Calico and Bi-Color Persians
by Carissa Altschul
From Cat Fanciers' Yearbook, 2011
“The early history of calico and bi-color Persians has been chronicled in past CFA Yearbook and Almanac
articles. The debate about whether the piebald gene has always been present in Persians, or whether it represents something
less than “pure” rages even today, and will likely never be settled. The fact remains that the earliest records of the
organized cat fancy do list bi-colors and calicos, and that, despite efforts at culling these “spoiled Persians,” the gene
stubbornly survived, probably masked by white.”
This quote, taken from Anna Sadler’s article “Bi-Color and Calico Persians: The 80’s and 90’s” published in CFA Almanac in March of 1991, is amazingly applicable to the present
day discussion of breed purity. To summarize the historical information presented in past articles, here is a bi-color timeline:
- Mid-late 1800s – First Longhair Bi-Color and calico cats imported from areas of Persia and Turkey into England.
- Early 1900s – Longhair Calicos and Bi-Colors shown in both England and America, however, they were not popular in England, considered to be “spoilt” solids.
- 1900s-1930s – Bi-colors fall out of favor, recommendations of “culling” Bi-Color kittens (considered to be “spoilt” colors) in breeding manuals.
- 1930s – Bi-Colors and Calicos are no longer allowed in Championship.
- 1955 – Calicos are accepted for Championship.
- 1970 – Bi-Colors are accepted for Championship.
- 1973 – First Bi-Color Grand Champion.
- 1974 – First Calico Grand Champion.
- 1976 – First National Kitten Win.
- 1977 – Vans accepted for Championship and first National adult win.
- 1979 – First Bi-Color Cat Of The Year.
- 1985 – Tabby and White Bi-Colors accepted for Championship.
- 1989 – First Bi-Color Distinguished Merit.
- 1999 – Blue and Odd-Eyed Bi-colors accepted for Championship.
- 2003 – Van description removed from the Persian Calico and Bi-Color Division Breed Standard. Voted on by the Breed Council
Fall 2002, passed at the February 2003 Board Meeting and effective May 1, 2003.
- 2003 – First Odd-Eyed Bi-Color Grand Champion.
- 2010 – First Chocolate series Bi-Color Grand Champion (a lilac and white.)
To be sure, the Calico and Bi-Color Division has become one the strongest divisions in CFA’s Persian breed. Each and every year, cats from this division continue to demonstrate
their far-reaching appeal. Yet the history of this incredible division has become distorted and stretched to such an extent that new breeders are often at a loss to explain the
existence of these colors in the Persian breed.
Unquestionably, bi-colors have existed in the Persian breed since before the founding of CFA. They were imported as “Longhairs”
from the areas of Persia and Turkey in the mid-late 1800s. It is important to note that the term “Persian” did not come about until the
1950s. Prior to that time, all “Longhair” cats were grouped into one division, and “breeds” were actually colors. (Blue Longhairs were considered a division/breed, rather than
being called Blue Persians).
English breeders in the late 1800s and early 1900s preferred the solid colors and thus selected for them almost exclusively. The bi-color gene was suppressed to such an extent
that it all but disappeared, kept alive only hidden behind the solid white gene. Early American breeders enjoyed the variety bi-colors brought to their programs. However, by the
1930s, most American breeders had fallen in line with the English beliefs that “with white” Longhairs were “spoilt” colors and should not be bred. As in England, the persistence
of the bi-color gene was only preserved when hidden behind the solid white gene.
In the 1940s, interest began anew in the “with white” gene. Previous articles have well-documented the lengthy and sometimes heart-rending struggles of the “new” pioneers into
the Calico and Bi-color Division. Suffice it is to say that today’s bi-colors owe their existence to the hard work and tears of a few very determined breeders from that time
Breed purity has become a very hot topic in the last decade. The major question being how exactly can “pure” be defined? Some suggest purity can be defined by “X” number of
years or generations. Another way might be by a rigorous and lengthy study of pedigrees, however that generally leads to the question can the pedigrees be trusted? Another way
that might be considered would be simply to protect the “parent” breeds from offshoots attempting to merge back into the parent breed. This final way might be the best solution,
as well as the most easily defined. To put it simply, if a breed defines itself by using one or more other breeds and for a period of time, exists as its own separate breed, then
it would be considered pure to itself, but never pure to any of the parent breeds. Applying this to bi-colors, they have never existed outside of the Persian breed, or, pre-
Persian terminology, outside the breed of “Longhair,” therefore, they have always been part of the Persian breed.
