Silver and Golden Persians
by Janice Reichle
The Silver Persian has long been referred to as the “Rolls Royce” of the cat world. The look is timeless and elegant, and they have always been described as regal and exquisite in appearance. It is a “breed” of classic, incredible beauty, considered by many to be the most beautiful Persian color, if not “the fairest of them all.” Along with the elegant Golden Persian, they have always been a challenge to breed, and silver and golden breeders are a dedicated and determined group. Most have found it more productive to specialize: almost without exception, the top winners of each era have come from catteries that have bred only these colors. Breeding silvers and goldens in addition to another color or breed means keeping two or more sets of cats.
The earliest documentation of silvers shows “Chinnie,” born in 1882 in England. While no pictures of her have been found, there was one of her famous grandson, “Silver Lambkin.” Some of the pedigrees of our present day silvers have been traced back to Lambkin. There was little record keeping in the early days, but as time went on people paid more attention to documenting their breeding. These records showed that other colors, often blues and tabbies, were used in the breeding of silvers. Silvers also appeared in the pedigrees of Persians of other colors. There is no record to show when silvers were accepted by the Cat Fanciers’ Association, so it is reasonable to assume they were among the original colors bred when this association was organized in 1906. Silvers had been imported into the United States from England before that date.
The Golden Persian does not have as long a history in CFA as does the Silver Persian. The golden color is recessive to silver, and for many years before this color was accepted, “odd colored” kittens occasionally popped up in “colorbred” silver litters (see Breeding for Goldens). Most often these kittens, then referred to as “brownies,” were placed as pets. By the 1960s a few interested breeders were working with them. The beauty of their golden coats with the contrast of their vivid green or blue-green eyes attracted more and more dedicated breeders, and gradually they grew in popularity until they were finally accepted by CFA in 1976.
Silver, golden, smoke, and cameo Persians have been subject to more division changes than any other color. The Shaded Division consisted of chinchilla silvers, shaded silvers, and smokes until 1961; at this time, cameos were accepted and added to the division. In 1965, the smokes were taken out of the Shaded Division and given their own division: the Smoke Division. The next change came in 1976 when chinchilla goldens and shaded goldens were accepted by CFA and added to the Shaded Division.
Shaded tortoiseshells were accepted and were also added to the Shaded Division. Silver and golden breeders felt that shaded torties did not belong in their division, but rather belonged in the Parti-Color Division with other tortoiseshells. Many also felt that perhaps there should be a Green-Eyed Division, as neither the cameos nor shaded torties rightfully belonged in the same division as silvers and goldens. Although this was not accepted at the time, starting with the 1995-96 season the cameos and shaded torties were placed in the Smoke Division and the name of that division was changed to the Shaded and Smoke Division. Silvers and goldens were then alone in a division called the Silver and Golden Division (not the Green-eyed Division).
Early Persians of all colors bore little resemblance to today’s Persians. It was some time before the concept of “color breeding” came into being. With selective breeding, silver breeders had nearly eliminated tabby markings and leg bars by the mid-20th Century, therefore color breeding became a must. Silver breeders were criticized if their cats were not colorbred; however, there was no agreement on how many generations were required for a silver to be considered a “colorbred” cat.
Color breeding was a necessity for many years in order to maintain the beautiful trademark coloring of the silver Persian. The gene pool was small, and certain physical characteristics appeared to be associated with the silver color: the cats produced were generally lighter in bone and eventually, smaller in size. Additional colors and patterns of the other Persians were developed over the years resulting in a larger gene pool, while the gene pool of the silvers remained the same. This led to an interest on the part of some breeders to include other colors in their breeding programs. One of the earliest pioneers in this type of outcrossing was Fannie Mood of Delphi Cattery, who was also a former CFA registrar. At the time she did this breeding, she lived in California, a stronghold of color breeding, and she was greatly criticized for breeding to a blue Persian.
The introduction of solids into a golden program to improve type and bone causes the same problems that it does in a silver program, if not more of them. It muddies the coat color and spoils the eye color; it also causes more tabby markings in a color that has not yet eliminated these markings. Silvers, having been bred in the United States for a century, have had a long head start on goldens, whose breeding history here is less than half of that time. Silvers were being bred before 1900, but goldens were not seriously bred until the 1960s. What was once written about silvers is now also true for goldens: “You’ve come a long way, baby!”
While breeders concentrated on and selected for type, less attention was paid to color. In no other Persian is color as important as in the shaded or “tipped” cats. Though the pale blue color of years ago has all but disappeared from the blue Persian, some things remain the same. A smoke is not a smoke without its dramatic color-on-top and white-underneath coat; and silvers and goldens must have the proper tipping in addition to black mascara and margins with the appropriate and distinctive nose and eye color. At one time there was a significant difference between chinchilla silvers and shaded silvers. Today, some of our silvers are referred to as “neither/nors” because they are neither chinchilla silvers nor shaded silvers. While many more silvers are registered as shaded than as chinchilla, we seldom see a true shaded silver with sufficient tipping to give it its lovely dark mantle. It was easier to breed a cat with less tipping than to breed a cat with not only enough tipping, but also even shading. It has come to the point that if a silver is not snow white, or if it has a bit too much shading on the body, it is registered as a shaded silver, even though it does not have enough tipping to be truly shaded. Almost 50 years ago Jeanne Ramsdale of Dearheart Cattery was quoted as saying that one should be able to tell the difference between a chinchilla silver and a shaded silver “from across the room.” Whether or not she actually said that, it was an accurate description; and until recently this was the case.
