Persian Cat history and breed deve­lop­ment

Persian Cat History

It is not clear when long-haired cats first appeared, as there are no known long-haired specimens of the African wildcat, the ancestor of the domestic subspecies. Persians take their name from the country where they are thought to have originated. The first documented ancestors of the Persian were imported from Khorasan, Persia, into Italy in 1620 by Pietro della Valle, and from Angora (now Ankara), Ottoman Empire (Turkey), into France by Nicholas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc at around the same time. The Khorasan cats were grey coated while those from Angora were white. They became popular pets in animal-mad Victorian Britain and were seen at the very first cat shows in that country. Recent genetic research indicates that present day Persians are related not to cats from the Near East but to cats from Western Europe. The researchers stated: ''Even though the early Persian cat may have in fact originated from Persia, the modern Persian cat has lost its phylogeographical signature.''
Persians have always been bred to have a round head, short face, snub nose, chubby cheeks and a short, cobby body, but over time those features have become exaggerated. The result is that the Persian now comes in two types, show and traditional. Traditional Persians do not have as short a face as show Persians and look more like the earlier examples of the breed, but both have the same sweet personality.

Champion Fulmer Zaida is the renowned Silver Persian Cat female owned by Lady Decies. This cat has won more prizes than any other in the Fancy, numbering over 150. Zaida is almost an unmarked specimen, and her colour is wonderfully pure. She has carried off the highest honours at all the leading shows, and will probably continue to win whenever exhibited - comment to the picture of this Champion Persian Cat.
Photo by Landor 09.1902 - public domain.

Persian Cat Breed Development

The first Persian cat was presented at the first organized cat show, in 1871 in the Crystal Palace in London, England, organized by Harrison Weir. As specimens closer to the later established Persian conformation became the more popular types, attempts were made to differentiate it from the Angora. The first breed standard (then called a points of excellence list) was issued in 1889 by cat show promoter Weir. Weir stated that the Persian differed from the Angora in the tail being longer, hair more full and coarse at the end, and head larger, with less pointed ears. Not all cat fanciers agreed with the distinction of the two types, and in the 1903 work, The Book of the Cat, Francis Simpson states that ''the distinctions, apparently with hardly any difference, 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''.
Dorothy Bevill Champion lays out the difference between the two types in the 1909 Everybody's Cat Book: ''Our pedigree imported long-hairs of to-day are undoubtedly a cross of the Angora and Persian; the latter possesses a rounder head than the former, also the coat is of quite a different quality''.
Bell goes on to detail the differences. Persian coats consist of a woolly under coat and a long, hairy outer coat. The coat loses all the thick underwool in the summer, and only the long hair remains. Hair on the shoulders and upper part of the hind legs is somewhat shorter. Conversely, the Angora has a very different coat which consists of long, soft hair, hanging in locks, ''inclining to a slight curl or wave on the under parts of the body.'' The Angora's hair is much longer on the shoulders and hind legs than the Persian, which Bell considered a great improvement. However, Bell says the Angora ''fails to the Persian in head,'' Angoras having a more wedge-shaped head and Persians having a rounder head. Bell notes that Angoras and Persians have been crossbred, resulting in a decided improvement to each breed, but claimed the long-haired cat of 1909 had significantly more Persian influence than Angora. Champion lamented the lack of distinction among various long-haired types by English fanciers, who in 1887, decided to group them under the umbrella term ''Long-haired Cats''.

Persian Cat Classification by Registries

The breed standards of various cat fancier organizations may treat the Himalayan and Exotic Shorthair (or simply Exotic) as variants of the Persian, or as separate breeds. The Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) treats the Himalayan as a color-pattern class of both the Persian and the Exotic, which have separate but nearly identical standards (differing in coat length). The Fédération Internationale Féline (FIFe) entirely subsumes what other registries call the Himalayan as simply among the allowed coloration patterns for the Persian and the Exotic, treated as separate breeds. The International Cat Association (TICA) treats them both as variants of the Persian. The World Cat Federation (WCF) treats the Persian and Exotic Shorthair as separate breeds, and subsumes the Himalayan coloration as colorpoint varieties under each.

