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Bi-Color and Calico Persians:
Past, Present and Future


by Pam Bassett and Anna Sadler

The Past

"American fanciers have always shown a partiality for broken-coloured cats, and orange-and-white and blue-and-white cats have classifications given for them at the leading shows. In England there is a marked antipathy to these cats chiefly because they have little or no value for breeding, though they undoubtedly make pretty pets. Speculative, but, I must add, persevering fanciers might derive interest and amusement from trying to breed out-of-the-common specimens. A black-and-white spotted like a Dalmatian hound, or a cat marked with zebra stripes, could doubtless be produced in time by careful and judicious selection." Frances Simpson, The Book of the Cat

The above passage was published in 1903 in Great Britain in a chapter entitled "Any Other Colour Persians." We have still not seen the zebra-striped black and white Persian in CFA shows; but, if Ms. Simpson could only see the bi-colors now, almost a century later, she might well be more surprised by the row upon row of glorious cats in their "fancy dress" colors than if a zebra-marked cat were presented to her.

The piebald gene is among the most common of all natural mutations, and manifests in many different forms dealing with the restriction of color pigment in a specific pattern. Some form of this gene appears in all species of domesticated animals, but is absent in almost all wild animals. Under Mother Nature's ruthless methods of culling, the flashy markings would mean death for either predator or prey in the wild. A notable exception is the aforementioned zebra, but its stripes serve as camouflage in its natural surroundings. In domesticated animals, though, the colorful markings are appreciated and selected for.

Where did the bi-color and calico Persian originate? Today's Persian is an amalgamation primarily of the longhaired cats imported into England and other parts of Europe during the mid to late 1800s from the geographical areas around the then-countries of Persia and Turkey. The piebald gene was especially prevalent in the latter of these two, often masked by the epistatic white gene that was particularly prized in Turkey.

Snob appeal, in the early years of the cat fancy as now, dictates much of fashion in cats. In the shows at that time, all longhaired cats were judged together, and "breed" designations were made more on the basis of color than on country of origin. The U.S. fancy followed the lead of the English shows in this regard, so that in the earliest U.S. shows, for instance, white cats were all judged in one class, whether their ancestry traced to Persia, Turkey, or the local Maine cats (originally stowaways from Viking sailing vessels). This practice facilitated the near-demise of the Turkish Angora cats, as they were assimilated into the larger breed that became known as the Persian.

The early books of the cat fancy leave some gaps. We do know from the Simpson book and others that around the turn of the century, bi-color and calico Persians were a part of the earliest registry and show scene both in England and the U.S. We know that they were not as "prized" in England as were the solid-colored cats, and that, in fact, some active efforts were made to cull them. One 1904 article in Cat Review suggested, in reference to bi-colors, that "it is far better to chloroform such mismarked specimens or sell them entirely for pets than to keep them as breeding cats, thereby tending to ruin their strain both in value and reputation."

By the time the amalgamation of the longhaired breeds into what was to become the Persian was complete in the early 1900s, there was no need for a different breed designation within the category of "Longhairs" until the advent of the Himalayan as a breed in the 1950s. Bi-colored and calico "Longhairs" (Persians) can be traced through the British and American Stud Books, even during the period of time that they were considered declasse (that old "snob appeal" again) and were barred from being shown. They appeared in CFA Stud Books as "Any Other Variety," and some were admitted under the rules for "Foundation Registry." This was a common practice in all breeds, which allowed registration of cats which were "known to be of pure breeding" but which were otherwise unregisterable (most frequently because CFA did not recognize their registry of origin).

The exact period of time that bi-color or calico Persians could not be shown is difficult to pin down, but was certainly relatively short. We know that they were still on the show bench as late as 1933. Evelyn Buckworth-Herne-Soame wrote in Cats: Long-Haired and Short, in a chapter devoted to "Tortoise-shell and Whites": "This is a most picturesque and fascinating variety. It is a great pity there are not more of them."Fanciers are hampered in having none, or very few, males of the species or I am certain the breed would go ahead very quickly." [Note: Color still equated "breed" in 1933.]

In that same book another chapter is entitled "Black and Whites, or Magpies." Again, the author bemoans the fact that "They are so scarce that shows never give a class for them, thus making things difficult for anyone trying to work the breed up. At present, black and whites have to be entered in the 'Any Other Colour' Class."

At some point after 1933, the bi-colored and calico Persians were officially eliminated from competition in the U.S. until 1955, when Dorothy Anderson's work accomplished the re-acceptance of the calico in CFA. It was not until 1971 that the other bi-color colors were accepted. The Stud Books show that they continued to be bred during those 22 years, and the piebald gene was often masked by white.