Some years ago breeders were asked whether they wished to accept blue (dilute) silvers. The rationale was that since breeders were outcrossing to solids, these and other colors were occasionally showing up in some litters. The question was raised four times over a period of years, and each time it was voted down. Clearly the majority of breeders has not wanted them accepted. The last three times breeders were also asked whether or not to accept blue goldens, and this was also voted down. Golden breeders have many different shades of golden with which to deal, and apparently did not want to add to their color problems.
We need to improve the colors we already have before accepting a variation of these colors. Silvers are tipped with black, and often there are problems distinguishing between chinchillas and shadeds; goldens have had these in addition to other color problems. Many cats, both silvers and goldens, have less than desirable nose color, mascara and margins. Have you ever seen a judge rub a finger over the dense black mascara on the nose? The really good color has not been seen consistently, so the judge may question whether it is real! One may choose to use other colors in a breeding program, but perhaps we should show only those colors meeting the current standards, rather than continue to create new classes to fit the odd color we may encounter.
It has been suggested that there should be one silver class and one golden class. The chinchillas and shadeds would be judged together as two separate colors but in the same class, with one class for silvers, another class for goldens. Opponents feel this would be the end of the beautiful shaded silvers. Chinchilla silver lovers should also be concerned, because it might also represent the end of the pale chinchilla. While some color standards read “lighter shades to be preferred,” we would probably end up with only neither/nors. It has always been accepted: “silvers with enough black tipping to give them that shimmering, silvery look – vibrant green or blue-green eye color, and eyes outlined with black as if made up with mascara and with nose margin and lip liner to match.” Black, not blue tipping….
The eye color in silvers and goldens has always been considered very important, which is why the standard is specific. It clearly states: “Eye color: green or blue-green. Disqualify for incorrect eye color, incorrect eye color being copper, yellow, gold, amber or any color other than green or blue-green.” All silver and golden breeders want this eye color in their cats. This may be difficult to attain, but it does not change the fact that this is the standard, although some are willing to accept less. A silver or golden with incorrect eye color may be valuable in a breeding program, but it does not belong in the show ring.
Some breeders and judges say that they began by breeding silvers and gave up because they are too difficult. Goldens are even more difficult to breed to the standard than the silvers. With some exceptions, they are years behind silvers in type, which may be attributed to the small number of breeders working with them until recent years. While silvers have variations in the amount of tipping, they do have a white undercoat with black tipping – one shade of white and one shade of black, to simplify the description. The goldens are quite different. The golden standard calls for the undercoat to be cream, and the tipping black. While a cream cat with black tipping and green eyes would be beautiful, that is not a true golden. It would be more accurate to say, quoting Judith Legg, that “the undercoat is usually cream colored and sometimes it’s gray with seasonal variations. The ‘overcoat’ of guard hair is ticked. Each hair shaft is banded with yellow, rust and dark brown or black. Goldens, including chinchillas, have tabby M’s on their foreheads, and dark spines and dark tail tips.” This probably explains why there have been many variations of the golden color. The color has ranged from pale amber to bright red-gold to the less desirable brownish-gold. Early golden breeders had tried for so long to have goldens accepted that they did not want to quibble over this color description; however, this was not what had been submitted as their standard.
Rarely do two goldens have the same shade, even from the same litter, and the coat color can change until the cat is five years of age or even older. Some goldens are born with wonderful, rich color; some take two to three years to develop. The color of the undercoat can change with the seasons of the year, even achieving a gray, muddy color at certain times of the year. For years, further frustration came from the fact that if a golden had good color, it lacked type and was not showable; if it had type, the color was poor, so it also was deemed not showable. While some judges have bred silvers and appreciate the difficulties, no judge has bred goldens, so they have not experienced all the variations and changes in color. Nearly all golden breeders feel that if a silver and golden of comparable type are in competition, the silver is more likely to be chosen. There are so few goldens shown, usually only one golden in the ring, that judges have rare opportunities to compare their color.
Many goldens have been incorrectly registered and shown in the wrong color class. An apricot golden has been shown as a chinchilla golden simply because of its light color, not because of the appropriate amount of tipping. A darker golden color was more apt to be shown as a shaded golden simply because it was dark, with less attention given to the amount of tipping. Whether golden or silver – color class has been defined by the amount of tipping, not the color of the undercoat.
The 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s produced many beautiful and very competitive silvers, no different from Persians of other colors in type. Judging by the CFA Yearbooks, it was by the late 1970s that blacks had developed a different “look” and shorter noses than some other colors; however, the silvers were as good or better than the whites shown at the time. Silver breeders were breeding selectively to improve and set type. When compared to some of the other colors, silvers improved more quickly in doming, tophead, and ear size. Unfortunately, this selective breeding further limited the already small gene pool.
