Colour: White, Blue, Black, Red, Cream, Brown, Lilac, Silver, Golden.
One of the oldest breeds of domestic cat, the exceptionally long-haired Persian became popular as soon as competitive cat showing began, at the end of the nineteenth century. Although its origins are obscure, it quickly became clearly defined and standardized.
Domestic Breed. One of the oldest breeds of domestic cat, the exceptionally long-haired Persian became popular as soon as competitive cat showing began, at the end of the nineteenth century. Although its origins are obscure, it quickly became clearly defined and standardized.
As the glamorous 'luxury' breed of pedigree cat, it is still known throughout the world today by the name 'Persian', with one inexplicable exception. Among the officials of the British cat fancy, it is confusingly referred to simply as the 'Longhair'. This is done despite the fact that (1) outside feline officialdom, the entire British public (like the rest of the world) calls it the Persian, and (2) it creates considerable confusion with domestic cat classification systems, because of all the other, quite different, long-haired breeds that now exist.
In France it is known as the Persan; in Germany as the Perser, Perserkatzen or Persisch Langhaar; and in Holland as the Perzisch.
Appearance: The Persian has a uniquely rounded shape, with a thick woolly coat, short neck and body, stocky legs, thick bones, bushy tail and massive, broad head with small, tufted ears set low on the head. The face has become much flatter in modern specimens, when compared with the profile seen a century ago. The thick fur has a dense, woolly undercoat.
History: As with most early breeds, there is considerable argument concerning the origin of the Persian. The truth is that detailed information is lacking, so that authors can speculate freely. Nine different views (some nonsensical, some plausible) have been expressed in the past, as follows:
(1) It is descended from the long-coated wild cat called Pallas's Cat (Felis manul).
(2) It is descended from the long-coated wild cat called the Sand Cat (Felis margarita).
(3) It is descended from a cross between Pallas's Cat (or the Sand Cat) and local domestic cats in the Middle East.
(4) It is descended from the European Wild cat (Felis sylvestris).
(5) It is descended from a cross between Pallas's Cat and the European Wildcat.
(6) It is a descended from the Russian Longhair Cat.
It has been suggested that the 'Persian' is not really Persian at all, but that it is simply the thick-coated, cold-country cat from the north of Russia that was somehow accidentally associated with Persia. This could have happened if these cats were first seen in the West when they arrived on board ships from the Middle East.
(7) It is a descended from a cross between the Russian Longhair and local domestic cats in the Middle East.
(8) It is descended from a cross between the Russian Longhair and the Turkish Angora.
The appeal of this theory is that it explains the nature of the Persian coat, the thickness coming from the Russian cat and the long flowing silkiness from the Angora.
(9) It is a long-haired mutant that appeared spontaneously in the Iranian region of the Middle East.
This is the simplest theory, but it fails to explain why a long-haired mutant should have been successful in the intense heat of the Iranian region. The only suggestion offered so far to overcome this objection is that the mutation occurred in the most mountainous regions of Iran where lower temperatures do occur.
Of these nine suggestions, the first five, involving wild species, can almost certainly be discounted. The sixth overlooks specific reports of cats being brought to Europe from Persia. Of the other three, each is plausible enough. The most likely idea would seem to be that, one way or another, thick-coated cats from the frozen north were brought south where they managed to survive the amazing temperature contrasts of what is now Iranian territory.
The idea of an indigenous, long-haired breed arising inside Persia cannot, however, be discounted. The German author Hermann Dembreck has assembled a fairly detailed historical account of such an origin, but it is not entirely clear how much is based on precise records, and how much on his imagination. In summary, he claims the following:
When King Cambyses of Persia conquered Egypt in 525 BC, the invaders took large numbers of the sacred Egyptian cats home with them. There, the winters were much more harsh and, as the generations passed, these cats began to develop longer and longer coats. In 331 BC, Alexander the Great invaded Persia and King Darius and his court fled to the mountains, taking with them their valuable cats.
Seven thousand feet up, they built their strongholds and there, in the even colder air, generations of cats gradually grew even longer fur. Their main centre was NW of the present-day city of Meshed, in the Chorassan district of Eastern Persia. These mountainous regions were heavily forested and in the forests roamed local wildcats, which mated with the domesticated castle cats and created a stockier, sturdier build. By AD 247, these Parthian lords had established a culture of their own and began to export some of their precious cats.
