The Oriental was originally developed in the 1950s, in the UK, to develop a cat breed like the Siamese that has a full coat of colour. Since then, the breed has developed enormously and over 300 colour and pattern combinations are widely accepted today. Colours include all of those in the Siamese as well as the silver varieties. Siamese and Orientals are bred together to improve the gene pool and offspring of these cats are considered pure bred. Both Orientals and Siamese live harmoniously with other breeds, that can tolerate their rambunctious natures.
LaMASKA She of Seven Veils - Black Calico Oriental
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 colours, 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 coloured 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 chocolate Oriental Shorthairs. British breeders soon developed solid lilacs and blue-eyed whites and over the next decade had produced solids and tabbies of Siamese type in many colours. In a very British mix of eccentricity and pure logic, the GCCF considers each colour a separate breed. All the “foreign” type cats, however, were allowable outcrosses to each other and all kittens were registered according to colour 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 colours 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 chocolate and lilac, which were the most successful of these early Orientals to be. Mrs. Billheaimer presented a lovely lilac male at the 1972 CFA board meeting who received much acclaim; but due to the lack of numbers the lilacs never made it past registration status. A cohesive programme 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 (tabby 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 colour” that were soon called Oriental Shorthairs.
A group of New York area cat fanciers, primarily Siamese breeders, met informally at the Markstein’s house in the very next year to discuss the possibility of non-pointed Siamese-type cats and to determine a provisional standard and potential colours for this new breed. The first official meeting of Oriental Shorthairs International (OSI) took place on October 19, 1973. The group was articulate, intelligent, and rowdy (rather like the cats that they were soon to breed). Some were already successful breeders of top show Siamese. They discussed the possible standard at length. Should it be the Siamese standard, word for word, except for colour? What should the new colours be called?
Since none of the original OSI members had Orientals at home before the formed the standard, sentiment did not interfere with the desire for an ideal cat, which was to be a perfect Siamese in brand new clothes. As a result the only changes to the Siamese standard were the removal of the word “medium” from the description of the head and the word “dainty” from the description of the body. These breeders felt that both the words dainty and medium interfered with the description, long. Bill Eisenman, a charter member of OSI says that at that time there was a tendency towards miniaturisation in the Siamese classes due to “dainty” being misinterpreted as a description of size. The Oriental breeders felt that there was no room for ‘cuteness’ or undersized cats in the ideal long, lean, tall and elegant cat. A fact with which Siamese breeders concurred, as some time later the word dainty was removed from the Siamese standard.
Colour descriptions, however, are another matter. All of this idealistic high-mindedness had some OSI members waxing poetic in their desire to make the Oriental colours sound distinctive while other members wanted the colours to remain consistent with CFA norms. After the dust settled ebony, lilac and chocolate had been voted in, but ivory, apricot and peach had lost to more sensible white, red and cream. Another big issue was whether bicolours should be allowed. Since most of the new Oriental breeders had been Siamese and Colourpoint breeders, they wanted to adhere to colours acceptable in those breeds. Many of these breeders assumed that all the Siamese type cats, Siamese, Colorpoints and Orientals, would eventually end up to be divisions of one breed, the same that happened with the Persian colours and Himalayans. They did not want the white spotting factor to interfere with this. So, after much discussion, bicolours were disallowed primarily to remain consistent with Siamese and Colourpoint colours. Silver seemed to be an allowable exception to this rule of thumb for colours because at that time silver was thought to be at the same locus as the Siamese point colour gene. In other words it was thought that a cat could not be pointed and silver at the same time (which turned out not to be true. It’s just very hard to tell if a pointed cat is silver except by breeding it). If that had been true, a pointed cat out of a silver cat could not have been silver so the presence of the silver gene in the Orientals would not carry over to the “Colourpoints” and “Siamese” out of Orientals. In fact, now that colourpoint colours out of Orientals compete in championship in the Colourpoint class it still doesn’t matter because silver lynx-point and tortie smoke-point Orientals almost always look exactly like their non-silver Colorpoint cousins in terms of colour. The standard was submitted and quickly approved. CFA accepted the Oriental Shorthair for registration in October 1974.
Aside from the white spotting factor the Oriental breeders aim was to allow all possible domestic cat colours while conforming very firmly to the Siamese standard. Initially, several possible colours were left out inadvertently, many of which have since been added. For instance, dilute silver tabbies were not originally a listed colour, blue and lavender silver tabbies were accepted in 1984. Even now not all theoretically possible colours have a colour description and class number and even so some of the colours listed for the breed, like lavender shaded silver, have never yet been seen! Cinnamon and fawn (the dilute of cinnamon) were also not in the original colour list although these colours have actually existed in the Siamese and colourpoint population for at least several decades. Most cinnamon and cinnamon carriers have descended from English imports where the colour has been referred to as “light chocolate” and the double-dilute chocolate. The colour apparently originated in a red Abyssinian outcross into the British Siamese in the 1960s. In the middle 1970s, the oriental breeders didn’t know that they were getting that particular bonus.
The charter members of OSI were very aggressive, not only in their pursuit of their ideal cat, but also popular support. OSI quickly enlisted the breeders of lavenders. Tawnee Ballerina, one of Ann Bilheimer’s cats, was one of the first CFA grands and other colour proto-Orientals. By February 1974 seven British Orientals had arrived. The best Siamese belonging to OSI members were soon bred to these cats. By the time registration was accepted there were over 60 breeders and almost 100 cats! During the next year a great effort was made to recruit as many new breeders as possible and to register every single Oriental kitten. This massive registration drive, masterminded by Ann Tacetta, was undoubtedly a major factor in the Orientals being advanced to provisional status in October, 1975. Orientals now appeared regularly at shows where they were very well received, not only by judges and exhibitors, but by the general public. The future already looked bright when, in an unprecedented move, CFA accepted all proposed colours for championship status in October 1976, effective May 1, 1977. Oriental Shorthairs had a running start: from an idea contemplated in 1973, to acceptance for registration in 1974, and to competing in championship two and a half years later. This sort of exhilarating beginning has never occurred before and will probably not happen again because, perhaps unfortunately, CFA no longer advances status so quickly.
The Orientals were an immediate success. Bill Eisenman remembers the first classes of Orientals as being beautiful, homogeneous in quality and type, and in startling colours. Judy Hymas-Thomas, after struggling for years to improve the type on Colorpoints, said that the Orientals were astonishing “like Athena springing full grown from the brow of Zeus, beautiful and mature.” How did this happen? Careful thought and cooperation from many breeders produced these cats, it was no accident.
The single most important cat behind the early Oriental Shorthair show-stoppers was probably NGRC Felitan Frodo* of Petmark, the most successful so how Siamese of the ‘70s. Frodo, a blue point, was Best Siamese and 13th Best Cat in 1972-1973. He was a cat of great elegance and style with phenomenally long legs, sweet disposition, and “horror of horrors” he dated tabbies and solids more often than cats of his own race. Several other Siamese cats also had a strong impact on the early Orientals, two of these cats CH Felitan Bilbo Baggins and a Frodo son CH Petmark Nescafe* were much more notable as breeders than as show cats. Both had very extreme type if not everything needed to be a top show cat. They mixed very well with the British import Orientals and the domestic pre-Orientals, which were generally appealing cats, but rather moderate in type.
(From http://www.orientalbc.org/92-yearbook.htm ORIENTAL SHORTHAIR By Heather Lorimer 1992 – 1993 CFA Yearbook pages 106 – 117)