The decade of the 1980s in bi-color and calico Persians was chronicled in a March 1991 Almanac article. It covered the hallmarks and the many "firsts" of this color division of Persians, recognized the many breeders who accomplished the rapid improvement and acceptance of these cats, and catalogued the first national winning cats.

The Present

The closing challenge to that previous Almanac article was: "But as more and more jump onto the bandwagon that began rolling with the determined breeders from the '70s and '80s, watch out, Solids ... here we come!"

Our opening statement for this section, then, must be: "Hello, Solids ... here we are!" The traditional dominance of the solid colored Persians in showhalls, in finals and in end-of-year national and regional awards is now being continually challenged by the bi-color and calico cats. Some CFA regions have heavier activity in this division than others do, with the bi-color and calico presence often exceeding that of the solids. Sheer numbers and quality are the hallmarks of bi-colors and calicos in the '90s.

Not only has there been a veritable explosion of bi-colors during the '90s, but the breeders have also built upon the type established in the decades previous to produce stunning Persian type. Keeping in mind that there are still two more years in this decade to register even greater numbers, compare the 13 national winning bi-color and calico cats of the entire decade of the '80s with 38 already accomplished in the '90s. The first five bi-color and calico Distinguished Merit cats proudly took their place in history in the '80s, and 29 more have swelled their ranks in the '90s; finally, compare the 363 total Grand Champions and Grand Premiers from the '80s with the 959 already confirmed in the first eight years of the present decade. Is there any doubt that 1000 grands will be attained soon?

The rapidly growing numbers of the "with white" cats necessitated first, in 1991, the removal of these cats from the parti-color division and creation of their own division, and later, the dividing of the most populous colors into their own color classes.

In a 1991 Almanac article, we recognized the early breeders of the bi-colors - several breeders across the country who saw the promise of great things in the foundation cats that were, for the most part, lacking in competitive type. A good head start had been provided by the Pathfinders bi-colors originally imported from Great Britain by Bobara Pendergrast. These early breeders integrated the best of the solid Persian lines, and Cinderella emerged from her rags in amazingly short order.

During the '90s, some of those earlier breeders remained dominant forces and continued to make contributions to the bi-color and calico division. They include catteries such as Anz, Kitty Charm, PaJean, Brannaway and Harwood. All bred a significant number of grands in the '90s and, with the exception of Anz cattery, are all still actively breeding and showing bi-colors as we move toward the 21st century. Other, new bi-color breeders began to make their mark in this division during the '90s.

The Anz cattery has retired from active breeding, but the dynasty of winning bi-colors and calicos that they founded lives on in many of the winning lines, both in the U.S. and abroad. Six of the national-winning bi-colors in the '90s carried the Anz cattery name, and many more had Anz cats behind them. Their GC Anz Nicholas Nickleby, DM was CFA's first male DM, and produced 50 grands before he was neutered.

Another bi-color/calico dynasty-in-progress is PaJean cattery . Four national-winning bi-color cats in the '90s are from this cattery, as well as an impressive 81 grands!

Because of the sheer volume of winning bi-colors and calicos, this brief article will be unable to give proper credit to the dozens of dedicated breeders who have made a significant mark in bi-colors and calicos. To those many individuals we simply have not had room to recognize and to name - a tip of our hat to your hard work and accomplishments!

The Future

The future is, of course, shrouded in mystery, and contains more questions than answers. A few of the questions, with our guesses at the answers, are:

1. Will bi-colors and calicos dominate shows in the future? The appeal of this flashy Persian cannot be denied, but neither are they for the faint of heart. Some breeders will now choose some of the less populous Persian divisions that they perceive to be "easier." Best guess is that the numbers seen in shows will begin to level off, with the bi-color and calico division sitting firmly alongside the solid division in popularity.

2. What new color classes within the division can we expect in the future? The CFA Executive Board at its February 1998 meeting turned down a majority vote of the breed council in favor of breaking the tabby and white colors into individual color classes. Discussion indicated that if the breed council would request separate color classes only for the colors whose numbers justify them and add an "Any Other Tabby and White" color class, that this would be favorably considered. For the third consecutive year, the odd-eyed and blue-eyed bi-colors failed to achieve the requisite 60% ballot vote by only one or two votes; undoubtedly this will be accomplished in the next few years.

3. What records may fall in the near future? In 1986, GC, NW Rambo's Rocky Mountain Sunrise became Cat of the Year and the highest scoring bi-color in CFA history, with 11,832 points. Only GC, NW Granddelight's P.J. of Mockingbird has challenged, scoring 10,785 in 1997. These authors do not have a genie to predict when - if ever - Rocky's record will be surpassed.