By the eighth century, Islam was expanding and invaded Persian territory. They took some of the cats they found there and passed them on to other Islamic regions. By the fifteenth century they had reached Anatolia and were to be found in Angora, where they changed their shapes again, becoming slightly sleeker. Some of these Angoras Cats were then exported west to Europe, where they created a sensation, being the first long-haired cats ever seen there. A little later, the even fluffier cats from Persia itself were taken to the West.
Whichever theory one cares to follow, it is clear that, by the seventeenth century
a remarkable breed of thick-coated cat had somehow developed in what was then Persia. It was at that time that the Italian traveller, Pietro della Valle, first encountered it and was so impressed by its beauty that he brought breeding stock back to Europe with him.
He set sail from Venice in 1614, travelling to Persia via Egypt, the Holy Land and Arabia. He spent five years in Persia before returning to Italy in 1626, via India, Mesopotamia and the Levant.(Some authors have reported that he brought Angora Cats back from Turkey, but he does not appear to have visited that country, so this is probably an error.)
Of the cat he met in Persia, he recorded the following description: 'There is in Persia a cat of the figure and form of our ordinary ones, but infinitely more beautiful in the lustre and colour of its coat. It is of a blue-grey, and soft and shining as silk. The tail is of great length and covered with hair six inches long...'.
It is not clear how well his breeding plans fared, but we do know that, by the nineteenth century the Persian has become a highly desirable breed, especially in France. Its only serious long-haired rival at that time was the Angora from Turkey.
The Persian's impact on the first cat shows in Britain was such that it quickly came to dominate the scene. Its long-haired Turkish rival was soon eclipsed. Already, by 1903, Frances Simpson was able to say: 'In classing all long-haired cats as Persian I may be wrong, but the distinctions...between Angoras and Persians are of so fine a nature that I must be pardoned if I ignore the class of cat commonly called Angora, which seems gradually to have disappeared from our midst.'. She then goes on to devote no fewer than 127 pages to the various colour forms of Persians. Clearly, by the turn of the century, the Persian had won the day. It was soon being referred to as 'the aristocrat of the cat family.'
As the years passed, more and more colours and patterns were added to the Persian repertoire, until there were more than sixty different coat variants on show. At the same time, the Persian body-type was made more and more extreme, with even longer coats and flatter, broader faces. The degree to which these changes have been taken has varied from country to country, with the result that international judging of pedigree Persians at cat shows sometimes leads to strong disagreements and much heated debate.
Personality: Terms used to describe this breed include: docile, quiet, intelligent, aloof, gentle, easy-going, good-tempered, sweet-natured, affectionate and friendly. In this respect, it would seem that selective breeding during the last hundred years has greatly modified the breed.
Writing in 1889, Harrison Weir paints a very different picture of the character of the Persians he encountered at the early cat shows: 'My attendant has been frequently wounded in our endeavour to examine the fur, dentition, etc., of...the Persian.'. He goes on to say that 'I find this variety less reliable as regards temper than the short-haired cats....In some few instances I have found them to be of almost a savage disposition, biting and snapping more like a dog than a cat...'. This forms a striking contrast with the temperament of the modern Persian, which is now generally thought of as the most placid of breeds.
Colour forms: Uniquely and strangely, in Britain, the different colour forms of the Persian have been classed as different breeds since the early days of cat-showing. Separate breed colour clubs were established and the cats were treated as though there was much more than a mere colour-gene difference between them. Back in the days when there were only a few colour forms available, this did not matter, but today, when almost every colour and coat pattern imaginable has been created for the Persian, the idea of judging some of these variants as distinct breeds requires re-examination.
SELF: Black; White; Blue; Red Self; Cream; Chocolate; Lilac.
SMOKE: Black Smoke; Blue Smoke; Chocolate Smoke; Lilac Smoke; Red Smoke; Tortie Smoke; Cream Smoke; Blue-Cream Smoke; Chocolate Tortie Smoke; Lilac Tortie Smoke.
CHINCHILLA: Chinchilla; Golden Persian; Shaded Silver.
CAMEO: Red Shell Cameo; Red Shaded Cameo; Tortie Cameo; Cream Shell Cameo; Cream Shaded Cameo; Blue-Cream Cameo.
TABBY (classic pattern only): Silver Tabby; Brown Tabby; Blue Tabby; Chocolate Tabby; Lilac Tabby; Red Tabby.
