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The Royal Siamese

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( Originally Published 1936 )



A cat may look at a king, but not many cats have the opportunity. Siamese cats for more than two hundred years have dwelt in the royal palaces at Bangkok and had kings, queens, princes, and princesses to look at. Those who did not live at court lived in temples and had priests to serve them. So they are not only royal but sacred, the modern prototype of the sacred cat of Egypt. Of course there have always been street cats in Siam, but they have kinks in their tails and do not count.

The first Siamese cats to leave that country were two fine specimens that were given to some titled Englishwomen by the uncle of Prajadhipok, the recently abdicated king. They were much admired in England, and founded the line which soon became popular there, and, later, in America. The origin of the Siamese cats is obscure. They may have come from crosses between the sacred cats of Burma and the Annamite cats when the Siamese and the Annamese conquered the Burmese empire of the Khmers about three centuries ago. The Burmese sacred cats were an ancient race of which little is known. It is said that they were like the Siamese in color, but had splendid bushy tails and long hair. The Burmese, like the people of Siam, believed that the spirits of the dead dwelt within the sacred cats.

I have seen in shows cats that were called Burmese, but I doubt if they were authentic. However, our best Siamese are genuine. King Prajadhipok must have had cats in his entourage when he last visited America, for he gave two to a New York woman during his stay.

Siamese cats are like Prajadhipok. Though born to palaces they are very democratic and alertly interested in everything they see. A Siamese cat is more energetic and can be in more places at once than any other member of the Felis domesticus. I took my collie-setter Luddy to call on Frederick B. Eddy's Siamese in Red Bank, New Jersey, and he retired under a sofa with his tail to the world, disconcerted by a liveliness with which no mere dog could cope.

The number of Siamese cats in the United States is not large compared with the number of longhairs, but they are getting a good hold, and there is a flourishing Siamese Cat Society of America, which conducts its shows under the Cat Fanciers' Association of America. Its standard of points conforms to that of the Siamese-cat societies in England.

True Siamese are medium in size, with a wellmuscled body, not fat, and very lithe and graceful in action. The head is wedge-shaped, long and narrow, the ears broad at the base and small at the apex and very neat and well-defined. The legs are rather thin and not long; the hind legs are slightly longer than the forelegs. The feet are somewhat smaller than those of the domestic short-haired cat. The tail is thin and tapering and not very long.

A good many people think that Siamese cats have kinked tails. So learned a commentator as M. Oldfield Howey asserts in his fascinating book, The Cat in the Mysteries of Religion and Magic, that the kinked tail has been a Siamese characteristic for two hundred years. There is a Siamese legend which says that somebody once tied a knot in a cat's tail to remind it of something (perhaps to leave the throne room backward) and the knot stayed. Another form of the story is that a princess strung her rings on her cat's tail while she bathed, and tied a knot to keep them from falling off.

But the royal Siamese have no kinks. Any kinkytailed Siamese in America were brought here by sailors who picked them up in the streets over there. Richard Lydekker in his Library of Natural History, after describing the "breed of cats in Siam reserved for royalty," adds, "Siam, together with Burmah, also possesses a breed known as the Malay cat, in which the tail is but half the usual length, and is often, through deformity in its bones, curled up tightly into a knot."

The coat of the Siamese is soft and short and glossy. The body is colored a clear, pale fawn, the face is deep chocolate brown shading to fawn between the ears, and the ears, tail, legs, and feet are brown. Siamese kittens are born snow white, but the distinctive markings soon appear, and at one year of age these cats attain their loveliest contrast between the fawn and brown. After this they slowly darken.

There is a blue-point Siamese in which the body is pale blue and the face, legs, and tail dark blue. Blue points are rare, a sort of "sport," but the Cat Fanciers' Association includes a class for them in its show rules. The pigmentation of the blue point is what is called recessive, and those who are curious about scientific breeding might be interested to know that if a seal point were bred to a blue point the darker coloring of the former would probably prevail in the kittens.

The eyes of the royal Siamese are blue, and the better the cat, the darker are the eyes. In shape they are almost round, but with a slight Oriental slant toward the nose.

Devotees of the Siamese insist that they are the smartest cats in the world. But every cat-lover knows that his or her cat, be it Siamese or Persian or Manx or plain alley, is the smartest cat in the world.