4. What changes, if any, can we expect with regard to the standard for pattern? Bi-color and calico breed council members have repeatedly turned down any major changes to their standard, which has remained substantially the same since 1988. During the '80s, as type was being developed and refined, some bi-colors with outstanding type, but with far less than the preferred minimum of white, were granding. This would be the exception rather than the rule today, as increased levels of competition dictate that the cat that will come out on top must meet the standard both for type and for pattern. Increased sales of cats both to and from the European market means paying attention to pattern standards in other countries' registries.

The Cinderella cats of the Persian world are now wearing their glass slippers. The 1970s saw the bi-colors and their van patterns accepted for championship, as well as many notable "firsts," including the first bi-color and calico Grand Champions, the first national winners and first Cat of the Year. The 1980s was the decade of development, of building the house and painting it. The popularity of this division in the show world was firmly established and included claiming more "firsts" - the first DMs, the first Kitten/Cat of the Year - and acceptance of the tabby and white colors for championship. The 1990s have seen the bi-colors and calicos come fully into their own, with breeders adding the refining touches and establishing consistency of both type and pattern, and the acceptance of smoke and white colors for championship. Rapidly increasing numbers of cats being shown in the '90s dictated first, the establishment of the bi-color division as separate from the particolors, and later, the dividing into separate color classes those colors where numbers being shown warranted it.

Now we move not only into a new decade, but a new century. The wonderful foundation for our cats began not just 30 years ago, but a full hundred years ago. Perhaps in the year 2098, a bi-color breeder will be searching CFA archives and see this article and these pictures. What will he or she think?

How CFA's Bi-Color Standard Compares

As the cat fancy becomes progressively more global, breeders are more interested in what is viewed as ideal in the registries in other areas of the world. We list here a comparison of the CFA Persian bi-color standards to the other major registries "across the pond."  

GCCF (Governing Council of the Cat Fancy)

A recent move in Great Britain's Governing Council of the Cat Fancy to eliminate what is known there as the "Ultra" Persian saw the addition last year to the Persian Standard in GCCF of a "Withhold Certificates or First Prize in Kitten and Open Classes" (the CFA equivalent of a disqualification) for "The upper edge of the nose leather above the lower edge of the eye." There continues a raging debate in the British cat fancy over this issue.  

Additionally, that GCCF Standard lists in its "Withhold Certificates," as above: "Incorrect proportion of white to colour in Bi-colours and Torties and Whites" and "In Van Distribution Bi-colours and Tri-colours: (i) Excess colour on the body and/or (ii) No colour on the head and/or (iii) White on the tail. Under the GCCF standard, the Tortoiseshell and White (equivalent of the CFA calico) and the Bi-Color must have not less than 1/3 and not more than 1/2 of the coat to be white. The face must show both color and white, and the legs must be white with some color allowed. Some white on the tail is allowed, but listed as a fault is "A fully white tail."

The Van distribution in the GCCF standard calls for a coat "basically white with the colour confined to the head, ears and tail. For perfection there should be no colour on the body or legs, but up to three small "spots" of colour may be allowedÉTail to be fully coloured."

This standard, of course, would penalize those cats that show more than half white, but less than that required for a Van. The 1989 CFA Standard change addressed this issue to fully embrace those flashy cats, many of which grace the show rings and finals today.

FIFe (Federatian Internationale Feline)

The standard in FIFe (Federatian Internationale Feline) defines three separate color divisions: 1) the Bi-Color, which must have at least 1/2 but not more than 2/3 of the coat in color (a white blaze on the face and white on the back is "desirable"); 2) the Harlequin, which requires at least 1/4 but not more than 1/2 of the coat to be colored; and 3) the Van, which specifically requires "1/6 solid colour(s), 5/6 white." The Van pattern further calls for "2 colour patches in the face, separated by a white blaze" and "One patch commencing on the rump and ending at the tip of the tail" and allows 3 small colored patches on the body and/or [Author's emphasis] the legs to be tolerated.

The CFA Standard describes the aesthetic ideal without requiring judges to be mathematicians. The judge is provided guidance with a pattern standard which describes the amount of white as "a preferred minimum." (Contrary to a widely held misconception, there is not, nor has there ever been a set percentage of white in the CFA Standard such as there is in the European ones.) More guidance is given by the division of the 20-point color allocation, 10 points for color and 10 points for pattern. Thus, the standard provides parameters for judging while allowing for discretion on the part of the judge to balance color with proper type.