Among regional and national organizations, Feline Federation Europe treats all three as separate breeds. The American Cat Fanciers Association (ACFA) has the three as separate breeds (also with a Non-pointed Himalayan that is similar to the Persian). The Australian Cat Federation (AFC) follows the FIFe practice. The Canadian Cat Federation (CCA-AFC) treats the three separately, and even has an Exotic Longhair sub-breed of the Exotic and a Non-pointed Himalayan sub-breed of the Himalayan, which differ from the Persian only in having some mixed ancestry. The (UK) Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF) does likewise.

Blue Persian Cat ''Gentian'' owed by Lady Marcus Beresford. Prize-winner at Westminster in 1899
Photo by Landor 09.1902 - public domain

Persian Cat Breeding Ethics and Popularity

Remember that specific look of Persian cats, that many of us adore, has also some dark side of it. Some Persian cats that fall under the severe category may experience brachycephaly, brachygnathia, nasolacrimal, and many more listed above. This brings up many concerns when breeding for these specific traits. Brachycephalic Syndrome creates a highly sought-after characteristic. It forms the cat's facial features to be more likable and unique with its big owl-like eyes and more petite overall looking face. Though these features may be ''cuter'', it results in many health issues due to its ill-functioning nasolacrimal system that creates tear buildup to flow down their faces resulting in stains and dermatitis. Brachycephaly is also associated with a soft and long palate that obstructs the upper airway making breathing more difficult. These issues are its dental and jaw defects (brachygnathia), as their teeth can also grow outwardly in unnatural positions, making it difficult to eat and allowing a higher chance of plaque formation gingivitis.
These issues mentioned affects the quality of life of many Persian cats. It concerns people with the question of if breeding for specific features is ethical or not, making these concerns a legal issue as well. Please consider it before you decide which cat breed you want to buy.

Although such controversions, in 2008, the Persian was the most popular breed of pedigree cats in the United States. In the UK, registration numbers have dwindled since the early 1990s and the Persian lost its top spot to the British Shorthair in 2001. As of 2012, it was the 6th most popular breed, behind the British Shorthair, Ragdoll, Siamese, Maine Coon and Burmese. In France, the Persian is the only breed whose registration declined between 2003 and 2007, dropping by more than a quarter.

The most color popular varieties, according to CFA registration data, are seal point, blue point, flame point and tortie point Himalayan, followed by black-white, shaded silvers and calico.

''Psyche, a White Persian Cat''
Francis Sartorius I (1734-1804) - 1449066 - National Trust, Fenton House; - CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

Persian Cat in Art

The art world and its patrons have long embraced their love for the Persian cat by immortalizing them in art. A 6x8.5 foot artwork that is purported to be the ''world’s largest cat painting'' sold at auction for more than $820,000. The late 19th-century oil portrait is called ''My Wife's Lovers'', and it once belonged to a wealthy philanthropist who commissioned an artist to paint her vast assortment of Turkish Angoras and Persians. Other popular Persian paintings include ''White Persian Cat'' by famous folk artist Warren Kimble, ''Two White Persian Cats Looking into a Goldfish Bowl'' by late feline portraitist Arthur Heyer or ''Psyche, a White Persian Cat'' by Francis Sartorius I. The beloved Persian cat has made its way also onto the artwork of post stamps in many countries around the world.

Parsian Cat in the movies and books

The example of a well-known Persian cat in fiction is Garfield, a character from the comic strip, animated series, and movies. Another famous example in movies is Snowbell, the cat from the Stuart Little film series, Mr. Tinkles from the movies Cats & Dogs 1 and 2, and Crookshanks, the cat of the character Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter book and film series. The iconic character from James Bond 007 films, simply known as Number 1, a numerical ranking position assigned to members of the organization SPECTRE, played by Donald Pleasence, Telly Savalas, Charles Gray, Max von Sydow, and Christoph Waltz, among others, was specifically conceived and highlighted to film a close-up of the actor petting his white Persian cat with blue eyes, at the expense of focusing on Blofeld's own face. The appearance of the popular white Persian cat made its debut in the films From Russia with Love in 1963 and Thunderball in 1965.

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Persian Cat history and breed deve­lop­ment


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