From time to time, some breeders talked about the possibility of a “different” standard for Silver and Golden Persians; however, most feel that good silvers and goldens meet the standard as it is written. It has not been the standard or the cat at fault, but more likely the way the standard has been interpreted over the years. Sometimes we hear a cat praised for having “no nose.” The standard calls for “a short nose”; how short is not defined, but it does not say “no nose!” It describes a “break,” but does not specify how deep the break should be. What is far more specific in the standard is the location of the break, described as “centered between the eyes.” Until the standard becomes more specific, silvers and goldens should not be penalized for not having noses as short, nor breaks as deep, as some Persians of other colors. During a discussion while judging silvers, one judge stated his opinion that silvers (and goldens) should have a nose “as broad as it is long.” This meets the description in the standard for a “broad” nose, as well as contributing to the overall balance of the cat. While silvers and goldens may not have noses as short as some Persians of other colors, they have met the criteria of “as short as it is broad,” and they are more likely to excel in round doming and small, well-set ears. Their skulls have been smooth and round, without the ridges and flatness often found in Persians of other colors.
Silvers and goldens may never look exactly like other Persians. Breeders have used careful selection to improve boning and head type, but the “extreme” genes might not be there. Occasionally a kitten has been born with the “extreme” type similar to that of a solid Persian, but these cats have not consistently reproduced that look. Outcrossing to solids has resulted in some unusual colors, and by the time coat and eye color have been regained, type has usually reverted to what has been known and admired as “the silver look.” Perhaps, as in the Peke-face Red Tabby standard which has an “allowance” for a difference in type, an allowance could be included in the Silver/Golden standard so that these beautiful cats do not lose their unique look.
Many have used or are using other colors in their breeding programs, but should resist showing a silver or golden with gold eyes even if they are very typy. Would a gold-eyed Himalayan or a green-eyed white be acceptable? Certainly not…. Breeders ask for the cooperation of judges to help improve our silvers and goldens. Our cats need to be judged by the standard as it is written and not as it is interpreted by a few. We have worked very hard to meet the standard in every way, and we stand behind the judges when they withhold for poor type and incorrect eye color, as they have done for poor condition or tail faults. Constructive criticism will always be welcomed!
Differences Beyond Color
The time has passed when silvers were hard to handle. I have been exhibiting long enough to remember when almost every breed had a “personality” problem. In each decade, you knew without asking when you heard a cat “blow” in the show hall, just what breed it was. Breeders have worked hard to eliminate behavior problems in almost every breed, including Persians. I remember one judge describing a big silver class in one section of the country. He said of the silvers he judged there, “The silvers were all gorgeous – too bad you can’t put your hands on them!” That was a long time ago; silvers no longer have that reputation, and the problem was pretty much eliminated before goldens appeared upon the scene. They are, however, very different in personality from Persians of other colors. They are far more active: ask anyone who has bred and owned enough different colors to compare.
Silvers generally have lower birth weights and leave the nest box quite early. Although they mature sexually at an early age, they do not look their best until they are three to five years old. Some silvers and goldens are smaller in size and lighter in bone when compared with the other Persians. The phrase “medium to large” in the standard has not been defined, and size is relative. The standard also says “Quality the determining consideration rather than size.”
Silvers and goldens are outgoing cats with unique personalities; they are intelligent, affectionate and people-oriented lap cats. While they are wonderfully decorative Persians, they are not “couch potatoes,” as Persians have often been described. You will seldom find these colors dozing on grooming tables in a show hall, as you often see other Persians. They are sensitive, so they need to be socialized from an early age, and they do not take well to isolation and confinement. Many have profuse coats, and some have the difficult-to-groom “cotton candy” coat, but all seem to have fine textured hair that breaks easily. They may have more sensitive skin. All of this means that grooming had best be started early and done gently to prepare them for the care required to keep the long, flowing coat at its breathtaking best.
The Unique Silver and Golden
Silver and golden breeders have worked very hard to meet the challenge of “type” to produce beautiful, well-balanced Persians. Their successes are obvious, as shown in the accompanying pictures. There are variations of “the look” throughout history, but we hope the unique look of silvers and goldens will always be there. When one thinks of silvers and goldens, one pictures a cat with a wide-open, sweet expression with large, round eyes of a luminous green or blue-green. The ears are small with the wonderful round doming that seems to be a silver and golden trademark. The nose is short and broad, and this lovely round head, framed by full ruff, is attached to a short, cobby body with a long, flowing coat. It is perfection that we strive for – but let us not lose the unique look!
There are many articles available that show the development and changes of silvers and goldens since 1900 (See CFA Yearbook articles), but our attention here has been directed to those of recent years. For more reading about Silver and Golden Persians, as well as Silver and Golden Exotics, see the United Silver Fanciers Quarterly publication, which reprints many of the listed articles and some otherwise unavailable articles.