BI-COLORS OF THE 21ST CENTURY
Since 1998, the bi-color class has expanded well beyond the traditional colors and variations seen in previous decades and moved in several different directions. From blue eyes
to silver tabbies, smokes to pointeds, chocolates and more, the Calico and Bi-Color Division has expanded in unprecedented fashion.
Perhaps the key to understanding the appeal of bi-colors is understanding the genetics of the piebald (bi-color) gene. Firstly, the piebald gene is a dominant gene, meaning it
always expresses itself when present (it cannot be carried in the recessive form. The only exception to this is suppression by the “solid white” gene, which can suppress (or
mask) all genes for “color,” dominant or recessive.) Second, the piebald gene is unpredictable. This is probably what draws most breeders to the Calico and Bi-Color Division. In
all other divisions, the allocation of color and/or markings can be predicted with rudimentary Punnet squares or statistical tables allocating a percentage of likelihood to get
“X” color or pattern in a particular mating. Still, there is yet to be a reliable method to accurately predict the exact allocation of white – and where that white will be
present – with the piebald gene.
While some assumptions can be made, such as breeding two cats of “high white” or “van” pattern will produce a high likelihood of offspring with similar amounts of white, the
exact patterning of color and white can never be accurately predicted. Thus, each litter of bi-color kittens contains the element of surprise and wonder that has never quite been
matched in any other division.
Another interesting draw of bi-colors would be the ability to combine the appeal of other divisions with the “with white” pattern. A breeder who is drawn to the rich color of
solids might also find themselves enjoying the solid pattern with white. A breeder who enjoys the challenge of keeping a solid white groomed to perfection can find that challenge
in the Calico and Bi-Color Division in the “high white” pattern. Both tabby and smoke enthusiasts can also find their niches in the Calico and Bi-Color Division.
Among new breeders, many have found their path leading to bi-colors to conquer the challenges of the “firsts” not yet accomplished. In many of the other Persian Divisions,
growth has become static perhaps due partly to the fact that most, if not all, of the “firsts” have been accomplished and newer breeders can only repeat the feats of the past. In
bi-colors, there are many “firsts” yet to be had; thus new breeders are able to strive to be the ones to accomplish those firsts and assure themselves a place in bi-color
Of the “firsts” yet to be accomplished, some are on the cusp of being accomplished. In the next decade, CFA will probably see at least one of the following: a smoke or shaded
bi-color achieve the title of National Winner; more “firsts” in the chocolate series bi-colors reaching Grand; chocolate series bi-colors achieving Regional Wins.
A “first” that is not as close to being achieved would be the acceptance of the pointed bi-colors. This can primarily be attributed to two factors. The first being that breeders
of pointed Persians, or Himalayans, prefer to work strictly with their pointed colors. To introduce the bi-color pattern would require the production of non-pointed color-point
carrier offspring as the “mid-point” to producing a bi-color point. Additionally, many breeders of the pointed Persians prefer the traditional 8 points of color (face, tail,
ears, and feet.) Since the majority of bi-colors have white on their feet and face, some of the points would be “lost” in the bi-color pattern. The second drawback on the pointed
bi-colors is a lack of consensus on which division they best belong in. Some breeders believe that all cats with the pointed restricted pattern (Himalayan) belong in the
Himalayan Division. However, the other point of view argues pointed bi-colors belong in the Calico and Bi-Color Division for two reasons. First, the piebald gene cannot be
restricted the “points,” and second, the fact that all other divisions when combined with the piebald gene were put in the Calico and Bi-Color Division (solid and white, parti-
color and white, smoke and white, tabby and white). The second view has more support and more history, but until the breeders can agree, the pointed bi-colors are mired in AOV
The first odd-eyed and blue-eyed bi-colors have achieved the title of Grand Champion, however, there has yet to be one to achieve the title of Regional or National
winner to this date.
Considering the quality of the bi-colors representing these colors, it is expected they will quickly rise to the challenges ahead. Without a doubt, the blue and odd-eyed bi-
colors have become some of the most sought-after bi-colors of the last decade. This quote from Anna Sadler’s CFA Almanac article was incredibly accurate:
“Perhaps most fascinating of the new possibilities is the request for championship of odd-eyed bi-colors, which are cropping up in widely scattered litters.” Anna Sadler, Bi-
Color and Calico Persians: The 80’s and 90’s.