know what the original Siamese cats looked like. How can one group of breeders claim that their cat has the original appearance? One complication is that it is likely that there was a variety of Siamese cat types for thousands of years, in Asia, before the West imported the cat. In short, the body conformation may have originally varied. Also there is no reason why a pointed cat in Asia should only be found in Siam. It is highly likely that there were (and are) pointed random bred cats all over Asia, many of which have abnormal tails – kinked or shortened. Perhaps the pointed cats of Siam (over and above other pointed cats in Asia) were chosen for importation to England because the King of Siam liked them. They were special and rare. Note: the kinked tail has been assiduously bred out over decades.
I’d first like to present a collage of pictures of the five different types of Siamese cat, below which I discuss the various conformations.
Collage above, photo credits in descending order from top to bottom: Drawing by Louis Wain (public domain), drawing by Harrison Weir (1889), The Book of Cats 1903, Old-style Siamese cat website, Thai cat copyright Helmi Flick, Appleheads and Modern Siamese copyright Marie Clements.
This means the cat or direct offspring of the cats imported from Siam in the late 1800s. As expected you can see that they are regular looking cats. The drawing by Louis Wain (1897) shows a cobby Siamese cart. This was drawn from life I expect. The same goes for the drawing by Harrison Weir who is the founder of the cat fancy worldwide and the number cat fancier of his time. The face of these cats and the 1903 cat are similar to the 1947 Old-style Siamese cat.
The Old-style Siamese Cat Club do not specify what an old-style Siamese cat should look like except by reference to their breed standard, which as argued above is not ideal. Fortunately they do provide photographs. I have taken the liberty of reproducing the photograph of Inwood Shadow (1947 old-style Siamese), which the club says is possibly ‘the most beautiful Siamese ever bred”. If that is true it is because the cat is completely balanced, neither too slender nor too cobby. Also Inwood Shadow closely matches the appearance of the 1903 Siamese and the 1889 Siamese.
I feel that the Thai was another attempt to go back to basics and try and straighten out the mess caused by breeders in creating a range of Siamese cats; breeders working against each other rather than together in the interests of the cat. I also feel that the attempt failed as it added to the confusion. Thai cat breeders say this is not a Siamese cat. It looks like one. This is a Siamese cat that falls on the slender side of normal being slightly more slender than the Old-style Siamese. That body conformation is how the Thai breeders see the original Siamese. Also they wanted to get away from the extreme breeding of the Modern Siamese and breed cat that was not extreme in any way. They succeeded in that goal. Note: the picture shows one example of pointing color (blue). There are other colors.
There was a time when I thought that the Applehead was a name given by Modern Siamese cat breeders to breeders of traditional Siamese cats. It has a derogatory feel about it. However, the Old-style Siamese cat breeders say it is intended to be more cobby than the original, something akin to the British Shorthair with a pointed coat. However, it does have a similarity to the 1897 drawing by Louis Wain and is within the range of original Siamese cat conformations.
Traditional Classic Siamese
I had referred to this cat as the ‘Classic Siamese’ meaning mid-way between the traditional and the Modern. This cat is a slightly slender Applehead Siamese. It is similar to the original Siamese cat.
The Modern Siamese is an example of out of control cat breeding by well-intentioned cat breeders who believed they were ‘refining’ the appearance of the original cat that they saw as being slender. It is a cat bred to extreme that bears no resemblance to a cat never mind a Siamese cat and is a failure but continues to be supported by the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) as the only Siamese cat. The public does not like it. The CFA should change their mind.
The Old-style Siamese are closest to the original Siamese cat and deserve greater recognition. The CFA should adopt their breed standard.