TORTIE TABBY: Tortie Tabby; Blue Tortie Tabby; Chocolate Tortie Tabby; Lilac Tortie Tabby.
TORTIE: Tortie; Blue-Cream; Chocolate Tortie; Lilac-Cream.
TORTIE AND WHITE: Tortie and White; Blue Tortie and White; Chocolate Tortie and White; Lilac Tortie and White.
TORTIE TABBY AND WHITE: Tortie Tabby and White; Blue Tortie Tabby and White; Chocolate Tortie Tabby and White; Lilac Tortie Tabby and White.
BI-COLOUR SOLID: Black and White Bi-Colour; Blue and White Bi-Colour; Chocolate and White Bi-colour; Lilac and White Bi-colour; Red and White Bi-colour; Cream and White Bi-colour .
BI-COLOUR-TABBY: Brown Tabby and White; Blue Tabby and White; Chocolate Tabby and White; Lilac Tabby and White; Red Tabby and White; Cream Tabby and White.
VAN BI-COLOUR: Black and White Van; Blue and White Van; Chocolate and White Van; Lilac and White Van; Red and White Van; Cream and White Van.
VAN TRI-COLOUR: Tortie and White Van; Blue Tortie and White Van; Chocolate Tortie and White Van; Lilac Tortie and White Van.
(Note: For GCCF Colourpoint versions see Colourpoint Longhair.)
CFA: White; Black; Blue; Red; Cream; Chocolate; Lilac; Chinchilla Silver; Shaded Silver; Chinchilla Golden; Shaded Golden; Shell Cameo; Shaded Cameo; Shell Tortie; Shaded Tortie; Black Smoke; Blue Smoke; Cream Smoke; Cameo Smoke; Smoke Tortie; Blue-Cream Smoke; Smoke and White; Van Smoke and White; Classic Tabby Pattern; Mackerel Tabby Pattern; Patched Tabby Pattern; Brown Patched Tabby; Blue Patched Tabby; Silver Patched Tabby; Silver Tabby; Blue Silver Tabby; Blue Silver Patched Tabby; Red Tabby; Brown Tabby; Blue Tabby; Cream Tabby; Cameo Tabby; Van Tabby and White; Tortie; Chocolate Tortie; Calico; Dilute Calico; Blue-Cream; Lilac-Cream; Bi-color; Van Bi-color; Van Calico; Van Dilute Calico; Tabby and White.
(Note: For CFA Colourpoint versions, see Himalayan.)
1936. Linden, M. Pasha the Persian. Kendall, New York.
1956. Anon. Persian Cats as Pets. TFH, New Jersey.
1956. De Churchill. On All Fours. New York. (Anecdotal)
1960. Ramsdale, J.A. Persian cats. TFH, New Jersey.
1964. Ramsdale, J.A. Persian Cats and Other Longhairs. TFH, New Jersey.
1965. Tenent, R. Persian Cats and other Longhairs. W. H. Allen, London.
1968. Pond, G. The Long-haired Cats. Arco, London.
1974. Pond, G. and Calder, M. The Longhaired Cat. Batsford, London.
1976. Ramsdale, J.A. Persian Cats and Other Longhairs. (2nd, enlarged edition) TFH, New Jersey.
1980. Pond, G. Persian Cats. Foyles, London.
1982. Esarde, E.E. Persian Cats. TFH, New Jersey.
1983. Pond, G. Longhaired Cats. Batsford, London.
1989. Schneider, E. A Step-by-Step Book About Persian Cats. TFH, New Jersey.
1990. Müller, U. Persian Cats. Barron's Educational Series, Hauppauge, New York.
1993. Single, D.J. Silver and Golden Persians. TFH, New Jersey.
1993. Thompson, W. and Wickham-Ruffle, E. The Complete Persian Cat. Howell, New York.
Persian Bicolor and Calico Society. 187 N. Madison Dr., South Plainfield, NJ 07080, USA.
United Silver (Persian) Fanciers. 663 N. Dayton Lakeview Rd., New Carlisle, OH 45344, USA.
Note: In the United States there is a quarterly magazine devoted exclusively to the Persian Cat: Persian Quarterly . Address: 4401 Zephyr Street, Wheat Ridge, CO, USA. There is also a publication called Persian News. Address: 746 North Crescent Drive, Hollywood, Florida 33021, USA. And specifically for Silver Persians there is Silver Lining. Address: 491 Valencia Lane, Vacacville, California 95688, USA.
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