CFA Oriental Breed Profile

CFA Oriental Breed Standard



By Heather Lorimer

1992 – 1993 CFA Yearbook pages 106 – 117
Reprinted with permission from CFA

The story of the Oriental Shorthair is a story of an ideal made real. More than most other breeds of cats, the Oriental Shorthair has been produced through our knowledge of genetics and logical aspects of cat breeding. Perhaps the most notable aspect of the breed is the cooperation that has produced the breed as a while as well as many of its best cats. It was no accident that in the breeds’ first year of championship status, an Oriental Shorthair was the 18th best cat in the country. Within only a few years the breed has become the sixth ranked breed in CFA and the fourth ranked among shorthair cats in terms of numbers of cats registered. Many people working together have made these cats what they are today, so it is appropriate that the story of the Oriental Shorthair should be told not by one but by many.

            Not everybody who has contributed to this elegant breed has contributed to this article. This however, does not lessen their contributions to the breed. Sincere apologies are extended to anyone who could have added to this article; but who was not contacted.

            The Oriental shorthair has no legends to justify its existence, no history of exotic lands of origin, no mystique of religious importance – in fact, almost no history at all. The early colonial stories of the Oriental Shorthair came from the dark depths of the early years of the 1970s. The breed’s pre-colonial history in England with a few forays in America , dates to only a couple of decades before that. The Oriental Shorthair is, in fact, a thoroughly modern cat.

This is not to say that the Oriental Shorthair did not have close relatives in remote times and places. The Oriental is actually nothing more or less than a Siamese cat with a designer wardrobe and we all know that the Siamese has a history that extends into the very distant past. The people of Siam did not regard the pointed cat as their only prized feline. They knew and loved cats of many different colors, including the Si-Sawat (blue) and the Supalak (copper-brown). These cats were not only the ancestors of today's Korats and Burmese; but were also the solid blue and Chestnut Siamese cats of that time. Currently, in Bangkok approximately 20% of domestic cats are pointed; the rest appear in the full spectrum of feline hues.

The Siamese cat, seal-pointed variety, was brought to England well before the turn of the century. They were rare, exotic, and quite a prize to bring home after excursions into the mysterious East. In 1896, Mr. Spearman just home form Siam , exhibited his new blue cat in the Siamese class. The cat was disqualified due to color despite its place of birth, possibly the cat was pointed but some reports indicate that was solid blue. There was continuing confusion about what was and what was not a Siamese cat until the late 1920s when the British Siamese Cat Club issues the following statement: “The club much regrets it is unable to encourage the breeding of any but blue-eyed Siamese.” From that time on, solid colored cats with yellow or green eyes were excluded from the Siamese classes at shows – and that, temporarily was the end of the Oriental Shorthair.

World War II

During World War II cat breeding fell on hard time in Europe . After the war, breeders once again compromised the absolute purity of Siamese cats. Russian Blues and svelte cats of uncertain ancestry were used to flush out the gene pool. American breeders can obtain GCCF pedigrees for imported Siamese behind CFA’s top winning and producing Siamese, tracing ancestry to Russian Blues and black hybrids. A black hybrid was a solid black cat with both Siamese and non-Siamese (often Russian Blue) ancestry, rather like a modern Oriental Shorthair. Since the gene for point restricted color is recessive, the British Siamese breeders knew that non-pointed ancestry would not affect any pointed cat’s ability to breed true to Siamese. Thus the Siamese was saved from potential extinction from a restricted gene pool (too small a breeding population) and there came to be a number of solid colored cats of Siamese type. These hybrids peaked they interest of British breeders, and soon a new breed of cat was in the works.


The Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies

In the 1950’s a breed of solid brown cats with Siamese type was developed. They were initially called Havanas and had the same type standard as the Siamese. Some traveled to the U.S.A. where they became known as Havana Browns and where they drifted from the British standard, developing a type all their own. In 1958 the GCCF recognized the British cats as Chestnut Brown Foreigns. These cats conform to the Siamese type standard and are the same cat as today’s solid chestnut Oriental Shorthairs. British breeders soon developed solid lavenders and blue-eyed whites and over the next decade had produced solids and tabbies of Siamese type in many colors. In a very British mix of eccentricity and pure logic, the GCCF considers each color a separate breed. All the “foreign” type cats, however, were allowable outcrosses to each other and all kittens were registered according to color since the standard for type was the same.

In the U.S.A. at the end of the ‘60s a few American breeders in various parts of the country worked towards CFA recognition of various colors of Siamese type cats. One the west coast Irene Grizzi worked with ebonies and reds, while Betty Purseglove in Michigan had a white program. Mrs. Hackett and Ann Billheimer (Tawnee Cattery) both worked with chestnuts and lavenders, which were the most successful of these early Orientals to be. Mrs. Billheaimer presented a lovely lavender male at the 1972 CFA board meeting who received much acclaim; but due to the lack of numbers the lavenders never made it past registration status. A cohesive program did not exist, and these oriental type cats stayed home where only their owners could admire them.

In the summer of 1971, Judy Hymus (Thomas) then a Colorpoint Shorthair breeder went to England to look for lynx-points which GCCF considered part of the Siamese class. Judy visited the home of Angela Sayers (Solitaire cattery). While on the grounds she was delighted to see fancy birds and pheasants and a beautiful dark blue cat of Siamese type with bright green eyes. In the house was a litter of black and brown kittens of similar type. Angela called them Foreign Shorthairs and explained their ancestry. Judy saw similar cats at the Saunders’ Lymekiln cattery in Scotland . In her travels Judy did acquire a lynx-point from the Warner’s Spotlight cattery. Back in the U.S.A. , this lynx-point attracted the attention of several Siamese breeders, including Vicky Markstein. Vicky was showing a Siamese male she obtained from Dick and Barbara Levitan, Felitan Frodo of Petmark, towards a national win. Judy told Vicky about Angela Sayers’ incredible navy blue cat with lime green eyes. The Marksteins went to England the next summer to look at, not only Siamese, but “those elegant cats of another color” that were soon called Oriental Shorthairs.